Blackhawks

Contracts, commitment & bearded dragons?

Contracts, commitment & bearded dragons?

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

One of the things that marriage teaches you is that when your wife sends you a text while youre working and it begins: Please dont kill me but..., that shes done something that youre not going to be happy with but its a little too late to do anything about it. Thats how life works. This latest after-the-fact communication concerns our newest family pet, but more on that later.

Speaking about not being happy, think FOX is happy with a Cardinals-Rangers World Series? I know no one at the bar is. Harrys St. Louis connection notwithstanding, the Cardinals' good fortune is another thorn in the side of the Cubs faithful. And since the team for which I have a rooting interest met their untimely, but predictable demise, (Question: When you lose to the San Francisco Giants last year because you cant hit, what should you get to strengthen your roster? Thats right, more pitching! This isnt revisionist history, Ive been ranting about this behind the bar since last October. One of my go-to truisms is that the MLB playoffs will always expose whatever fatal flaw that you have. For a team that scored 3-runs or fewer 77 times this year during the regular season, scoring 6 runs in the series final 34 innings -3 on one pinch-hit homer- comes as no surprise and was a fitting, tortuous ending! ) we need to discuss other baseball things, or should I say thing. I wonder what that is? The Theo Epstein saga has literally hijacked the conversation at the bar. Fascinated as I am, can we please get on with it?!

There are a million theories as to what is going on, but I go back to one fact: Theo is under contract to the Boston Red Sox. As George Constanza would say, this gives the Red Sox hand. (Which is not to be confused with man-hands, probably my favorite bit ever on that show.) I know this is much to the dismay of certain media members in this town who are fawning over the Cubs front office during this process and probably sharing a few Kool-aids with them as they cheer them on. Isnt it a little silly to sing their praises before this process has ended and a proper analysis of winners and losers can be assessed? Much like the ballyhooed press conference where the Cubs told the local and state governments why they should fork over cash they dont have to make improvements to Wrigley Field, this has the appearance of another cigar about to blow-up in their collective, handsome (sorry, the fawning disease is contagious!) faces.

Im only a bartender, but even I can appreciate the fact that if I want an asset from another business owner, I should first and foremost find out how much that business owner is going to want for that asset. From the countless hours that Ive watched World Series of Poker reruns in the wee hours when I get home from work, Ive learned that theres a play in poker called the check-raise. Thats where a player will usually try to hide a big hand and get others to bet when he thinks that if he puts in an appropriate size bet for his hand, he will scare everyone off. Having already put money in the pot, the initial bettor has to figure out how much that money in the center of the table means to him when the raise comes back. This play doesnt always work, but it can often lead to easy money, as when it is used, its not often a bluff. The thing that you dont know when you make the initial check is whether someone will take the bait.

In the case of the Red Sox, they know they have a play since they let the Cubs come to an agreement with Theo, even though the Cubs didnt ask what he would cost. In their haste to do something that they knew would make them look good, they forgot one of the most elementary practices of business: up-front pricing. Someone of my income level understands that. Before I can get emotionally attached to that new purchase, I need to haggle the price down to where a large investment makes sense to me. Instead, acting like a giddy school girl who got the prom date with the captain of the football team, telling all of her friends to show how cool she is, Cubs upper management was so impressed with themselves, they had to leak the agreement to a more than accommodating local media. All this did was strengthen the position of the Red Sox.

The local Cubs shills will say that Boston doesnt want an unhappy Theo around and they have to make a deal. My response to that is: Can you imagine an employee being unhappy with his work environment?? Whatever! The Cubs have put themselves in a position where they will have to pay more than they think they should because of naivete and the fact that Theo is under contract to the Red Sox. What they need to do is accept that fact and get on with it, because the option of not getting him is something that will create a more lasting negative image than the one of them standing outside Wrigley this past summer holding out their hands for money. The commitment to winning is more costly than you can imagine. Its time to go all in!

Speaking of commitment, there is something in sports that is a sign of it, as the Cubs are learning, and it called a contract. Those contracts can be a pesky thing. Just ask your Chicago Bears! Has there been a day this year when somebodys contract status hasnt been mentioned? Again this is something that a guy like me really has no idea about, although it wont stop me, or any one at the bar from commenting on it. For a fan it shows value and sets a bar for expectation. (For the Red Sox, it means that if you offer our GM 18.5 million for 4 years, he should be worth more than this years Felix Pie!) A contract is a binding agreement, unless its football. Football contracts are a ruse. In baseball and basketball they use the phrase guaranteed contract. The money signed for is the money received, unless youre Gil Meche and you understand that youve been grossly (unintentional pun, I swear!) overpaid and you retire before the last year, forfeiting 12 million.

In football, the phrase is guaranteed money. That is the money that a player will receive, most of it up-front or in bonuses, in addition to game checks. If he can avoid a career ending injury, he will only get game checks as long as the team thinks hes serviceable. Chester Taylor signed a four-year deal last year and this year? He gone! At least he got his guaranteed 7 mil! In the NFL there is no long-term security unless youre one of the top 1 and get huge guaranteed money. (Why does that sound familiar?) Thats why I never really had a problem with hold-outs in football. That is a cut-throat business and everybody understands. A player needs to get his cash when he can, if not, its gone forever, just like he is. In the case of Lance Briggs, hes in the 4th year of a 6th year contract, one that hes probably over-performed. Hes 30 and in his 9th year in the league, a time and age where the clock is ticking ever faster towards the end. He also remembers at the same age three years ago with four years left on his deal, Brian Urlacher was able to renegotiate his deal to add an extra year and 18 million. Maybe not the best PR move on Lances to ask for more cash, and then a trade, but considering the teams precedent I can understand where hes coming from. My guess though is that this will be his last year as a Bear because of his ability to be outspoken and I dont think hes viewed by ownership in the same favorable way that Urlacher iswas.

And judging by his comments about a disconnect between the players and front office this week on Countdown to Kickoff, I dont think Im giving a shocking opinion. He gone! The thing that baffles me is the Matt Forte situation. After a sensational rookie year, he came back to earth and looked like he had lost a step in year two, but since then hes been lights out! In the last two years hes averaging almost 5 yards per carry and over 10 yards per catch, those are explosive numbers. Oh, and hes yet to miss a game and by the way, have you ever seen the Bears offensive line?! Hes in the last year of his rookie deal, a time when teams almost always extend or come to a new agreement for fear of losing a cornerstone player, but it hasnt happened in Fortes case. It makes you wonder what the real story is. It doesnt make sense to not make a deal. I personally am amazed that Forte continues to play with the amount of money he is risking to lose if he gets injured. It makes me want him to get paid even more. You know his teammates notice. Thats one bad dude. He has shown exceptional commitment to the Bears organization, its time they showed it back. Pay the Man!

So back to the text I received from the boss. Im at an age where my philosophy on life is simplification, if you have a choice. Life is going to do its best to throw you enough curveballs so why tilt the advantage? But most times I dont have a choice. I deal with the public sentiment that is within my house. When everybodys happy, life is good. So while Im not necessarily pleased with a new non-human addition in my house, I understand that there can be positive benefits to it. Its called the ability to adapt and to see situations from more than one viewpoint. The rest of my household is ecstatic. There something good in that. And, Im confronted with a situation I cant change, so why go there? The Cubs and Bears have every right to go down a path of their choice for the many reasons they choose to do so, but they also have the ability to think outside of the box that they have put themselves into. Im not saying that they have to change their philosophy, but maybe take a more long-term view. Once Epsteins here, we hopefully can put all of this how-not-to make deal behind us and usher in a new age of Cubs history, but for the love of all that is good can we just get it done? If I read one more article by the baseball writers in this town that begins with: Sources say my heads going to explode. As for the Bears, I have a feeling that the story of disenchantment is going to be a theme for the whole year. But there is one way to stem that tide, if they just get past their fear of commitment, and have a happy locker again, besides winning games that is. But that will be another story for another day! And for any of you that want a laugh, just google bearded dragon and know that Mr. Red Bow Tie now has one residing in his house. We traded cash to acquire him and he now has a lifetime contract.

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 4 win over Canucks

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AP

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 4 win over Canucks

In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Stanley Cup team, NBC Sports Chicago is re-airing each of the Blackhawks' 16 postseason wins from the run that ended a 49-year championship drought. You can join the conversation using #HawksRewind on social media.

After regaining home-ice advantage with a 5-2 in Game 3, the Blackhawks rolled past the Canucks 7-4 in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals. Here are three things we noticed in the win:

1. A power play explosion

The Blackhawks' job going into Vancouver was to win at least one of the two games to take back home-ice advantage. They did that in Game 3. But Game 4 was the icing on the cake.

The final score was 7-4, but the reality is, the Blackhawks were outplayed in this game at even strength, where they generated only 27 shot attempts and 13 scoring chances while the Canucks had 55 shot attempts and 27 scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

It was special teams that made the difference. In their first nine postseason games, the Blackhawks went 7-for-37 on the power play for a success rate of 18.9. In Game 4 against Vancouver, they exploded for four goals on eight opportunities. 

2. A career night for Jonathan Toews

Fresh off a three-point effort in Game 3, Toews followed that up by recording a career-high five points, highlighted by his first career postseason hat trick. All three goals were scored on the power play, the third of which turned out to be the game winner. It was his fifth multi-point outing of the playoffs in his ninth game.

The Blackhawks' stars willed their team to a victory in Game 4, and they followed the lead of their captain.

3. Don't forget about Patrick Sharp

While Toews dominated the scoresheet, there's another Blackhawk who also had a big night: No. 10 in white. Sharp scored a power-play goal, had three assists and won five of six faceoffs in the win that helped him secure the No. 2 star of the game.

Here's a fun fact to wrap up: Sharp recorded at least one point in seven of his first 10 games of this postseason, and 15 of 22 total. He had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) through his first 10 games following a four-point effort in Game 4.

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: The rotation starred, but the bullpen was championship caliber, too

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AP

White Sox 2005 Rewind: The rotation starred, but the bullpen was championship caliber, too

Even in the handful of games we’ve shown from the early portion of the 2005 season, one thing is abundantly clear: This starting rotation was very, very good.

But while the game has evolved to place greater emphasis on relief pitching, no team, not even 15 years ago, could win the World Series without a strong bullpen. And certainly the White Sox had a strong bullpen, their 3.23 relief ERA one of the three best in baseball in 2005.

April 13 against the Indians, the White Sox got the kind of performance from their relief corps that signaled the pitching staff as a whole, not just the rotation, was championship caliber.

Jose Contreras wasn’t really that bad in this one, despite issuing five walks. He gave up just four runs in 6.2 innings, hardly something to overly bemoan. But once he surrendered a hammered home run to Grady Sizemore that tied the score at 4 in the seventh inning, he got the hook. It was the bullpen’s job to keep an Indians lineup that to that point had put 10 men on base, five hits and five walks against Contreras, from doing anything else.

And that’s exactly what happened. Three different pitchers — Damaso Marte, Luis Vizcaino and Dustin Hermanson — retired 10 of the 11 hitters they faced.

An early season blow up stood out as an outlier, perhaps clouding judgments at the effectiveness of the ‘pen. As Adam Hoge wrote about Saturday, closer Shingo Takatsu gave up three homers in one appearance against these Indians in the third game of the season, the kind of performance that haunts fans’ memories forever. The bullpen, in general, was hideous in that game, with Neal Cotts tagged for a run and Vizcaino roughed up for a whopping six tallies in the 11th inning.

But that game was truly an outlier. After the 4.1 shutout frames April 13 and excluding the April 7 disaster, the White Sox bullpen had a miniscule 1.76 ERA, allowing just three runs in their 15.1 innings of work.

Contreras was shaky in this game, but kept the Indians from running up a huge run total. The bullpen locked the Indians down and allowed the White Sox hitters to pull ahead for good on a Juan Uribe sacrifice fly in the 10th.

And providing a bit of foreshadowing, Hermanson got his first save of the season. Takatsu was jettisoned from the role not long into the campaign, and Hermanson bridged the gap between Takatsu and Bobby Jenks. Hermanson racked up saves into September and had 34 of them on the season.

This rotation was excellent, no doubt about it, and it’s probably the No. 1 reason why the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. But even the best rotations can be limited by a bad bullpen. Fortunately for the South Siders, they had a good one.

What else?

— Five walks is a lot of walks. While Contreras had himself a good season, he walked 75 batters in 2005, the fourth highest total in the American League. It’s perfectly obvious why pitchers should limit their walks, but certainly this game could serve as Exhibit A. Contreras walked the leadoff man in each of the first two innings, with both runners coming around to score. That helped put the White Sox in a 3-0 hole after two. Contreras had more days like this as the season went on, with three more games in which he walked at least five opposing hitters, including a start on July 1 where he walked seven. The White Sox went 2-2 in those four games, though they lost the seven-walk start against the Oakland Athletics.

— “It’s his job to keep them right there, let the team get back into it. He’s perfectly capable of going six innings and at least giving the hitters an opportunity to get back into it.” Darrin Jackson looked prescient, because despite the walks, Contreras did keep the Indians at bay enough for his offense to engineer a comeback, pull ahead and later pull out a win in extra innings.

— “It’s really amazing that a little thing like a leadoff bunt can shake things up for an offense.” Perfect analysis right there from DJ. Just as I discussed Scott Podsednik making things happen and starting a White Sox rally with a bunt single in the April 11 game against this same Indians team, Pablo Ozuna did the exact same thing to leadoff the fourth inning, starting a three-run frame. That disrupted Cliff Lee enough after retiring the first nine hitters he faced that he gave up three straight hits, the third from Carl Everett (an infield single that featured a ridiculously airmailed throw by Lee) driving in the White Sox first run. Maybe that game-tying rally doesn’t happen without Ozuna’s small-ball start.

— Bob Wickman got his revenge, this time. In the second game of the season, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye dramatically hit back-to-back homers off the Indians closer to erase a three-run deficit and set up a thrilling comeback win on the South Side. This time, not so much. Facing Konerko and Dye again to lead off the ninth inning, he retired them both, as well as Aaron Rowand, for a 1-2-3 innings that briefly preserved a 4-all tie. Wickman had a huge 2005 season, making the All-Star team and leading the AL with 45 saves.

— Another arm brought on from the Cleveland ‘pen wasn’t so lucky. It was familiar face Bob Howry, who pitched for the White Sox from 1998 to 2001. He took the loss in this one, the leadoff double he gave up to A.J. Pierzynski to start the 10th the critical blow. Pierzynski moved to third on a Joe Crede bunt and scored on Uribe’s sacrifice fly. And that was the ballgame.

— In the top of the 10th, famous Indians fan Drew Carey caught a foul ball! Cleveland rocks, baby.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Monday, when you can catch the April 19, 2005, game against the Twins, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. El Duque on the mound for the South Siders.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.