Every baseball fan is an optimist on opening day. Every baseball fan wants to believe there may be relief for the long-suffering, hope for the underdog, and love for the unloved. Especially in Chicago.
But I’ve got to be honest: I don’t think this is our year.
This is the year to move to the South of France, where the newspapers don’t carry box scores and your Facebook friends will post mostly bouillabaisse recipes. This is the year to take up chess or knitting or even the reading of objects formerly known as books. Just do yourself a favor, please, and turn off the ball game. Check in a year from now. Maybe two. Until further notice, let’s not talk about the national pastime, OK?
What’s that? You’re still here?
You think I’m kidding? Seriously, this baseball season could be the worst Chicago has seen since 1980, when the Cubs lost 98 games, the Sox lost 90, and the two teams combined to finish 53 games out of first place.
I’d rather root for the Royals, Nationals, or Marlins this year than the Cubs or Sox. Those teams have new players worth watching, some works in progress that should be interesting to follow.
But with the Cubs and Sox, what have I got to be excited about? Sure, the two new managers—Robin Ventura (see “Robin Ventura Talks White Sox”) on the South Side and Dale Sveum up in Wrigleyville—might be fun to watch, but should we really expect either of them to transform their inept charges into champions? Please. That’s like a career criminal counting on a new parole officer to turn him around or a two-year-old banking on a new daycare instructor for potty training. Good luck to you, Messrs. Ventura and Sveum, because you’ve got some messy work ahead.
Let’s look at the Cubs first. They’ve lost their best power hitter in Aramis Ramirez and made no big free-agent moves. Ian Stewart and David DeJesus are nice players, but they’re not going to do wonders for the T-shirt vendors on Addison. The starting rotation is mediocre, and the bullpen is a potential disaster. In the same division, the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds will be stronger than the Cubs. Even the Pirates might knock around the boys in blue.
Meanwhile, the White Sox said goodbye to their ace pitcher, Mark Buehrle, leaving them with an unproven cast of hurlers and a lineup of hitters who haven’t been hitting. Adam Dunn was the Titanic in cleats last year, and Alex Rios wasn’t much better. Their only reliable slugger, Paul Konerko, just turned 36. If he starts to fade, they’re all going down with the ship. Kenny Williams, the GM, says the team will not be spending more money to improve its roster. As for the new hitting coach, Jeff “Mickey” Manto: Over his nine-year career he hit a paltry .230.
Last year the Sox’s marketing slogan was “All In.” This year it’s “Appreciate the Game.” Next year it will probably be “Great Personality!”
If you’re still a hopeless romantic looking for some reason, any reason, to believe, I’ll give you this. The Cubs have been a poorly coached, undisciplined team the past few years. They haven’t taken care of the basics, simple things such as hitting the cutoff man and defending against the bunt. A new coach—especially a hard-nosed specimen like Sveum—can make a difference there.
Also, the Cubs won’t have to face Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols so often this year now that they have moved to the American League. Finally, Theo Epstein and the other new execs seem to have a plan, and it’s not difficult to imagine this team winning again in two or three years.
As for the Sox, well . . . remember Manto’s .230 batting average? Turns out that was the same team average for the Sox in 1906, yet those Hitless Wonders, as they were dubbed, went on to topple the mighty Cubs and win the World Series. So yes: Miracles do happen—just not this year.
Photograph: Anna Knott