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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Under the Radar Again
by Hal Vickery

Odds and ends, bits and pieces…. 

As usual I’m the kiss of death for the World Series hopes of any team I root for.  Of course there have been rare exceptions, such as the 2005 Sox, but in general the team I pin my hopes on crash and burn. 

This year it was the Oakland A’s.  I really did want to see Frank Thomas earn a World Series ring based on his post-season performance, so I guess what I should have done is written about my love for Magglio Ordoñez and how I wanted the Tigers to win it all.  Instead Thomas went 0 for the ALCS and the A’s were swept. 

Have I told you lately how much I love the New York Mets? 

I work with some die-hard Cubs fans.  In general they’re not your typical “Cubs” (read “Wrigley Field”) fans.  These guys actually understand the game and are often realistic in their hopes and expectations.  Maybe that comes from living neither in the shadow of The Shrine nor in Iowa. 

So it has been interesting listening to their take on their feelings about the candidates for the Cubs’ managerial position following the non-renewal of Dusty Baker’s contract.   

The overwhelming consensus among them is that Joe Girardi is the man for the job.  Their reasoning is simple.  The Cubs are traditionally underachievers.  Girardi took a young Marlins team and made them overachieve. 

In addition Girardi didn’t put up with any garbage from the Marlins’ owner or general manager.  He wanted to win, and he did whatever it took to do so. 

Of course, my co-workers realize that this is precisely the reason Girardi will not be hired.  Instead, they are looking to the Cubs to go for the “big splash” and announce Lou Piniella as manager.   

They’re probably right.  The Cubs job is essentially a sinecure.  As long as three million fans go through the turnstiles every year, the Cubs don’t need to win.  Piniella showed that he feels the same way by spending three years in St. Petersburg compiling a 200-285 record for the lowly Devil Rays, who somehow managed to finished out of the cellar during the second year of his tenure there. 

Piniella can collect his paycheck, manage to finish as high as second or third in a few years, and be regarded as one of the greatest managers in Cubs history for this achievement, all while earning in the neighborhood of four or five million dollars a year. 

Now and then my co-workers can get as goofy as any other Cubs fans.  For example, some of them are talking about the Cubs signing both Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee during the off-season.  Of course to do this, they figure that “all the Cubs have to do is raise their payroll to $125 million or so.”   

Yup, at a time when Tribune Co. profits are down with an organization that can sell three million tickets with a little league team appearing on the field.  What they fail to realize is that the Cubs marketing strategy is all about the Wrigley Field/”Wrigleyville” experience, how special it is to be a Cubs fan, and most of all hope

Remember last February?  It was the Cubs’ turn after the Sox won their first World Series in eighty-eight years.  Wood and Pryor were coming back.  Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez were going to carry the team.  They had a great bullpen led by Ryan Dempster and a couple of White Sox rejects, Scott “Not Jane” Eyre and Bobby “Gas Can” Howry.   

They had their wristband lottery and sold out most of their home dates the day tickets went on sale.  No one knew how many of those sold tickets went to the Tribune Co.’s in-house scalping operation, but they were guaranteed three million tickets sold in mid-February. 

You can bet that hiring a manager who won a World Series sixteen years ago this month will give ticket sales a large enough boost where the Cubs won’t need to sign both Carlos Lee and Soriano.  Heck, they may not have to sign either of them this year. 

It’s no accident that John McDonough, now the interim club president, is favored to be hired permanently.  His first interest has always been marketing.  He’s probably very well aware of just how much hope it will take to market his club.  And he has an entire newspaper to help him in that market by having their crack team of sportswriters shove McDonough’s press releases down their gullible readers’ throats as if it were the truth. 

Lee and Soriano?  Don’t make me laugh. 

Of course the good thing to come out of all of this is that unless Kenny Williams does something completely out of character, such as trading Jon Garland and Joe Crede (as has been speculated at least on WSCR), the Sox will once again be flying under the radar.  They seemed pretty successful using that strategy in 2005.  Maybe it’s time for a return to doing just that. 

In 2006 it will be the Tigers who are the gunslingers everybody, including the Sox, will want to take on.  The Sox may have won ninety games, but it doing so they finished in third place.  This means they can once again lurk in the bushes where no one even thinks about them. 

The national media will be focused on New York and Boston once again, and may give a nod to the Tigers if they manage to win the World Series.  The national media does like Jim Leyland and Ivan Rodriguez after all.   

But Chicago?  The only story there will be the Cubs and Lou Piniella.  And that’s just the way I like it.

______________________________________________________________________

Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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