For the newbies: please realize, first of all, that before the 2003 season, the season in which we were five outs away from winning the NL pennant, I came out here and complained. Not only did I think we had no chance winning in the first year under a new manager, but the bullpen looked like crap, and our so-called best pitcher, Kerry Wood, had not been healthy since the August of his rookie year. Well, that time, I was wrong.
Before the 2004 season, when everyone in the world picked us to no only go to the World Series, but win it, I came out here and complained about the lack of a leadoff hitter, along with my skepticism about who we would use to close. That time, I was right. I was also right the next two years.
Before the 2007 season, I once again pointed out just how bad and dead the 2006 team was, reminded everyone about our lack of a leadoff hitter, closer, and threw in the doubts about a first-year manager, and looked real dumb in the end. So, the next season, I came back and still didn't see a leadoff hitter, closer, and thought we were depending too much on unknowns like Dempster, Soto, and Marmol. So they went out and had the best regular season in a bazillion years...
The last two years, though, I came out here and pointed out the lack of leadership, heart, and situational execution, stuck to my guns (especially in 2009) when everyone else was convinced that guys like Soto, Soriano and Bradley (yep, him) would do a quick 180 and salvage the season....well, I will admit it didn't exactly take a whole lot of brain cells to "predict" gloom and doom last year, like most years in Cub History.
after the jump...five reasons why I am on record, for the first time, showing optimism...
And, to be honest, it hasn't required a whole lot of guts, or brains, or sense to come out here year after year and predict misery. I mean...since 1946: 65 seasons, 6 postseasons. If you're a grump like me, the odds tend to back you up.
So, why am I here, now, predicting sunshine and light for our Chicago Cubs in 2011?
- There are no expectations for this year: the only season the Cubs have succeeded in my lifetime in a year in which there were pre-season expectations was 2008. The other five post-season appearances? 1983, 1988, 1997, 2002 and 2006 were all miserable years. Last year? I started a Facebook group called "I hate the 2010 Cubs". Need I say more?
- Mike Quade will manage this team: for better or worse, Quade has actually participated in Spring Training, will actually think with his upper head while making out lineup cards, and stay awake during the games. He will hold guys accountable for their bad habits, and will not just 'play the hot hand' regardless of trends, circumstances, or salaries. He will not position himself in front of the microphones day after day and shrug, roll his eyes and claim he has no control over his team or their performance. He will not let Carlos Zambrano act like an ass in front of a national TV audience.
- We have added by subtraction. While it would have been wonderful to find new homes for some of our worst contracts, for the most part, I like the members of this team. I do not think Carlos Pena, Blake DeWitt and Kerry Wood are the best players in the league by any stretch. But they are NOT Derrek Lee, Ryan Theriot or Mike Fontenot. Font simply could not handle the pressure of starting at second base. The Riot had a negative "baseball IQ" - could not run the bases, had trouble with the finer points of shortstop, and cannot accept the fact that he should never, ever try to hit the ball in the air. And sorry, I know he had 2 huge statistical years for us, and is probably a decent human being. He was also regarded as the leader of the clubhouse. Which is the worst thing that could possibly happen. He was about the LEAST competitive guy I have ever seen. I am glad he is gone. He was not clutch. If you think he was, I am sorry. You are wrong. Deal with it.
- On the other hand, Dempster and Wood have stepped up to provide the leadership for this year's team. Well, you say, what big games have they won? I will admit that the Great Games of Ryan Dempster DVD would be the same length as the Great Games of Derrek Lee (running time: 0:00). And Wood lost Game 7, 2003. (Someday soon, I will be happy to come out here and write 8,000 words about why Jesus Christ himself would have had no chance in Game 7 as the Cubs' starter). Wood did win the 2003 NLDS clincher against Atlanta. Wood enjoys a close relationship with Special Assistant and Pitching Savant Greg Maddux. I cannot stress enough how much more secure I feel knowing he is in the clubhouse and in the pen. I think Wood is going to have a huge influence on Cashner (see above), Wells and, ultimately, Marmol when he has his Annual Mid-season Crisis of Confidence (AMCoC). He might even be able to get a few tough righties out.
- Finally, I think there are a few kids out there who will not only knock on the door this year, but possibly contribute in 2011. Eventually I can see Grabow replaced by Trey McNutt, Brett Jackson taking over for the oft-injured Soriano, and Castillo backing up Soto behind the plate, freeing up Koyie Hill to achieve his lifelong dream, the establishment of the "ex-Cubs Catchers who were unable to hit .200" museum, featuring himself, Paul Bako and Turd Hundley, in the lobby of the Ankeny I-35 Kum-and-Go in Ankeny, IA.
For the first time in three years, we have no clubhouse cancers, a manager with a discernible pulse, and (in Matt Garza) some off-season help acquired by an old-fashioned value-for-value trade. The Cubs are more like a real team, again! I am not saying we are built to win a pennant, but we certainly can be representative, competitive, and exciting in 2011, and if a couple more NL Central pitchers can tear their arms apart (how long will it take for the Dustbag to destroy Aroldis Chapman?), we may just end up in another postseason, which for me is a lofty goal this year.
I am excited for the season to start, for the first time since I can remember.