Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Fade to Black
2009-02-02 20:55
by Phil Bencomo

It hurts, any time you lose something you care about, something that's been a part of your life for years. It hurts, any time you watch as a community you love slowly fades away, as much by your own doing as anyone else's. You flog yourself with notes of things unwritten, things unsaid, with thoughts of what could have come to pass, with dreams of success left unfulfilled, and it hurts even more. But such is the way of the world.

* * * *

The Toaster's shutting down today, but Cub Town has been dead for quite some time. I joined Cub Town at scarcely 18 years old, bustling with enthusiasm for blogging about the Cubs. But sometime between then and now, the enthusiasm faded, though my support for the team never did. Blogging the daily minutiae of the team, which consumed most of my evenings in high school, lost its appeal.

I could diverge here and try to sort out exactly why my passion for that kind of writing dwindled, but that's of interest to no one, not even me. Try as I did, I could never get back to into it, which filled me with much angst for a time. But I've moved on...

* * * *

You see, I've got a very exciting project in the works. Exciting to me, anyway. It's not yet ready to be officially announced, but when it is, word should get around. And you'll see just what kind of writing I'm interested in these days.

* * * *

To close this final Cub Town post, I must offer my thanks: First, to Derek Smart, for asking me to join the finest group of writers I've ever been involved with; second, to Ken Arneson, for making this site possible; third, to the rest of the Toastmasters, for making me feel so welcome; and finally, to the readers, who make it all worthwhile. Thanks for everything.

And into the black we go...

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish
2009-02-02 17:51
by Derek Smart

I'm not sure what to say today. This being over feels momentous, and pedestrian at the same time, because while I've been here seemingly forever, I've barely shown my shadow since mid-season 2006. The truth is, this day has been a long time coming, at least for me, and the fact that it has become official is merely ceremony: I'm retired from blogging, and have been for months, if not years.

At the very least I need to thank some people: Christian, for bringing me on board way back when; Alex, for being my partner when Cub Town first was born; Phil, for propping this beast up while I did everything in my power to passive-aggressively kill it; all my Toaster-mates for being brilliant partners and just flat-out good people; and Ken, for being the most gracious of hosts, for putting his heart and soul into making this joint purr like a kitten, and for doing all the remarkably pain-in-the-ass stuff that none of us would ever want to deal with, even if we had the knowledge-base to handle it.

Finally, of course, I'd like to thank anyone who ever stopped by here to read what we posted. We weren't always perfect, and we weren't always timely, but we hope we at least gave a smile and a place to share our mutual love of the game and our team.

Now, since this is my last post, I'd like to share the favorite thing I ever wrote on The Toaster. Oddly, it wasn't on Cub Town, but came from a round of Humbugardy that we played during the 05-06 offseason. We were all instructed to write the first paragraph of a novel entitled 'Tim Salmon in America,' and I think my entry was the best thing I've done here, which I could choose to be depressed by, but won't. In any case, here it is, the opening paragraph to my version of 'Tim Salmon in America.'

Laxminarayana Vishnuvardhana saw his turn was next. The line had been long, and the hot wait excruciating, if not unlike the lines and waits in Mumbai. He pulled out a worn, yellowing paperback. It was a book his brother had given him when he first arrived. He had said, "These pages contain all you need to know. Read them. Learn them. Know them in your heart. For here, in this book, is your new home. Here, in this book, is America." He gazed for a moment at the cover, slowly ran his finger over the word "Street," and turned carefully to the page he had marked with a folded corner. There was the name, circled in black ink. He would have only one chance to get it right. He had practiced it over and over again, speaking into a mirror, watching his mouth form the words, correcting little failures, and trying again until it was perfect. Perfect once. Perfect one hundred times. Perfect one thousand times. It would be who he was for the rest of his life. One doesn't skimp on re-birth, and now his time had come. The functionary gestured, waking him from his daydream. "Name please," she said, and slowly he articulated his response: "Tim Salmon." And so he was.

Thanks again, everyone. I hope you enjoyed being here as much as I did. As always: Go Cubs!


The DVD Cannot Come Quickly Enough
2009-01-26 22:10
by Phil Bencomo

"The Wrestler": One of the best films I've seen in a long, long time. There's a real truth to it that speaks to anyone who's ever grappled with a fall, however abrupt, from grace and greatness in any part of life. Some people move on, but others can do nothing but reach for the top, even until the very end.

2009-01-20 21:00
by Phil Bencomo

So: Last month I wrote a piece of fairly obvious satire. The third item in this post, it was meant to elicit a few chuckles and head shakes. The Tribune isn't too far from selling newspaper subscriptions for the opportunity to buy Cubs tickets, I suppose.

But I asked too much of people, it seems. Tonight, curious about the readership of this neglected blog, I checked the site statistics and found that a good chunk of visitors this month arrived via this forum post at North Side Baseball, linking to, you guessed it, my satirical post. Now, NSBB is just about the last place you'd look for intelligent discussion of the Cubs, so I should have anticipated the reactions. But I was still shocked out of my seat.

Just go read the thread, please. Not only did every commenter accept a preposterous and uncredited story as fact, but several also decided they'd be willing to shell out for the aforementioned subscriptions. Either NSBB, in sum, is truly oblivious to satire, or there's a sizable number of members silently laughing -- no one was willing to take pity? -- behind the backs of the oblivious.

What a sad, sad place. You know, almost as depressing as this barely alive blog.

Cubs Sign Gathright
2008-12-16 11:51
by Phil Bencomo

Joey Gathright and the Chicago Cubs agreed to an $800,000, one-year contract Tuesday, three days after the outfielder became a free agent when Kansas City failed to offer a deal for 2009. [link]

I sure hope Gathright isn't the left-handed-hitting outfielder Hendry's been lusting for. He can certainly play defense, but Gathright's never done much with the bat.

Cubs to Fans: Buy Tribune Subscriptions, Move Up on Season Ticket List
2008-12-13 09:30
by Phil Bencomo

The financial woes continue: Tribune Co. files for bankruptcy protection.

The company, which operates TV stations and newspapers including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, had $7.6 billion of assets and debt of $13 billion, according to a Chapter 11 petition filed today in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del.

* * * *

Here's what you probably already knew about 2009 tickets:

Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney called 2009 "clearly the hardest year" for the team to determine ticket prices because of the struggling national economy. The Cubs didn't want to raise prices for everyone, but the demand for quality tickets is expected to remain high in spite of the recession. Kenney referred to the new price structure as a "hybrid plan."

"We're going to leave ticket prices flat for 33 percent of the part, and then selectively raise prices for our best inventory in other places," Kenney said. "The biggest change is we've added another tier of seats. We used to have regular, value and prime [seats]. We're now using the Olympic medals, gold, silver and bronze, and added a platinum level. The big change is there are 14 games we put into platinum level and, generally, that is driving our ticket increases."

* * * *

But I'm sure -- I guarantee, in fact -- you haven't heard about this part of the Cubs' ticket plan:

CHICAGO -- Tribune Co. and the Chicago Cubs on Friday announced unprecedented plans to open the season ticket waiting list to the open market. Beginning in January, fans of the Tribune Co.-owned Cubs can buy their way to the top of the list with the purchase of subscriptions to the Chicago Tribune.

"Look: We've got some issues to work out," said Tribune Co. Chairman and CEO Sam Zell. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday amid falling revenues and the nationwide credit crisis. "And it's not just us. Look at the financials at any paper. If we're going to turn this industry around, it's going to take creative solutions, like the one announced here today," Zell added.

Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney said fans already on the ticket waiting list will receive points based on their current place on the list. "Some people have been on this list for decades," Kenney said. "It wouldn't be fair -- or humane, really -- to just wipe that all away and make them start over."

To get more points, and move up on the list, fans must buy subscriptions to the Tribune. Further details about the system, which will be hosted on, will be released next month.

Zell would not comment on how the Cubs' impending sale would affect the new system, but Kenney says the concept is not dependent on newspaper subscriptions. "We can make points equal to anything we want," he said, "be it newspapers or straight-up cash."

Cubs officials say a similar system will be implemented for the sale of individual game tickets. Rather than receive a randomized place in a virtual waiting room when the tickets are made available, online customers can purchase issues of Vine Line, the Cubs' official magazine, to improve their place in the virtual line.

Wood Says Goodbye
2008-11-14 13:45
by Phil Bencomo

Kerry Wood, today:

While Wood was understanding about the Cubs' decision, which Hendry said was made in the best interests of Wood and his family, he did say he would've been amenable to staying and "would have done anything" to stay a Cub. The Cubs told him to go get a three- or four-year deal for more money, but Wood said he would've agreed to a one-year deal to stay.

"That was an avenue we kind of approached," he said. "But they've got some issues they've got to take care of, and at the end I wasn't as important as lot of other aspects of the team. (Carlos) Marmol, we all know what he's capable of doing… it is what it is."

If Hendry wouldn't even sign Wood to a one-year deal, then (a) Kerry was asking for too much, (b) the Cubs have serious doubts, even in the short-term, about Wood's health, and/or (c) Hendry is far too altruistic. A combination of (a) and (b) seems very plausible in light of Tribune Co.'s finances and Wood's inherent injury risk. With more important holes to fill and, I'm sure, limited funds, Hendry couldn't justify, however much he'd like to, spending even the minimum salary Wood was asking for.

I don't doubt that Hendry would have liked to resign Wood, but he is a luxury the team cannot afford. Carlos Marmol should do a fine job as the closer, and Kevin Gregg projects to nearly match Wood in 2009 -- without the injury risk. Wood will get a nice multi-year deal from someone, Hendry will upgrade elsewhere, and the Cubs, as a business and team, will be better for it.

Cubs Trade for Gregg, Part with Wood
2008-11-13 16:35
by Phil Bencomo

From the Daily Herald:

The Cubs on Thursday acquired reliever/closer Kevin Gregg from the Florida Marlins in exchange for minor-league pitcher Jose Ceda in a deal that all but ensures Wood's roller-coaster 10-year run with the Cubs is over.

That and the fact the two sides couldn't agree on terms of a possible new contract.

"I think we all feel that Kerry is certainly deserving of a three- or four-year long-term contract," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "He's certainly done everything this organization has asked.

"We're just in a situation, as Kerry fully understands, that that length a deal for the kind of salary he would command right now is not our first priority."

The Tribune adds that Hendry wisely offered a one-year deal, which was, given Tribune Co.'s financial woes and Wood's injury risk, the only reasonable way to bring Wood back. Wood wanted more security and, well, here we are.

Some Cubs bloggers, caught up in their emotions, are cursing Hendry and blatantly ignoring, even when directly challenged, Wood's long-term risks. I understand how they're feeling -- I love Wood, too -- but the Cubs made the right decision.

Best of luck, Kerry, and thanks for the memories.

Award Season
2008-11-12 13:50
by Phil Bencomo

As expected, Geovany Soto was voted the NL's Rookie of the Year, nearly unanimously. I should be surprised that a BBWAA voter gave Joey Votto a first place vote over Soto, but then, this is the same group that gave fourth place to a non-rookie.

* * * *

Announced today, Lou Piniella won his third Manager of the Year award. From

Piniella finished with 15 first-place votes, eight second-place votes and four third-place votes for a total of 103 points, well ahead of the runner-up, Philadelphia's Charlie Manuel, who totaled 67 points.


The team was successful despite beginning the season with a few experiments. For example, Ryan Dempster was switching from closer to starter and ended up winning a career-high 17 games and finishing sixth in the NL Cy Young voting. Kerry Wood was making the transition from starter to closer and finished with 34 saves.

Regarding that last paragraph, I'd say the Cubs had such regular season success partly because of those experiments. Well done, Lou.

* * * *

Update: Zambrano wins a Silver Slugger.

Cuban's Out. Or Not.
2008-11-11 09:02
by Phil Bencomo

The Sun-Times reported Thursday that Mark Cuban has "zero chance" of receiving the approval from MLB necessary to purchase the Cubs. But I'm not convinced.

Consider the source of the speculation: an anonymous "Major League Baseball source." The entire basis for the Sun-Times report is one person whose proximity to Bud Selig or even a single owner is unknown. One would assume that the Sun-Times trusts this anonymous source. Surely this source has proved accurate in the past, if his or her bold statement is enough to prompt a nearly 700-word article. Especially considering that no other relevant MLB sources are quoted.

What's that you say? Look at the lead paragraph?

"And sources close to commissioner Bud Selig sounded an alarm this week..."

Wait a minute. "Sources"? That's plural, right, not a typo? But I thought ... wait ... let me check.

First quote's attribution: "a Major League Baseball source said this week."

That's one source.

Second attribution: "That same MLB source promised..."

That's still one source.

Oh, I see it now. It's those darned copy editors, of course, missing that little mistake. It should read, "another MLB source promised," because we all know that the Sun-Times -- or any media organization, bastions of truth and justice that they are -- would never sensationalize the words of a single unattributed source in order to sell papers, boost traffic and revive a flagging beat that should now provide fodder for at least a week. It's not like newspapers are, you know, starved for attention or anything, ready to sacrifice integrity if it means printing more papers.

* * * *

Sarcasm aside, the story, if true, has interesting implications. Sam Zell, saddled with debt, must wring as much cash as he can from the sale of the Cubs. Mark Cuban reportedly bid more than $1 billion and remains interested in purchasing the club, says the Daily Herald. But what happens if MLB blocks a sale to Cuban, who could very well be the high bidder? Craig Calcaterra says a court may have to decide just that:

I have no idea if Mark Cuban still even wants to buy the Cubs, but if he does, he is basically being told that he's going to have to sue to do it. Or, more to the point, he and Sam Zell are going to have to team up to do it. Given that the only court to ever consider the matter has ruled that the anti-trust exemption does not apply to the sale of teams, such a suit stands a good chance of success in my view.

I don't know if, given the Tribune's current financial position, Zell is obligated to go down that road in order to sell to the top bidder. But from what little I do know of such matters, it wouldn't surprise me.

But all of this depends on Cuban being blocked by MLB, which is, whatever one report based on one anonymous source says, not a certainty.

* * * *

The Sun-Times added today that Tribune Co. has set a November 26 deadline for bidders. Zell's still looking for his billion, but the Wall Street Journal says it's slipping away -- along with Zell's plan to keep only a five percent stake in the team. No word on whether Cuban would be willing to buy a minority stake.

From the Ashes
2008-10-13 20:37
by Phil Bencomo

So: I've got this image bouncing around in my head of the Cubs' 2008 season. It should be a pretty picture of a remarkable season, evoking pleasure and awe. A division title, 97 wins, a no-hitter: A season for the ages, right? But that's not how we remember seasons. We remember how they end.

This picture in my head -- which, I suppose, is really more like a video clip -- is sort of a sadistic cross between the Hindenburg and the Titanic. Totally cheesy, I know. Lou Piniella stands at the helm, Cub players bustle about making sure this enormous boat-blimp launches successfully, and all is good on the Earth. What more, a celebrated writer for a national magazine writes a cover story proclaiming this behemoth's magnificence and even the significance of success! The world cannot contain its excitement, the boat-blimp rises from the sea to glory, and ... well, you can guess how it ends.

* * * *

Here's part of the reason I waited so long to write this post:

Reality's great cruelty: In the end, love always brings suffering.

The greater the love, the more devastating the loss.

To suffer over the loss of something unloved is to not suffer at all.

There's always ... next ... year? <sob>

Yep. My scribblings, in the aftermath of the sweep. I had more -- and nearly wrote an entire post based on them -- but that piece of paper, filled with so much angst and self-pity, has since been destroyed. You're welcome.

It's only natural to be upset. After all, I did just watch the winningest Cub team in my lifetime follow for six months a perfect script like a Westminster champion follows its owner -- only to reach the playoffs, roll over, play dead, and never get back up. It was simply torturous, not unlike my ensuing post would have been to read. Again, you're welcome.

But that was 10 days ago, and I've moved on. That's the way of the Cub fan, the way of our favorite absurd franchise. Remember 2008 for all of its good times, lick the wounds from the bad, and hope for a better tomorrow. What more is there to do?

* * * *

What happens when you don't wait: Stuff like this. Wow.

* * * *

Last week, during my alternating angry/depressed stage, a friend remarked that there are only two ways for the Cubs to win a championship.

"And you wait until now to enlighten everyone?" I asked.

"Look," he said, "either they're so good, unbelievably good, that they just won't and can't lose, or else they squeak into the playoffs as the team that gets hot late, then surprise everyone, and coast through on momentum."

To 2009 and either 130 or 86 wins!

Riding the Red Bull
2008-10-02 12:16
by Phil Bencomo

Joe Posnanski:

Are the Cubs mortally wounded by losing Game 1? I say no — the Cubs are still the better team. BUT they obviously need a big performance from Carlos Zambrano, and man oh man, it's scary to put 100 years of pain and the passion of Cub nation on the Red Bull himself. My only prediction is this: Zambrano will either be utterly dominant or he will absolutely suck. I don't think there's an in-between, not tonight, not for Carlos.

Exactly. Let's not skirt around the hard fact: This game is a must-win, if the Cubs are to have any chance at winning the series. And to win, Zambrano must pitch well tonight, and the Cub lineup must start hitting -- in short, the Cubs must play like a 97-win team.

That's a lot of "must"s. But it all starts with Carlos, with whom there is rarely any middle ground between brilliant dominance and spectacular failure. His two mid-September starts may forever define him: A no-hitter on the 14th; and an eight-run, 1.2 inning debacle five days later. The no-hit Carlos pitched after 11 days of rest. Tonight, he will throw after seven.

I can't say which Zambrano will appear, but it will be obvious from the start. If he's on, I will sigh with relief. If he is not, I can only hope that Lou Piniella makes not the same mistake -- trying to squeeze just a little bit more from a pitcher with nothing left to give -- two nights in a row.

Dodgers at Cubs: NLDS Game One Chat
2008-10-01 14:30
by Phil Bencomo

We're going to try an experiment, folks. You see, Dodger Thoughts has, to put it conservatively, a very active comment section. Cub Town does not. I know this.

Any chat thread here will pale next to the chat at Dodger Thoughts. But I'd still like to provide a place for Cub fans to mingle among themselves.

Now, that said, if the number of participants shrinks below (or fails to ever rise above) three or four, myself included, I'll probably shut it down and send people over to Dodger Thoughts. They're civil people over there, I promise, and I'm sure it'll be far more enjoyable than spending three hours chatting essentially alone with me. Ahem.

It's up to you, readers. If you want to chat here during the game, go for it. I'll be around. But if the place is looking deserted (and it shouldn't be too hard to tell), I'll make an announcement.


* * * *

Ryan Dempster at home, 2008: 14-3, 2.86 ERA, 109 hits allowed in 129 innings.

Derek Lowe on the road, 2008: 5-6, 4.42 ERA, 106 hits allowed in 93.2 innings.

Hardly a complete picture of the match-up, but it makes me feel warm and fuzzy, so we'll go with it.

The wind's blowing in, and fall is in the air. Let's start off right, boys. Just win.

Dodgers at Cubs, 5:30 p.m.

The Expanding Man
2008-10-01 06:22
by Phil Bencomo

Several times each week, my legs grow agitated, as I suspect any anthropomorphic body part would if it too spent hours each day stored under a desk while important tasks are carried out above. "Preposterous!" my legs exclaim. "You know full well just how relative of a term 'important' is. Just think of all the 'important' things I can do!" I try to explain the valid reasoning and necessity of sitting at my desk, forcefully adding, "This is not a democracy." But legs chafe at such tyranny, it seems, and before I can muster the militia to quell the treasonous revolutionaries, I am unwillingly out of my seat, walking out of the building and into the great unknown.

I try to console myself, choosing in my mind some plausible destination that I will, in truth, never reach. I instead wander aimlessly, led by legs that weave from street to street on naught but a whim. But frightened I am not. Perhaps I was once, but the legs always grow tired or bored after a time, and order is restored once more.

I've come to cherish such walks, in a way, when my feet carry me unimpeded over the always-growing mountain of tasks to be completed and down into the deep, fertile valley of boundless thought. My mind wanders in such times of quiet solitude.

Some of my most inspired thoughts and ideas come to me as I walk, and in similar situations that leave the mind free while the body performs some thoughtless, rote act. These thoughts may meander toward the Cubs, but they just as likely will not. I have spent the last several days searching for words to fill the void in my head where the 2008 Cubs ought to be, and inspiration eludes me. But tonight, my legs stirred once again.

* * * *

As I walk, Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues" plays in my head. It'd been lodged there, in my head, for a few weeks, but yesterday it suddenly broke free. Where before it was a soft buzz that occasionally floated through my mental chaff and into consciousness, "Blues" now plays endlessly, only dropping into the background, as if on some mental audio ducker setting, when I am distracted from it by thought or stimulation.

* * * *

I'll learn to work the saxophone
I'll play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whisky all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues

* * * *

I walk, and I think. Why have I struggled so mightily to find words for the winningest team of my lifetime? I ask myself. It was pointed out to me last week that, largely, I only write posts of substance following a poor showing. That is, I thrive on the Cubs' setbacks and, in turn, my own misery. I'm not sure that's completely true, but it lands close to the heart of the matter. Have I become such a cynic that I cannot motivate myself to write anything positive, for fear that something dastardly is close behind to negate my enthusiasm, my hope, my carefully crafted words? Do I even have the capacity for optimism anymore?

The lake comes into sight. Perhaps my character has become irreparably flawed, I think, returning to my thoughts. Consider: Among Cub regulars, only Ryan Theriot (95) and Kosuke Fukudome (92) have OPS+ numbers under 100. Swap Mike Fontenot for Mark DeRosa at second, DeRosa for Fukudome, and put Jim Edmonds in center over Reed Johnson, and only Theriot has an OPS+ under 111. And that every starter in the Cubs' playoff rotation recorded an ERA+ of at least 110. And that the bullpen, though a bit shaky at the lower rungs, is, among those due to throw the bulk of the innings, outstanding.

And I can muster nothing.

I've taken to appending "if they get there" to the end of all my statements regarding the Cubs and later playoff rounds, and it's entirely indicative of the shell that surrounds me, deflecting unbridled passion and keeping me safe from its potential harm. Then something clicks. But is that shell, I ask silently, protecting or depriving?

Removing the scar tissue may leave me vulnerable, and may result in great emotional pain, but does not the chance at boundless ecstasy outweigh any cost? A life steeled against potential harm is steeled against both good and bad. What kind of life is worth living in anticipation of failure?

Maybe, I think, I can change. Maybe I can open myself to the world as never before, and leave both parties better for it.

* * * *

You call me a fool
You say it's a crazy scheme
This one's for real
I already bought the dream

* * * *

My feet slow to a stop. They've been carrying me along the lake. The sun has since set, but it is hardly dark. I look ahead, my gaze running parallel to the shore. Chicago, lit up in all its glory, dominates the view, and fireworks fly from Navy Pier into the night sky. I stand, and I watch. Minutes pass, and even as I turn toward home, I cannot tear my eyes away. Yes. Warmth fills me, despite the cold, and I smile.

* * * *

This is the night
Of the expanding man
I take one last drag
As I approach the stand
I cried when I wrote this song
Sue me if I play too long
This brother is free
I'll be what I want to be

2008-09-20 10:08
by Phil Bencomo

After one batter, the magical sheen melted away. There would be no repeat performance, perhaps not even a scoreless first frame.

After two, mortality (and reality with it, perhaps), with its infecting weaknesses in tow, reared its head, gnashed its teeth and bellowed to announce its presence.

And after three, it was clear as a clock tower's chime: an August pumpkin he was, and, after an unforgettable game, a pumpkin Carlos Zambrano became again.

* * * *

Many reasons, physical and psychological, have been bandied about as cause for Zambrano's horrific no-hitter followup. Fatigue, injury, pressure, distraction ... the list grows long. In one week, we've seen both the best and worst of Zambrano. The real Carlos stands somewhere in between, but in October toward which pole will he lean?

* * * *

The Cubs' options are myriad, but I'd give Carlos a few extra days of rest before his final regular season start, which should be time enough to work through his struggles and rest up for October. Extra rest did wonders Sunday, and could straighten Zambrano out again, if not to quite the same effect.

* * * *

The magic number sits at one. Ted Lilly's on the mound. Just clinch it, boys.

Cardinals at Cubs, 2:55 p.m.