October 17, 2015

Click on WORD or PDF for full content



One of the reasons Pickerhead has been so scarce lately, is the postseason of the Chicago Cubs. Life is in suspended animation. The National League Championship Series against the Mets starts with two games this weekend in New York and picks up on Tuesday with three games in Chicago. This baseball issue will start though with some items on Yogi Berra who died a few weeks ago. This from Jason Gay in the WSJ.

He was a spectacular baseball player. That sometimes gets forgotten in all the folksy warmth surrounding Yogi Berra, who died Tuesday at age 90. The numbers are staggering, almost supernatural, something out of a comic book: 18 seasons as a catcher for the New York Yankees, 10 World Series rings, 14 Series appearances, 15 All-Star Games and three most valuable player awards. There’s never been a career like it, before or since. I once emailed the groundbreaking statistician (and “Moneyball” godfather) Bill James about Berra’s rank among baseball’s all-timers, and his response was instant and unequivocal:

“I certainly think that Yogi was the greatest catcher who ever lived,” James wrote. “I have no doubt of this, honestly.”

Statistics tell only a fraction of his story. Berra was the son of immigrants, a World War II veteran who had left a Yankees farm club to join the Navy and served at D-Day, a gunner’s mate on a landing craft support vessel. “I think his military service has been a little overlooked, because men like him really didn’t talk about it much,” Carmen Berra, Yogi’s wife of 65 years, told the Star-Ledger a year before her death in 2014. “It wasn’t a big thing to him…it was just what they had to do.”

Such humility defined his life. Yogi Berra was not a pretentious man. His exceptional talent didn’t yield the type of payday that is now customary for ballplayers today—Berra never made more than $65,000 in a season, and never had more than a one-year contract. His easygoing style and proclivity for malapropisms—actually, it’s not fair to call them malapropisms; they’re Yogi-isms, sui generis, many of them brilliant (“Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical,” not even Twain was that good)—made him a beloved figure even to those who hated the mighty Yankees. Berra returned the laughs with a twinkle of self-awareness: Yogi made people chuckle, but he always got to be in on the joke. …




NewsMax has 53 of Yogi’s best Yogi-isms.

“So I’m ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face.” 

“Take it with a grin of salt.” 

“We were overwhelming underdogs.”

“The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase.”

“You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” 

“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”




Turning to the Cubs, we learn first about their unorthodox manager, Joe Maddon. Brian Costa writes in the WSJ

Inside their clubhouse at Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs players can find each day’s schedule on a whiteboard near the door. On any other team, the rundown would typically include times for stretching, batting practice, meetings and other pre-game work. But for the Cubs, the itinerary often entails little more than showing up within a couple hours of the first pitch.

In his quest to lead the team to its first championship since 1908, manager Joe Maddon is encouraging players to do something that defies the ingrained culture of baseball. He’d like them to prepare less. And if it’s all right with them, he’d rather they not show up for work quite so early.

In an effort to preserve players’ energy for games, Maddon has all but eliminated batting practice, a tradition that is nearly as old as the sport itself. Though he has long considered the routine to be archaic, this season represents Maddon’s greatest challenge yet to the popular notion that more practice leads to better performance.

The Cubs recently went more than a month without taking batting practice at Wrigley Field and have done so before only three games overall since Aug. 29. Even when Maddon allows such practices, players are often free to skip them. 

Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez, who worked alongside Maddon with the Tampa Bay Rays, said the manager has never reduced his team’s practice time on the field to this extent. A few Cubs veterans said they have never seen anything like it. …




The inexperienced Cubs took their series with the playoff veterans of the Cardinals 3 games to 1. Grantland writes on the rookies who carried the ball.

Going into the series against the battle-tested St. Louis Cardinals, a lack of playoff experience was supposed to be a problem for the Chicago Cubs. They were relying on four rookies — Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, and Jorge Soler — and another near rook in Javier Baez. Hell, only two of their starting position players (Miguel Montero and Dexter Fowler) had ever even played in the postseason before.

After Tuesday night’s 6-4 win over the Cardinals, the Cubs are now moving on to the National League Championship Series — and the virtues of playoff maturity lie in tatters throughout the Wrigley Field bleachers.

Bryant smashed the Game 3 go-ahead homer that gave the Cubs a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Russell whacked a pulse-stopping triple in Game 3 and knocked in the go-ahead run in Game 2 with a well-timed squeeze play. Schwarber showed off his cartoonish power, clubbing his second and third homers of the postseason. Soler and Baez didn’t even open the series in the starting lineup. But by the time Hector Rondon struck out Stephen Piscotty in the ninth inning Tuesday, Soler had emerged as the best player of the series and Baez had delivered one of the biggest blows of the postseason — an unlikely, electrifying, opposite-field three-run homer that started the Cubs on their way toward a clinching victory. They all make the guy who hit last night’s game-winning homer in the sixth — 26-year-old Anthony Rizzo — seem like a grizzled vet.

For as talented as all those kids are, the havoc-wreaking of Schwarber, Baez, and Soler in particular made it hard not to wonder: In an admittedly small sample size of games, what made these youngsters seem so immune to playoff pressure? …

… The Cardinals battled valiantly, but simply couldn’t muster the talent to match the Cubs’ cavalcade of free-swinging young’uns. Aside from a well-placed double in that sixth inning, Tony Cruz looked overmatched as an injury replacement for Molina. Jaime Garcia suffered from a stomach ailment in Game 2. Holliday’s lingering quad injury rendered him punchless in this series, just as he was upon his return from the DL in mid-September. A seemingly deep bullpen unraveled during both games at Wrigley. And adding insult to injury, the Cubs’ own pen proved instrumental in victory, providing six innings of relief in support of Hammel, including appearances by three different pitchers who’d been designated for assignment at some point this season.

This deep into the postseason, every team will have plenty of mashers and bat-missers at its disposal. But the remaining team with the best regular-season record has more position-player talent to throw at opponents than either of its potential NLCS foes. Throw in the historic Jake Arrieta and these guys just might be the Senior Circuit favorites.

When a young group makes the playoffs, we’ll often hear about how the players weren’t supposed to be there this quickly. Well, the Cubs still are. And with this group of precocious pulverizers taking the field, don’t count on them going away anytime soon.





Yahoo News covers the money side of the Cubs rebuild.

… Everything starts with the play on the field, where this year the Cubs have this year shed their lovable losers’ image and fans are instead dreaming of winning the World Series.

The losing before this year led Epstein to rebuild the team with an emphasis on lower-priced, young players and that in turn has given the team flexibility to spend on expensive free agents such as the signing of pitcher Jon Lester this past offseason.

“They took their lumps for a while, but now it’s bearing fruit,” said Sal Galatioto, president of sports banker Galatioto Sports Partners, which represented the Ricketts family in their purchase of the Cubs. “Great performance gives you leverage in doing anything.”

The financial trends all look good for the Cubs.

In 2009, the Cubs’ payroll was more than $141 million, or third highest among MLB’s 30 pro teams, according to Baseball Prospectus.

That fell last year to 20th at $93.2 million as the team brought in young stars like third baseman Kris Bryant and outfielder Kyle Schwarber, but missed the playoffs. The Cubs’ payroll climbed back to $120.3 million, or 13th in the league, this year.

The Ricketts family bought 95 percent of the Cubs for $845 million and in March, Forbes magazine valued the entire club at $1.8 billion, the fifth highest in the league and up 50 percent from the prior year. The New York Yankees are No. 1 with an estimated value of $3.2 billion. …




CNN Money says tickets to playoff games at Wrigley Field are becoming dear.

Fans have already paid an average of $674 for the Cubs’ first game in the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field, slated for October 20. Tickets for the second game the following night sold for an average of $729, according to SeatGeek.

For Cubs fans who haven’t bought their tickets yet, those prices look like a bargain. Tickets to the Cubs home playoff games were listed for a record average $1,325.93 as of Wednesday morning, according to TiqIQ, another tracking service. That’s nearly twice the previous record set for a league championship ticket, which was for the San Francisco Giants in 2012.

The most expensive Cubs ticket now is a first-row box seat in the infield listed for $11,700. …





According to YardBarker, the towering home run bit by Kyle Schwarber in the last game of the Cubs/Cardinals series was found on top of the right field scoreboard where the ball will stay at least through the post season where it will provide a hex on visiting teams.

The Chicago Cubs reportedly intend to leave the home run ball hit by Kyle Schwarber in the 7th inning of Tuesday’s series-clinching 6-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals right where the slugger deposited it: On top of the new scoreboard at Wrigley Field.

A source with the team on Wednesday confirmed to the Chicago Tribune that the team will leave the ball where it landed until the conclusion of the Cubs’ participation in the postseason.

The team did send an employee to inspect the ball so it could be confirmed that it was Schwarber’s moon shot home run ball, and an MLB postseason watermark verified its authenticity.

The Cubs also intend to place a plexiglass box around the ball to keep the ball safe from the elements and a security staffer will escort any person who travels to the top of the scoreboard until the ball is taken down.

The Cubs obviously know a thing or two about curses — to put it mildly — and the perceived toll such things can have upon an organization, whether it’s real or utter nonsense. Whatever the case, perhaps it’s not surprising the team is attempting to create some positive mojo by leaving Schwarber’s moon shot home run ball right where it landed … instead of waiting around and succumbing to the supposed curses of generations past.




Five Thirty Eight says this year is the Cubs best chance to break their curse.

Seeing the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series is a little like seeing a four-leaf clover — it’s uncommon, but nature does allow it from time to time. And after holding off the St. Louis Cardinals for a 6-4 win on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, Chicago has stumbled across the rarest of shamrocks — a legitimately dominant Cubs team on the cusp of the World Series.

Three earlier Cubs teams have breathed the crisp, autumnal NLCS air: the 1984, 1989 and 2003 teams. (The league championship series format was introduced in 1969.) Those three squads lost their respective series, but according to our Elo ratings, this year’s NLCS-bound Cubs team is the strongest of the bunch. And even though they’ll cede home-field advantage to either the New York Mets or Los Angeles Dodgers, the 2015 Cubs have the best chance of any of their predecessors at winning the NLCS and advancing to the World Series. Our ratings give the Cubs a 60 percent chance of reaching the World Series; it would be the team’s first appearance there since 1945. …

Norman Rockwell portrayed the hapless Cubs as the team watched a bonehead play perhaps at Ebbet’s Field in Brooklyn. You can find it at the end of the cartoons.