Sunday, August 30, 2009


A little (ok a lot) of stress relief today with a 7:30 am wakeup from our eldest dog, Burnley-Chelsea on tv, followed by Tottenham-Birmingham -- which I paid little attention to because I could not pull my jaw off the floor while listening to Charlton wallop Tranmere Rovers in Merseyside, followed by Man U versus Arsenal, followed by Real Madrid-Deportiva La Coruna, followed by AC Milan-Inter, followed by a replay of Sunderland-Stoke, followed by some time dedicated to entertaining my daughter, followed by DC United-Chicago Fire, and, finally, my wife taking the remote out of my hand during the replay of the USL2 final between Richmond and Charlotte and informing me that we would be watching a Saturday Night Live rerun. She is currently asleep, so back to DC United's DiRaimondo trying to get the Kickers level with the Eagles.

I should take this time to record thoughts on why I have turned 180 degrees on Phil Parkinson (but how many words can be used to describe yourself as an idiot willing to abandon reservations in the face of a five game winning streak off the trot; plus NYA, as always, is a far more interesting read), or how unpleasant it was to watch United's uncomfortable win in Chicago, or how wonderful it was to see the University of Maryland's soccer team back in action against Villanova on Thursday night. Instead, because of how bad the United match was tonight, I've spent considerable time thinking about why I had no interest in catching any of the Cubs game against the Mets this afternoon.

There are few people who would argue that this is the franchise's most charismatic team. But at the same time, it would be hard to support a claim that this is the most heinous team the Cubs have fielded over the last thirty years. While there are any number of problems associated with this disappointing, overpaid, underperforming, and largely heartless team, the conclusion that I have reached tonight -- with FSC playing continuously in the background -- is that I need to stop reading the Chicago Tribune. When I was five years old, the Tribune Company's purchase of the club from the Wrigley family built the team that would shortly capture my obsessive allegiance. Always aware of the role played by the corporation in the building of a semi-respectable franchise, I became illogically predisposed to a newspaper with politics I find abhorrent. The same year that the Trib bought the Cubs, the Chicago Tribune enticed Jerome Holtzman to leave the Chicago Sun Times. Based on the writing of Holtzman and the beat writers that populated the daily's pages, as a boy, the Tribune became my paper of record for all things related to Chicago sports. I have copies of the Chicago Tribune stored away corresponding to all six of the Bulls' titles. Whenever anything of significance happens relating to sports in Chicago (Bulls-Celtics first round series this year; Bears making the Super Bowl; Cubs acquiring Nomar), family sends the Trib out to the east coast.

No longer. Even when the Tribune made the decision to add the detestable Skip Bayless to its roster in 1996, the Sun Times -- the only viable alternative -- featured douche bag inveterate Jay Mariotti. On reflection, I should have thought more about what the infestation of Bayless/Mariotti-style hack writing would have on the sports media in my hometown. Rick Morrissey and Steve Rosenbloom are simply cheap imitations of the crappy original. No problem, easy enough, I just stop reading columnists desperate to cash in on the moron-talking heads movement stoked by ESPN. I've avoided reading that drivel for a decade. And that left Fred Mitchell and Bob Verdi covering general issues related to sports, Dan Pompei covering the Bears, and K.C. Johnson covering the Bulls. Each a fine writer in his own right.

Paul Sullivan and Dave van Dyck have, however, this year put the final stake in the coffin of the mighty sports section of a paper in serious decline. This isn't the first year that Sully's grating, holier-than-thou, swarmy writing has polluted coverage of the Cubs, but this year he has been in rare form. You know what Sully, we get it. You are simply too intelligent to spend your time on something as cosmically irrelevant as the daily diversion of overpaid men playing out contrived competition on a baseball diamond. And we also get that some of the players that put on the Cubs' uniform each day are not going to be winning any awards named after Walter Payton anytime soon. And we get that fans' opinions may frequently not be well informed. (But if it is that painful for you son, how about you hang 'em up and try and do something useful for the world?).

Two recent stories epitomize the worst of Sully's and van Dyck's tendencies: (1) Bradley's racism accusations and (2) the club's placement of Rich Harden on waivers.

Any person associated with the team that does not immediately recognize the Cubs' equivocal history on the issue of race and the far more recent resuscitation of the vile and blasé racism of drunken yuppies is not being honest. When LaTroy Hawkins signed for the Cubs in 2003, we went to spring training thrilled. Hawkins, from Gary, Indiana, had built himself a great career and he promised to shore up our bullpen for the next three years. Didn't happen. LaTroy fell apart -- we were in the stadium for two horrible blown saves in Pittsburgh and New York -- and many Cubs' fans were gutted. Some, however, chose to express their frustration in ugly, distressing tones that brought unnecessary focus not to the fact that Hawkins was not earning his considerable salary, but that he was African-American. In a telling story that appeared in the USA Today, Hawkins noted:

"I thought that stuff was over 30 years ago," says Hawkins, who grew up in nearby Gary, Ind. "I had never been exposed to it. ... I couldn't believe people were dropping the 'n-word' on me. People calling your mother a raccoon or you a porch monkey. You can only take so much abuse until you fight back.

"The same thing happening to me is happening to Jacque. To have people threatening to harm us over baseball games just doesn't make sense."

As the article states, Dusty Baker, Corey Patterson, Jacque Jones, and LaTroy Hawkins all experienced similar treatment. And anyone who sat in the stands in Wrigley for any length of time witnessed this firsthand. I witnessed this first hand and nearly got into my first fight in my home stadium berating someone who casually dropped the "n" word while shouting obscenities at Hawkins. I have heard racial epithets thrown around at stadiums -- my last trip to RFK was marred by the sheer number and venom of the racist remarks coming from a group of drunken morons -- but I never expected to confront such terms at Wrigley. Now I am incredibly sensitive to even the hint of racial animus coming from those supporting the blue and white. And I have resigned myself to the fact that a minority of my fellow of fans are congenital degenerates. They exist. They pollute the atmosphere at the most beautiful place to watch a game in the MLB.

Denying this reality seems stupid and, at best, disingenuous. Yet, when Milton Bradley hits that theme in what has been a miserable year for him on the field, Paul Sullivan and Steve Rosenbloom are there to mock the claim. Sully focuses on the fact that Bradley does not disclose specific incidents (watching a bit of Law & Order?) while choosing not to put Bradley's comments (that this unpleasant history of treatment of African-American players is well known around the league) in context. Paulie prefers to attack the player, extending his false sympathies by characterizing Bradley's comments as an attack on Cubs' fans generally and not just the clowns that make racist remarks, and stoking anger by reminding us of the lucrative contract that Bradley signed to come to the North Side. Rosenbloom, as is his want, drums up the attack on fans angle and broadens this to encompass generic derision of Bradley for undermining the efforts of those who are "really" trying to tackle racism. Whatever. If I wanted to know what idiots thought about Bradley's comments, I'd ask the drunken 25-year old sitting in the bleachers with the upturned collars who listens to rap music and sees no problem with using the "n" word while insulting a member of the team he paid to see -- I don't need to pay for the Trib.

The Harden story? Well, that point is probably easiest made by the Daily Herald's Bruce Miles. As Miles points out, a whole lot of Cubs were put on waivers and a whole lot of Cubs (the team, despite being over .500, is clearly underperforming) were made available to other teams for the right deal. van Dyck's stories on the subject lack any of that context. Instead, typical of the new reporting style, the potential for controversy is overplayed, with comments sought from Harden ("what does it feel like to not be wanted") which imply that he and Heilman are somehow being singled out for the failure of the team.

What to do? Also simple: I'll stop reading the Tribune. The paper of record for Chicago sports: the Daily Herald.

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