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Baseball in February: The Freedom Classic and an MVP Beats a Drug Charge

I was able to go to a baseball game today. It is hard to believe that there are ball games going on outside of Spring Training but NCAA College Baseball has been underway for over a week. Today drove up to Kinston to take in a game between the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy. The occasion was the Second Annual Freedom Classic.

It was a cold day with temps in the low 50s and winds blowing 15-25 miles an hour but I was able to get together with my friends in Kinston to watch a game for the first time since the Kinston Indians final season ended with a loss to Frederick in the Carolina League Championship series on September 15th.  Though the weather was cold it was good to be back with my friends watching a game at a wonderful baseball venue.  I hate the fact that the Indians owner sold them without a replacement team and did not offer the city a chance to find an owner that would keep the team in Kinston. But at least there was baseball in Kinston this weekend.

Of course spring training is underway and all of the teams are working out.  Lots of moves were made in the post season following one of the most dramatic seasons in baseball history. Big names moved, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to the Angels, Prince Fielder to the Tigers, Ozzie Guillen taking over the Marlins and a host of other situations.

But despite all the positives there was a cloud during the post season involving the National League MVP, Milwaukee Brewers Left Fielder Ryan Braun reportedly failed a drug test for Performance Enhancement Drugs (PEDs).  Braun appealed the results of the test and Friday it was announced that Braun won his appeal based on issues with the chain of custody of the sample. Evidently the collector of the sample who was required to immediately send the sample to the testing lab via FedEx held onto the sample.

Braun was out proclaiming his innocence today. He was articulate and appeared humble but at the same time there are still questions in many people’s minds about the test and if he was clean or not.  Having been in the military for over 30 years I have been repeatedly drug tested and as a Company Commander had to oversee a unit drug testing program.  When I heard about the process used and the actions of the collector I was appalled. Chain of custody does matter in any type of drug test that can impact someone’s career no matter what line of work they are in.  Failure to safeguard samples undermines the integrity of any drug testing program and there are cases every year where positive results are thrown out because of a chain of custody violation.

I learned about the importance of chain of custody as a Company Commander back in 1986. I had a soldier test positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. We were sticklers about maintaining a solid chain of custody and based on the test results and the un-impeachability of the chain of custody I offered non-judicial punishment under Article 15 and reduced the soldier in rank. Since the soldier was otherwise a good soldier and back then a commander did not have to separate a soldier under pay grade E4 for a first drug related offense I elected to keep the soldier in the Army. The soldier appealed the sentence as is his right and to my surprise I was called to my higher headquarters and had my ass chewed by the group commander and Sergeant Major for not maintaining the chain of custody. I knew that was not the case but the Platoon Sergeant who had accompanied the soldier to the headquarters for the appeal inadvertently left the chain of custody documentation on his desk. When the group commander reviewed the paperwork he thought that the chain of custody had not been maintained. Within 5 minutes I produced the original documents which changed the nature of the conversation, the sentence was upheld and the ass chewing stopped. But I learned that the chain of custody for a drug test or paperwork regarding a failed drug test needs to be airtight to maintain the integrity of the system.

In the case of Ryan Braun I have my doubts, I but the incompetence of the collector who did not adhere to established rules of shipping a sample brought the chain of custody into question. If Braun was indeed innocent as he maintains then he will always have a cloud that follows him. If he lied and the test was really positive then justice was not done because chain of custody was called into question.

The little things do matter.

Since I got home I have had the MLB Channel on all night, that is so much more relaxing than almost anything else on television. Only about a week until the first Spring Training games begin. It may be cold but spring is in the air.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Good the Bad and the Ugly: The Day in Sports

Well sports fans it has been a day hasn’t it?  Now most of my day has been spent in transit getting Judy and Molly down to North Carolina so I can go back to work and give Judy a chance to continue to recuperate. With the exception of listening to ESPN radio on the trip and catching the last few minutes of the Army Navy game when we got here I have been playing catch up on sports stories. Of course the Molly loved the ride down here and is passed out on our bean bag at the Island Hermitage as I get ready to call it a night. Of course Molly knows that the trip is all for her benefit and she has already had several long walks and is looking for the deer that populate the neighborhood.

This was an interesting day. There was a doping scandal, a bench clearing brawl, an unexpected winner, a buzzer beater, a major upper level ownership gaffe and a continuation of a decade of dominance and that was just at the Republican debate.  But I jest, the sports world was as scandalous as politics today as several stories broke to steal the limelight from the Presidential primary debaters in Iowa.

Ryan Braun NL MVP Busted? 

Topping the news from the baseball standpoint was the report that National League MVP Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers tested positive for a banned Performance Enhancing Drug (PED.)  This was a surprise and Braun has been denying the report and appealing the ruling.  If the test is upheld and his appeal denied Braun faces a 50 game suspension.  This is a blow to the Brewers who will most likely lose free agent First Baseman Prince Fielder and the loss of Braun will hurt.  Braun was not someone that I would have thought to have done PEDs but I guess anything is possible. He never in the minors or majors tested positive prior to this.  Baseball is no longer playing games with PED use and I expect that Braun will be suspended as no one else has ever won an appeal for PED use.  However it hurts the game because baseball has worked hard to clean up the mess created during the steroid era and has the most stringent policies in place of any professional sport.  Baseball is not going to mess around with this and because of the risk to reputations as careers goes the extra mile to ensure that if a test is positive that it is not a “false” positive.  From what I have read it appears that baseball and its testing agency are sure that this was an accurate test.  Too bad as the season was one of the most amazing in baseball history and this takes away some of the shine from all of the players and teams that made it great.

The Hansen Brothers and Dean Wormer enter NCAA Basketball

Meanwhile in Cincinnati Xavier and Cincinnati were playing in their yearly “cross town shootout” and with 9 seconds left in the game a bench clearing brawl better suited to a Charlestown Chiefs hockey game and the Hansen brothers.  Both University Presidents issued comments about the brawl reminiscent of Dean Wormer and his comments about Faber College’s Delta House. Methinks that some of these players will end up suspended as well.  Too bad they don’t have a penalty box. See the fight: http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/basketball/blog/the_dagger/post/Yancy-Gates-decks-Kenny-Frease-in-wild-Xavier-Ci;_ylt=AiT3clAGA6sDmaDIcDxL7cPevbYF?urn=ncaab-wp6817

Classless and Clueless David Stern tries even harder to Blow up the NBA

Not to be outdone in the “no class” category the Commissioner and Dictator of the NBA David Stern made a complete ass of himself and embarrassed a sport already reeling from the self inflicted wounds of the just ended player’s strike. Stern’s office voided a deal between the LA Lakers, New Orleans Hornets and Houston Rockets that would have sent Hornets star Chris Paul to the Lakers. The trade made sense for all the teams involved. In doing so Stern figuratively shot himself and the league in the balls to try to show that he was the boss. He has since back-peddled and the trade will probably be approved in a modified form. By doing this Stern showed his hubris and probably has ensured that the end of his reign as dictator will be only slightly less bloody than that waged by other dictators.  The sad thing is that people were starting to get interested in the NBA again.

Christian Watford and Indiana Shock Kentucky

But the bad news was balanced with good news, unless you are a fan of the Military Academy, University of Kentucky basketball or anyone not named Robert Griffin III at the Heisman Trophy presentation.  The unranked but undefeated Indiana Hoosiers knocked off the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats when Christian Watford sank a last second 3 pointer to defeat the favored Wildcats by a score of 73-72.

Navy Dominates

In Washington DC the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy defeated the Cadets of the US Military Academy, the Black Knights of the Hudson for the 10th time in the last 10 years. It has been termed the Decade of Dominance.  Though I am an ardent Navy fan I do feel bad for the Army players who like the classes before them have went a full college career without having beaten the Midshipmen.

Robert Griffin III wins the Heisman Trophy 

And finally in a presentation of an award that any of the players nominated could have won Baylor Quarterback Robert Griffin III was awarded the Heisman Trophy.  While I was hoping that Stanford Quarterback Andrew Luck considered the top draft choice in the upcoming NFL Draft would win I think that Griffin was deserving. He s the first player from Baylor to win the Heisman.  Griffin completed 72 percent of his passes for 3,998 yards.  He had 36 touchdown passes and led the nation with an 192.3 efficiency rating.

It was an amazing day in sports and like life it was a day of the good and the bad and the ugly. But that’s life.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Incredible, Improbable, Amazing and Unbelievable: The Epic Saga of the 2011 World Series Champion St Louis Cardinals

Champions  Photo By Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

“I think that in a 7 game series that Tony LaRussa will do just enough to beat the Rangers…The Rangers are an amazing team and I do think that they are the better team and really want to win this, but there is something about this 2011 Cardinals team.  Since the end of August they have played every day with their season on the line and risen to the occasion.  Besides they have the Rally Squirrel…. How can they lose?” Padre Steve on October 19th (Cardinals in Seven: Padre Steve’s World Series Pick)

I hate to say I told you so, no wait that’s a lie; I love to be right and hate to be wrong.  For the third strait year since starting to do so I picked the World Series winner.  Last year I had a dog in the fight, my San Francisco Giants, this year I didn’t and I enjoyed the playoffs and World Series immensely. That being said this is about the incredible, improbable, amazing and unbelievable epic regular season comeback and playoff run of the St Louis Cardinals.  In order to keep this from being the mother of all posts I have included links to the articles that I wrote about their accomplishment as September came to an end and as the 2011 Cardinals became part of baseball history and immortality.

Incredible: The Road to the World Series

Back in August I remember talking with a friend about the pennant race.  At the time the Cardinals were 10.5 games behind the Braves in the NL Wild Card Race. They had endured major adversity, their closer Ryan Franklin was released, Albert Pujols had rebuffed a contract offer and refused to negotiate during the season and to make matters worse he had broken a bone in his wrist and was expected to be out at least 4 weeks. Expected lead starting pitcher Adam Wainwright went on the disabled list on March 25th and never pitched a game in the season.  The Cardinals suffered injuries and adversity throughout the season and by all calculations it looked like they were done.

On the morning of August 25th Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals woke up having been swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers at home in a series where the Dodgers outscored the Cardinals 24-7. They were so far out of the Wild Card that all the talk was not about the playoffs but finishing well.

Then something changed though it as imperceptible at first.  They took 3 of 4 from the Pirates and traveled to Milwaukee and swept three from the division leading Brewers and were now 8.5 games behind the Braves for the Wild Card.  But then the Cincinnati Reds took 2 of 3 and it looked like the Cardinals might fade. They got their groove back and took 2 of 3 from the Brewers at home and swept three from the Braves. On September 11th the Cardinals were 4.5 out of the Wild Card.  The Giants had fallen back to 7.5 out and like others I started to notice the Cardinals.

The Cardinals then made a road trip throughPennsylvaniaand took 2 of 3 from the Pirates and 3 of 4 from the Phillies before coming home to face the Mets. With just 9 games left the Cardinals were 2.5 games behind the faltering Braves with the Giants clawing at their heels just 4.5 games behind the Braves.

The Cards took two from the Mets on the 20th and 21st but then dropped a game to the Mets and lost 5-1 in Chicago.  On the 24th they were 2 behind the Braves with 5 games left.  They then won two one run games against the Cubs, 2-1 on the 24th and 3-2 on the 25th.  The morning of the 26th of September they were down by 1 game. The Cardinals had to face the lowly Houston Astros in Houston while the Braves had to face the Phillies.  Unbelievably the Cardinals lost to the Astros on the 26th but the Braves also lost so the lead was still one game, had the Braves won the best that the Cardinals could hope for was a one game playoff with the Braves. On the 27th they defeated the Astros 13-6 while the Braves lost yet again and with one game left the Cardinals had caught the Braves.

Down to the Wire: MLB’s Epic Wild Card September Continues to Amaze

September 28th dawned with two epic comebacks and two epic collapses in the making. In the American League the Boston Red Sox had lost a 9 game Wild Card lead and were tied with the Tampa Bay Rays in large part due to the lowly Baltimore Orioles who had taken 4 of 6 games from the Red Sox in the previous 9 days asTampa could not seem to lose.  While many experts thought a comeback by the Rays was possible none had thought that the Cardinals would be tied with the Braves on the final day of the regular season.

Two Tied Wild Card Races: Who would have Thunk It?

Braves stunned

On the 28th Chris Carpenter took the hill for the Cardinals and pitched a 2 hit shutout as the Cardinals pounded the Astros 8-0 with the Braves still playing the Phillies.  As the Cardinals waited in the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park the Braves had a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the 6th against the Phillies.  The Phillies scored 1 in the top of the 7th and with two outs in the bottom of the 9th tied the game.  They would go on to win in 13 as the Braves lost 18 of their last 27 games including the last 5 games of the season. The Cardinals won 23 of 31 games after August 24th.  It was incredible somehow the Cardinals had reached the playoffs.

UNBELIEVABLE! Braves and Red Sox Collapse Complete! Rays and Cardinals win Wild Cards, Orioles sink Red Sox with 2 Outs in Bottom of the 9th as Longoria hits walk off against Yankees

Improbable: Cardinals defeat Phillies in NLDS

An Icon is born…the Rally Squirrel

The Cardinals went into the NLDS as decided underdogs but despite that I had a strange feeling about this series. Philadelphia Phillies owned the best record in the regular season but were just 4-12 from September 11th to the 24th.   The Cardinals had taken 3 of 4 from the Phillies during that period and the Phillies hitters were struggling.

However in game one the Phillies seemed to be everything that they were advertised. The slammed Kyle Lohse and the Cardinals 13-6 but in game two the Cardinals defeated Cliff Lee 5-4 to tie the series.  That game was significant because Tony LaRussa stunned the experts by removing Chris Carpenter who had given up 4 runs from the game after 3 innings. He then used 6 relievers who shut out the Phillies as the Cardinals hitters plated 5 runs.

The series returned to St Louis and the Phillies took a 2 game to 1 lead in the series by defeating the Cardinals 3-2.  The Cardinals who had been living on the edge since August appeared to be looking at an early exit from the playoffs.  But the Cardinals were not dead, they won game four 5-3 powered by the hitting of Lance Berkman and David Freese. Freese drove in 4 runs hammering a two run double and to run home run off of Roy Oswalt.

This sent the teams back to Philadelphia for the decisive game five.  This was a battle of the best Roy Halliday on the hill for the Phillies and Chris Carpenter for the Cardinals.  The Cardinals struck first for the only run of the game when Rafael Furcal tripled to lead off the first and scored when Skip Schumaker doubled.  Halliday then shut down the Cardinals for 8 innings.  But Carpenter who had been battered by the Phillies in game two pitched a 3 hit shutout to win the game.  The Cardinals had done the improbable, they beat Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt and they had beaten the best regular season team in baseball, a team built to avenge their 2010 NLCS loss to the Giants and win the World Series.

Amazing: Cardinals defeat the Brewers

The Cardinals had taken out the Phillies but had to face the big bats of their division rival the Milwaukee Brewers to get to the World Series.  Most experts picked the Brewers to win because they had the home field advantage and were billed as the better team. They had Cecil Fielder and led the NL in home runs and slugging percentage and they had home field advantage.  Playing at home this was huge for the Brewers in 2011 they were 57-24 at home win percentage of .703 and their team batting average was 31 points higher at home than on the road.  The Brewers and Cardinals split their 18 regular season games evenly but Milwaukee was 5-4 at home against the Redbirds and had outscored them 48-39 at home. Despite this the Cardinals had a better team batting average and led the NL and Brewers in every major offensive category except home runs and the teams had an identical slugging percentage of .425 while the Brewers pitching was somewhat better than the Cardinals.

Game one went as many expected. Milwaukee won the game 9-6 and took a 1-0 lead in the series.  However the Cardinals turned the tables in a big way in game two shelling the Brew Crew 12-3 as Albert Pujols went 4-5 with a Home Run, three Doubles and 5 RBI while David Freese hit his second home run and 5th RBI of the series.  It was a stunning loss for the Brewers and the series moved back to St Louis tied.

The Cardinals took game 3 by a score of 4-3 as they scored 4 times in the top of the first inning and their LaRussa used Carpenter for 5 innings and then relied on his bullpen to shut the Brewers down and they did allowing no runs and no hits the remainder of the game.  Pujols and Freese each doubled and brought their RBI total to 6 each.  However the Brewers tied the series in game four winning the game behind the pitching of Randy Wolf.   In game five the Brewers defense imploded giving up 4 errors.  Matt Holiday went 3 for 5 with 2 RBI and the Cardinals beat Zach Greinke and the Brewers 7-1 taking a 3-2 lead but heading back to Milwaukee where the Brewers were expected to make a strong showing.

In game six it was the Cardinals that turned on the offense and not the Brewers.  The Cardinals scored 12 runs nine of which were earned.  They scored 4 runs in the top of the 1st inning and drove Brewers starter Shaun Marcum from the game, David Freese hit his third home run of the series.  The Brewers brought Chris Narveson into the game in the top of the 2nd inning hoping to stop the Cardinals onslaught.  Narveson faired worse than Marcum giving up 5 earned runs in 1.2 innings work and gave up home runs to Rafael Furcal and Pujols.  The Brewers managed a respectable 6 runs four of which came off Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson who pitched just 2 innings.  The Cardinals bullpen rose to the occasion, in 7 innings 5 relievers gave up just 2 runs on 3 hits.

Unbelievable: Cardinals defeat Rangers in 7 games to win the World Series

The expectation before the World Series began was the Cardinals and the Rangers would turn this series into an all out slugging affair.  The expectation was partially met but games one and two were low scoring affairs that featured plenty of great defense and pitching.  In game one it was solid defense and pitching which gave the Cardinals a 3-2 win over the Rangers.  Rangers catcher Mike Napoli hit a 5th inning home run and drove in the only Texas runs of the game and David Freese drove in the winning run with a 6th inning double off of C J Wilson.

 Cardinals take Game One 3-2: Defense and Pitching Key to Win

Game two was a pitching duel that it looked like the Cardinals would win. Starting pitchers Colby Lewis of  Texas and Jaime Garcia pitched extremely well. The Cardinals scored a run when Allen Craig singed off of Alexi Ogando who had come in to relieve Lewis with 2 outs in the 7th.  Craig’s single scored David Freese and gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.  But the Rangers managed a comeback win in the top of the 9th inning.

Comeback: Rangers Win Battle of the Bullpens

The series went to Texas tied and it was expected that scoring would go up but no one expected the carnage that the Cardinals would inflict on the Rangers in game three.  Albert Pujols tied the World Series single game home run record held by Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth with 3 and the most RBI in a World Series game with six.  The Cardinals defeated the Rangers 16-7 and took a 2-1 lead in the series.

Beat Down in Texas: Pujols Sets Record as Cardinals down Rangers 16-7

The Rangers may have been down but they were not out and instead of another slugfest game four as Derek Holland shut out the Cardinals allowing just 2 hits.  Mike Napoli hit a 3 run home run off of Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs to ensure the win in the bottom of the 6th inning.

Shutdown! Derek Holland Silences Cardinals Rangers tie Series

Game five would be memorable for one inning, the eighth when it appeared that Tony LaRussa lost his managerial mojo and the Rangers scored a comeback win despite a strong performance by Chris Carpenter.  This time the St Louisbullpen imploded aided by on field miscues and errors, malfunctioning bullpen phones and perplexing managerial decisions by LaRussa.  The Rangers won the game 4-2 to take a 3-2 series lead into St Louis.

Where has the Managerial Mojo Gone? LaRussa Manages the Worst Inning of his Career as Rangers go up 3 games to 2

It was the most amazing World Series game ever played but the first few innings would not have indicated this.  They were marked a combined 5 errors and poor pitching and it looked like the Rangers were on their way to winning an unremarkable game six on their way to their first World Series championship.  The Rangers led 7-4 with back to back solo home runs by Adriane Beltre and Nelson Cruz in the 7th inning and the Cardinals were down to their last six outs.  But that changed in what became the greatest game in World Series history. The Cardinals came back 5 times in the game, a World Series Record. They were down to their last strike down by two runs twice and they won on a walk off home run in the bottom of the 11th.  They used two pitchers as pinch hitters and somehow they still won 10-9 to set up the deciding game seven.

Padre Steve’s live Game Six commentary on Facebook 

8:31 PM World Series Game 6 after an inning Cardinals 2 Rangers 1… 9:46 PM It’s a comedy of errors as Texas leads 4-3 in the top of the 5th inning…10:38 PM 4-4 bases loaded for the Cardinals, can’t believe 5 total errors in the game so far…10:36 PM Ogando is now O gone do another walk bases loaded again, Napoli saved the run by picking off Holliday. If the Rangers win the Series I spell MVP “NAPOLI”…10:44 PM The long ball, to solo home runs for Texas, Beltre and Cruz 6-4 Rangers… 10:58 PM 7-4…1100 PM ‎7-4 and the inning is done….Rangers now 9 outs from winning their first World Series….11:08 PM ‎2 outs bottom of the 7th…Pujols last stand as a Cardinal?…11:09 PM and he is out 0-4 tonight….unless the Cardinals get some base runners his St Louis career could end not with a bang but a whimper…11:19 PM 7-5 home run Allen Craig off Derek Holland…not done yet…11:27 PM 2 on 2 out are the Cardinals coming back?…11:28 PM bases loaded top of the order….Jon Jay gets his first hit since game 6 of the NLCS…11:29 PM Furcal bounces out…7-5 going to the 9th Pujols will bat again….11:43 PM Top of the 9th Neftali Feliz on the hill and top of the order up…11:43 PM 1 out…11:44 PM  Pujols steps up and has a stand up double, tying run at the plate…11:46 PM four pitch walk 2 on 1 out winning run at bat…11:50 PM Craig strikes out Rangers one out away from history…11:52 PM one strike away…11:54 PM Freese doubles, tie game, home town boy makes good…11:54 PM make it a triple, winning run at 3rd…11:54 PM extra innings….wow…12:01 AM 1 on 1 out and Josh Hamilton has his first HR of the post season Rangers lead 9-7…12:09 AM Down 2 Cardinals are again down to their last 3 outs with one aboard…12:11 AM ‎2 on with none out, and a pitcher pinch hits because the Cardinals have no position players left…12:12 AM tying run in scoring position with 1 out…12:20 AM 9-8 Rangers, runner on 2nd Pujols coming up and an intentional walk Berkman will come to the plate…12:22 AM down to the last strike again…12:24 AM Tie game Berkman singles, Pujols is winning run on third…can you say amazing?…12:25 AM to the 11th we go…12:30 AM  Napoli up… one out…base hit…Murphy coming to the plate…12:34 Rangers out in the 11th Cardinals coming to bat…12:40 AM Walk off home run David Freese, game 7 tomorrow! Do you believe in miracles? Cardinals win 10-9 Holy Cow!

Holy Cow! Do You believe in Miracles? Padre Steve Does… Cardinals refuse to Lose

When gave six was over I knew that the Rangers were done.  Once again it was a combination of Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals bullpen shutting down the Rangers and the clutch hitting of David Freese and Allen Craig which sealed the Rangers to a second consecutive World Series loss as they went down to a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Cardinals. They had come so close.  They were a great team but lost to a team of destiny.  That is little comfort to Rangers players and fans, but some things seem almost destined. The Series MVP was local favorite David Freese who finished the postseason with a record 21 runs batted in and tied the postseason record with 25 hits. Freese is the first position player to be named both League Championship Series MVP and World Series MVP since Darrell Porter did so for the Cardinals in 1982.

The Cardinals lived on the edge for two months a time when every game mattered.  Their effort was a true team effort. When starting pitching faltered the bullpen got it done and when needed the starting rotation anchored by Chris Carpenter got the job done.  They overcame adversity to accomplish a feat that very few said they could do. They are Major League Baseball’s 2011 World Series Champions. Their feat was epic and will long be written about and spoken of by anyone that loves the game of Baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Cardinals in Seven: Padre Steve’s World Series Pick

Last Year I made picks for both the MLB Playoff series and the World Series that were very accurate. See the 2010 MLB Post Season Page link at the top of this page.  I try to look at all the stats in the regular and post season to make my picks.  This year I did not get around to picking winners for the Division or League Championship Series.  I plan on providing analysis of each game during the World  series.  Of course I could be wrong, but this is my pick.   

 

This is a really interesting World Series that I really believe will go the full seven games. I am picking the Cardinals but not because I think that they are the “better” team in the context of this season.  I think that in a 7 game series that Tony LaRussa will do just enough to beat the Rangers.  The majority of baseball commentators are predicting that the Rangers will win this in 6 or 7 games. If they were playing the Brewers, Diamondbacks or Phillies I would pick them in a New York minute. But they are playing a team that at the end of August was 10.5 games out of the Wild Card race in the National League and handily defeat teams in the NLDS and NLCS that were on paper better than them.

I believe that the Texas Rangers are the better team and I actually kind of want them to win the Series because I like Nolan Ryan, Ron Washington and would like to see the Rangers win their first World Series. Over the course of this year’s 162 game season I don’t think that there was a better team in baseball.  They have decent starting pitching, a great bullpen and hit the hell out of ball.  They have made mincemeat of some of the best pitchers in the league.  Ron Washington is one of my favorite managers, he is smart and really has shaped this team into the machine that they are.  They are at or near the top in almost every offensive category including stolen bases.  They have a better record than the Cardinals and the two teams pitching staffs have similar records and statistics for the season.  The Rangers held off a late season rush by the Los Angeles Angels and took the AL West for the second time in as many years.  They eliminated the Tampa Bay Rays in 4 games chewing up a very good Rays pitching staff and proceeded take down the Tigers in 6 games to reach the World Series for the second strait year.  Ron Washington is turning into a great manager who has proven that he can manage the game and inspire his players at the same time.

However the Wild Card so to speak is the “Wild Card” in this series. The Cardinals took advantage by the epic collapse of the Atlanta Braves in September and won the NL Wild Card on the last day of the season.  They then had to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS.  The Phillies had the best record in the National League but had fallen victim to the Red Birds 6 of 9 times during the regular season 3 of which came in September.  They dispatched the Phillies in 5 games after being down 2-1 in the series.  Then they went to their division rivals and NL Central Champion Milwaukee Brewers. They took the Brewers with whom they evenly split their 18 regular season games in 6 games.

These are both great teams with a lot of character and talent.  When one looks up and down the roster they are filled with great hitters.  The Rangers have the edge in overall quality but the Cardinals are also very good and had the best team hitting in the Division and League Championship Series.  Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, Jon Jay and Matt Holiday highlight a line up that hit for a .274 batting average, .341 On Base Percentage and .425 Slugging Percentage in the regular season and produced 762 runs. The Rangers roster includes Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz.  The Rangers hit a Major League leading team batting average of .283 On Base Percentage of .341 a .460 Slugging Percentage and which produced a MLB high 855 runs.

However the playoffs have been another story. The Cardinals led all the playoff teams in batting average (.288) and runs (111) while having .345 OBP and .448 SLG percentages.  The Rangers hitters were not as dominant in the playoffs hitting for a .259 team batting average producing 90 runs and achieving a .330 OBP and .434 SLG.  They were still potent especially Nelson Cruz the ALCS MVP who hit .364 with six homers and 13 RBIs.

The pitching performance of the two teams in the regular season was quite similar the Cardinals had a slightly better team ERA of 2.74 versus the Rangers 2.79 but LaRussa is unorthodox in his use of his bullpen when has performed magnificently.  Game one will feature the two teams’ workhorses, Chris Carpenter for the Cardinals and C J Wilson for the Rangers.  The bullpens are both excellent and the Rangers feature Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando.  Ogando has been particularly good and as a former starter can pitch in extended or short relief.  The Cardinals bullpen features Jason Motte and Octavio Dotel who have been excellent in the playoffs.

The hitters will challenge the pitchers of both teams and the starters will need to perform to protect their bullpens.  LaRussa will use his bullpen in ways that cannot be anticipated and the Rangers could face any pitcher in any situation.

The reason that I am picking the Cardinals is the fact that they have done so much that they were not expected to do this season. They overcame a lot to get to this point. The Rangers were expected by many to be here again, especially after the Red Sox collapsed in September and did not make the playoffs.  The key for me is Tony LaRussa and his ability to manage a game inning by inning batter by batter in order to deny the opposing team the opportunity to score runs in any single inning particularly “the last three innings of the game.”  LaRussa manages the details of a game probably better than anyone in baseball and though many criticize his “micromanagement” it certainly has worked.  Provided nothing really unexpected happens LaRussa will pass the great John McGraw on the all time managerial win list sometime during the 2012 season. None of this is to be disrespectful of Ron Washington, he too is an excellent manager and the Rangers would not be where they are without him.  Likewise the Cardinals have home field advantage and Busch Stadium is a pitchers park which plays well with how LaRussa uses his bullpen and bench.

The Rangers are an amazing team and I do think that they are the better team and really want to win this, but there is something about this 2011 Cardinals team.  Since the end of August they have played every day with their season on the line and risen to the occasion.  Besides they have the Rally Squirrel…. How can they lose?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pennant Races: Padre Steve Picks the Winners…Maybe

I love all things baseball as the Deity tends to speak to me through this most spiritual of games.  I can’t get around it I am mesmerized by the diamond and the nuances of the game, the sights, sounds, smells, which make up the experience as well as the games within the game.  I live for opening day and the call of Spring Training is my first indication of life returning after the cold desolation of winter and the All-Star Game triggers memories of the past greats and my interaction with the various legends of Baseball.  Tell me if I’m strange but I even get excited about trading deadlines and call-ups of Minor Leaguers in September.  Speaking of September I love the pennant races and this year there are a couple of note.  These are my predictions regarding the teams that I think that will make the playoffs.  Since I am neither the Prophet nor the Son of the Prophet I could be wrong, but I was pretty accurate last year. So here I go again, at least if I get this wrong I won’t be taken outside the city gate and crushed to death with heavy stones, unless someone is actually wagering on games based on my picks.  If that is the case I don’t even want to think about it.

Starting in the American League we have the New York Yankees and the Durham Bulls South, or as they are better known the Tampa Bay Rays.  These are such contrasting franchises; one built around veterans and several future Hall of Fame members and the other full of young raw talent and experienced young players.  They have been in a fight for the division most of the year but especially over the past month. The Yankees are a half game up on the Rays as of today.  With 13 games left for the Yankees and 14 for the Rays this is a tossup. The Yankees and Rays meet this week in a four game series at Yankee Stadium and followed by three games with the Yankees meeting their hated rival Boston Red Sox for a three game set.  The Yankees then travel to Toronto for three against the Blue Jays and finish the season at Fenway Park against the Red Sox.  This is no easy schedule and I expect all three opponents to challenge the Yankees.  The Rays have the easier schedule and this may prove to be the difference if they avoid a sweep at the “House that George Built.” I expect at least a split against the Yankees but they then go home to play three with the Mariners and three with the Orioles at the Trop. I don’t see much trouble with the Mariners but the Orioles under Buck “play to win every game” Showalter could play the spoiler if the Rays are not careful. They then travel west to Kansas City where they should do well and end the regular season.

AL East Winner

My prediction: Rays win 9 of 14 to finish at 98-64, while the Yankees will win just 7 of 13 to finish at 97-65 to give the Rays the East by a game. The Yankees will be in the playoffs but as the Wild Card. The Orioles extra innings win on Sunday in Baltimore will prove to be more significant than most would expect. The Yankees need to take 3 of 4 from the Rays to give them the edge down the final stretch, if they can do this they have a chance to tie or win the division outright. The Rays have to split in New York and not allow any of the bottom dwellers that they face to surprise them and I think that the O’s just may play spoiler.

AL Central Winner

AL West Winner

In the AL Central the Twins have the division all but won with a magic number of just 4 over the seconds place White Sox who trail them by 10 games. In the West the same is true of the Rangers who have a magic number of 6 over the second place Athletics who sit 9 games behind the Twinkies.

AL East Spoiler?

Going on the senior circuit we begin in the National League East where the Phillies and the Braves have been going at it all year.  In the Phillies lead the East by 3 games over the Braves and have a magic number of 10.  The Phillies are hot and the Braves have struggled the last few weeks. The Phillies have 12 games left of which 6 are against the Braves.  The Braves have to take 4 of those 6 games to stay in the race.  The Phillies face the Braves beginning tonight at home for a three game set and then face the rather pathetic excuse for a team called the New York Minaya’s I mean New York Mets.  However the Mets are blood rivals of the Phillies so I don’t expect them to go down easily nor do I give them much of a chance.  The Phillies then hit the road for 3 games against the rather hapless Nationals in Washington before travelling to Atlanta to face the Braves in the in final three games of the season.

NL East Winner

My prediction: I see Philly winning 8 of 12, splitting with the Braves and taking 5 of 6 from the Minaya’s and the Nats. The Braves as I said need to take at least 4 of six to stay in the race and win out against both Washington and the Florida Marlins and even then they need help in order for the Phillies to lose at least 6 of their last 12 games. I don’t see that happening. In fact if the Phillies dominate the Braves and the Braves split their games with the Nats and the Marlins then they may not even reach the Wild Card. Bobby Cox and crew have their job cut out over the next two weeks.

NL Central Winner

In the National League Central the “who are those guys?” Cincinnati Reds hold a 6 game lead over the perennial NL Central leader St Louis Cardinals and have a magic number of 8 to clinch the Division.  The Cardinals have been unable to buy wins of late and their August collapse totally surprised me as it has everyone else. The Reds have 6 games against the Brewers, 3 against the Astros and 3 against the floundering Padres.  The Cardinals actually have the easier schedule with 6 against the perpetual owners of the MLB Marianas Trench, the Pittsburg Pirates and 3 games against their rival the Chicago “we ain’t ever going to win the World Series” Cubs and 3 against the red hot Colorado Rockies.  They did not help matters losing a make-up game to the Marlins today. This made the Reds magic number 7 and that much harder for the Cardinals to get back in the race.

NL West Winner

We go now to the NL West where the San Francisco Giants lead their rivals the San Diego Padres by a half a game and the red hot Colorado Rockies by a game and a half.  The Giants have a magic number of 13 but in a race this close that will change day to day. The Rockies schedule provides them opportunity should they stay hot and their opponents cooperate.  They play the Arizona Diamondbacks in Arizona for a three game set and go home to play three against San Francisco followed by three against the Evil Dodgers before finishing the season in St. Louis against the Cardinals. My guess is that the should take two of three or sweep the Diamondbacks, split their series against the Giants and probably sweep the Evil Dodgers even though right now I would prefer that the Dodgers sweep them. I guess I am like Winston Churchill in saying that he would become an ally of the Devil if the Devil was against Hitler. The final three games against the Cardinals could spoil the hopes of the Rockies because I think that the Cardinals have far too much organizational pride to go down easy. As a result I think that the Rockies go 7 of 12 to end the season.  The Padres have struggled of late and I think this will continue.  The Friars play the Evil Dodgers and I think that this series is a tossup with the Dodgers possibly taking 2 of 3 games. They then go home to face the Reds and I think that the Big Red Machine will take 2 of 3 at Petco Park. The Padres then play against the Cubs who just might take 1 of 3 from the Padres. The Padres finish their season against the Giants in PacBell Park and I think that the Giants take 2 of 3 at home.  As a result I think that the Padres go 5 of 12 to end the season.  The Giants face the Cubs for a three game set which they should sweep or take 2 of 3. They then go against the Rockies where I think they will go 1 and 2. The then face the Diamondbacks and I believe that they go 2 of 3 against them before ending the season in San Francisco against the Padres where they take 2 of 3. T believe that the Giants go 7 of 12 and take the West by 1 and a half games above the Rockies with the Padres fading to third two and a half games back.

My prediction is that the Giants take the west by a game and a half over the Rockies with the Padres fading back to third.  Despite this the division could go to any of the three teams as none have any margin for error and it is likely that the team that remains hot will win the division. My prediction which is primarily based on how the teams are doing right now coupled with their schedule is that the Giants will win, but I could be wrong on this as a grounder with eyes, a bloop single or a booted ground ball could be the difference in a critical game that could decide the race. Id the Braves falter I believe that whatever team finished second in the NL West will be the Wild Card in the NL. I do not think this will happen based on the schedules but stranger things have happened.

Now here are my predictions:

AL Wild Card

American League: AL West- Rangers, AL Central- Twins, AL East Rays, Wild Card- Yankees.

NL Wild Card

National League: NL West Giants, NL Central- Reds, NL East- Phillies, Wild Card- Braves

We’ll see if I am as good as I was last year, but wait I didn’t start making predictions until the playoffs last year. Even if I’m wrong about these I can redeem myself by doing what I did last year in the playoffs and World Series.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Yes Friends, God Really Does Speak to Me Through Baseball

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will

Padresteve, Jeff and Angels 3rd Base Coach Rocky Bridges in 1970

Well we are deep into football season, while hockey, basketball that World Cup qualifiers move along.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know these sports well but for me they are not the same as baseball.  I have played all of them in school, the biggest mistake that I made as a kid was forsaking organized baseball first for hockey and then for football.  I gave up playing my first love for short term flings with other sports.

The Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish

I was down walking the concourse at Harbor Park the other day to relax following about 32 hours spanning two nights at the hospital.  I like going to the ballpark even when it is the off season because it is one of the few places where I can be fully relaxed and at peace.  Tuesday was beautiful, the temperature was in the mid 50s with sunshine and a light breeze, the field was a brilliant great and the ever present grounds crew was at work.  In the front office I talked with a number of the office staff about players who would and would not be coming back for the 2010 season as well as highlights of the past season.  The Tides have a wonderful front office staff.  To walk the concourse from behind home plate, out to the right field corner and then back across to the left field picnic area and then to go down to my seat in Section 102, Row B seats 1 and 2 at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish is a highlight of the week when I have the chance to do it.  I feel closeness to God at the ballpark that after Iraq is hard for me to find in many other places.  For me there is a mystery and magic about a ballpark that just isn’t there for the other sports, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

For me the other sports can grab my momentary attention but because of their nature cause them to be merely ordinary and occasionally interesting.  Baseball is another matter, it is more than a game, it is a metaphor for life, a spiritual experience and a game that mirrors life and faith in many ways. For me this goes back to childhood.

As a kid my dad made me learn the fundamentals of the game and whether we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching in the back yard or in a park, dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey and basketball, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid he was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of West Virginia was a die hard Dodgers fan.  That I still wonder about to this day, but she was the same woman who as a widow in the late 1930s went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most of the state she was also a Republican, long before West Virginia ever voted for a Republican either President or statewide office. True to form Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, fierce and independent.  However, as a Giants fan I mourn how she had been taken in by the power of the dark side.  Despite having fallen under the spell of the Dark Lords Granny was a real baseball fan. Any time you went to Granny’s house and there was a game on, the television was tuned in to it.  We were immersed in baseball thanks to my dad and his mother.

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots during their first and only season in that fair city before they went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers.  In the elementary schools of those days many our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on the TV as many of those games were played during daylight hours.  I remember watching Bob Gibson pitch when the Cardinals played against the Red Sox in the 1967 series.  It was awesome to see that man pitch.   I remember the Amazing Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970. I will never forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run and the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, especially the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer that the Bronx burned.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips 1970

When we were stationed in Long Beach California dad had us at Anaheim stadium all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 20 games there in 1970 and another 25-30 in 1971 as well as a couple at Dodger stadium that year.  We met a lot of the Angel players at community events and before the games. I entered the “My Favorite Angel” contest and my entry was picked as a runner up. This netted me two seats behind the plate and having Dick Enberg announced my name on the radio.  I wrote about Jim Spencer a Gold Glove First Baseball who later played for the Yankees.  I still have a hat from that team with numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, and Billy Cowan. It was a magical time for a 10 year old boy.

When we moved to Stockton California dad took us to see the A’s dynasty teams including a number of playoff games.  But he also took us across San Francisco Bay to watch the Giants.  I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  I got to see some of the greats of the era play in those stadiums, Catfish, Reggie, McCovey, Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew and so many others.  I also became acquainted with Minor League Baseball at this time through the Stockton Ports. At the time the Ports were the Class A California League farm team for the Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to Paul Blair the Orioles great Paul Blair who played for the Ports in the early 1960s about Billy Hebert Field and how the sun would go down in the outfield blinding hitters and spectators in its glare.  Today I have a renewed interest in the Orioles because of their affiliation with the Norfolk Tides.

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game only deepens despite strikes and steroids and other problems that plague the game at the major league level.  I am in awe of the game and the diamond on which it is played.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers, seen a no-hitter, playoff games and met players. I’ve watched the game in Japan, seen historic moments when deployed to combat zones in and have thrown out the first pitch in a couple of minor league games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretical go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Likewise unlike all other sports there is no time limit, meaning that baseball can be an eschatological game going on into eternity. The Hall of Fame is like the Calendar of Saints in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches.  There are rituals, the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules, the ceremonial first pitch, players not stepping on the foul line when entering and leaving the field of play, no talking about it when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and the home run trot. The care of a field by an expert ground crew is a thing to behold, especially when they still use the wooden box frames to lay down the chalk on the baselines and the batters box.

My kitchen and much of my dining room are as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them.

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond is one of my few places of solace.  For the first time last year I bought season tickets to my local minor league team the Norfolk Tides.  Section 102, row B seats 1 and 2 from which I will, the Deity Herself willing take in the 2010 season at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  The home opener is April the 8th against the Durham Bulls, barely 4 months away.  From there I will sit back and imagine the words of James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams:

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis and division.  In a sense it is a prayer. Peace and blessings, Steve+

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Discerning the Second Coming: The Cubs are the Key

This is a modified re-post of something that I did when I first started posting to this site.  At the time I had very few readers and this post was buried so far back that it was pretty much forgotten, except by me.  Since the Deity Herself speaks to me through baseball it follows that my eschatology, or theology of the end times has a baseball connection.Since the Cubs are currently in third pace in the NL Central with a record of 41 wins and 39 losses a week before the All Star break having just beat the Braves 4-2  I feel that is appropriate to re-address the topic.

The Creed says of Jesus that  “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”  The Creed however does not say how or when. Since many guys with a lot less theological training than me are making mega-bucks writing books about the Second Coming of Christ simply by watching CNN, Fox News and a host of websites and newspapers.  I watch these guys vainly trying to match headlines to Bible verses to show why they are right, or at least how to make changes in order to publish another book,  I figured why not do this from Baseball.

While Hal Lindsey, Grant Jeffery, John Hagee, Jack Van Impe and groups like the Prophecy Club make definitive statements based on “years of study” of the Scriptures, history and current events  only to have to revise those predictions when people and nations refuse to do not as they predict; I prefer not to live my life waiting for Fox News to tell me that Jesus is on the horizon.  I remember back in the 1970s when I read Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and had the shit scared out of me.  What was way cool over the years was to see the revisions to the book as the world situation changed.  Likewise the new books published by others during the Gulf War and every stinking conflict in the Middle East which basically repackaged the same tripe with slight modifications due to world situation, political change or technological advances.  Even worse are the Left Buttocks series by Tim LaHaye whose books and movies sold more copies than People Magazine’s coverage of the death of Michael Jackson

My hair brained theory says that it all comes down to baseball, just as everything else in life. My belief is that when the Chicago Cubs win the World’s Series that we’d better start looking to the East, and pronto.

I’m actually somewhat serious.  I have no emotional investment in the Cubs, I’m a San Francisco Giants fan who has a fondness for the Oakland A’s.  I enjoyed the hell out of the 1989 NLCS when the Giants won the NL pennant against against the Cubs. I love the Giants, Willie Mays was and always will be the best baseball player who ever lived to me and though far away, and I can name player after player for the team over the years that I admire and I am really pissed at the way Barry Bonds has been singled out while guys like A-Rod and Manny get their wrists slapped and continue to play. Since I am such a partisan Giants fan with no emotional or spiritual attachment to the Cubs, I think that I can honestly say that I am impartial observer of this prophetic event.  At least as far as the Cubs are concerned.  I hold no personal animus against the long suffering Cubs, they are not the Evil Dodgers nor related to the anti-Christ, unless you are a Cardinals or Brewers fan.

Last year I was actually somewhat concerned that the Cubs were going to see Jesus back into town.   The Cubs were a favorite to reach the World Series and maybe win it. They appeared to have the best team in baseball and it was 100 years exactly since the last series that they won.  I was worried because as much as I believe that Jesus will come again, I have to confess that I’d prefer he wait until some following generation to do it.  The Cubs finished the regular season with a 97-64 record, the best in the National League.  The Evil Dodgers swept them in the NLDS ensuring that the Cubs would not make the series and calming my fears that Jesus might come before I could see the Giants win a World Series.

One has to look at history and see all the disappointment that Cubs fans have suffered over the years.  Think of the times that the experts said it was the Cubs time.  In 1984 they blew a 2 game to none lead in the NLDS and lost to the Padres.  In 1989 the Giants took them in 5 games.  In 1998 swept by the Braves, Remember the 2003 NLCS against the Marlins?  Up in the top of the 8th in game six and then everything fell apart shortly after the errant Cubs fan reached out and caught a foul ball that was almost in the glove of the Cub defender?  Swept by the Diamondbacks in 2007 and again swept by the Evil Dodgers in 2008.  There has to be something to this.  It is too eerily similar to guys like Hal Lindsey and others who keep reading the headlines and predicting Jesus’ return, and when he doesn’t they have to look at the headlines again, wait for another crisis and write another book.  Those who follow the Cubs are like followers of the Christian prophecy movement are always disappointed when their playoff prophets are proved wrong again and again.

Thus, all this considered I must be right, there is a correlation between the Cubs and and eschatology.  I could be full of crap, but I think I have something here, the Deity Herself I think assures me of this considering her love of Baseball. In the W.P. Kinsella novel The Iowa Baseball Confederacy a young man ventures to the end of a rail spur and ends up transported back in time to 1908 to a place in Iowa where the Cubs were playing an exhibition against a team of local all stars.  The game took on mythic proportions, and not to spoil the book, which I highly recommend, it tells of cataclysmic and cosmological significance of the 1908 Cubs.

I guess that to paraphrase Colonel Nathan R Jessup in A Few Good Men “The Cubs playoff defeats while tragic, probably saved lives.” I’ll end here, but to those who expect the Cubs to win the World’s Series you’d better be careful what you ask for…when you are rejoicing that the Cubs finally have won, Jesus may come and spoil your parade.

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