All Of Baseball Bleeds At Least A Little Cubbie Blue

Al Yellon is the managing editor of Bleed Cubbie Blue, a baseball blog dedicated to the Chicago Cubs and their incredibly loyal, lovable fans. Misery loves company and as the Cubs continue to flail well below .500, thousands of Northsiders flock to the blogosphere, trumpeting their ideas for how to cure 103 years of futility. Al was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about the 2011 Cubs, Wrigley Field, and the MLB trade deadline.

As a blogger/independent contractor who has no real direct affiliation with the Cubs organization, how much of your job involves making sure the team does right by the fans? Has Bleed Cubbie Blue ever had direct or indirect influence over a specific front office decision? If so, what does that say about the leadership within the Cubs organization? Frankly, I would find it hard to root for a team that is easily influenced by the fans. Of course, I’m a Baltimore Orioles fan and most of us wish the current owner Peter Angelos would simply just go far far away and leave the team to Cal Ripken.

I’m not sure what you mean by this. I don’t consider my “job” as being anything except trying to write accurately about what’s going on with the team. If I see something wrong, I’ll say it. If I see something right, I’ll say that, too — which appears to me to be different from some Cubs bloggers, who seem to write with the viewpoint “everything the Cubs do is wrong”. I don’t feel that way.

I don’t believe that I have specifically had influence over any front office decision, though I do believe what I wrote last year about the mess in the bleachers did result in some positive changes in how security deals with drunk idiots.

What in the world is going to happen to Wrigley Field? You have people like Peter Gammons calling for massive renovations while a lot of loyalists hope to preserve the great history and integrity of the field. Do you think that the new ownership is going to be willing to spend the money to update certain aspects of the field, sort of like what the Henry/Werner/Lucchino group did in Boston w/ Fenway?

I believe the park will be upgraded and renovated in a very similar way to what happened with Fenway in Boston. Money is currently an issue, so it may take a few years, but I know ownership is committed to getting it done. Gammons’ comment about Wrigley being a “dump” was not only wrong, but misinformed. There’s nothing wrong with Wrigley; it has been maintained well and the team puts money into upkeep every offseason.

As you tweeted last week, the Wrigley Field bleachers were wide open during a summer Sunday for the first time since the ’70s. Is this a case of the dreadful economy making it harder for the good people of Chicago to buy tickets or are we finally seeing Cubs fans take part in a little civil disobedience and say: “unless we start winning we’re just not going to hand over our hard earned money”?

It’s a little bit of both. The team has priced tickets far beyond what the current performance of the team OR the current economy will bear. It will get worse in September even if the Cubs play well for a month or so, after schools are back in session and the weather gets cooler.

The Cubs will have to significantly lower some prices in order to get people back in the park.

How do you see the 2011 season ending for the Cubs? Who stays? Who goes? Hope for the future? You can have Felix Pie back if you like.

This will be a very interesting week leading up to the trading deadline next Sunday. It’s very possible that several veterans will go. Current rumors involve Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Pena, but many others might be dealt before the deadline — or even after, since they’d probably all clear waivers.

That will give hope for the future; the 2007-08 core, that won two division titles, did well, but it’s time to turn the page and start fresh.

No thanks on Felix Pie, incidentally.

views from Wrigley Field courtesy of @SmartAlexander and @ChiStreetStyle

Talking Shop with Talking Chop

Martin Gandy is the lead writer for Talking Chop, a baseball blog dedicated to the Atlanta Braves and their fans. The Braves are once again competing for a spot in the NL playoffs, and with a big series opening tonight vs the Pittsburgh Pirates, the blogging business is booming. We asked Gandy, known throughout Talking Chop circles as “gondeee”, about the View from Your Seat feature on his site as well as his feelings on Turner Field and the secret to the Braves success in 2011.

Having people share a view from their seat is such a great way to allow fans to network with other fans. Why did you decide to add this feature to your site? Where do you see this particular idea heading? For instance, do you think non Braves fans visiting Turner Field for the first time will stop by Talking Chop to see where to sit, what to eat, etc?

I got the idea from Andrew Sullivan’s blog and his View From Your Window series. I’m always looking for ways to bring more reader interaction into the blog, and I also like how the View From Your Seat posts break up the page as one scrolls down the blog. Even if you’re in front of a computer screen you’re still able to peek into games, from all angles. Including minor league Views also gives people a window into all the different levels of baseball that exist out there.

I see this series continuing for as long as folks will send in pictures, and there’s been no shortage of late. Last New Years I put together a slide show that scrolled through dozens of Views from the previous year — that was well received, especially during the height of the baseball off-season.

In general, are Braves fans happy with Turner Field? Seeing as how it was built to host the ’96 Olympics, can it sometimes feel a little too multi-purpose/cookie cutter like say Fulton County Stadium?

It was refitted to just be used for baseball after the Olympics, and is one of the better stadiums to watch a game in (I can say that after having been to all but seven current stadiums). Every year they continue to add features to improve the stadium, like the huge HD screen in the outfield. The Braves don’t do the best job of creating a wonderful fan experience, but they do a pretty good job of it. There are a lot of things to like about the Ted.

As far as MLB south of the Mason-Dixon line goes, the Atlanta Braves are pretty much the only show in town. Why is it then that the team struggles to draw fans? I feel like the Braves, one of the top organizations in all of baseball, should be higher than #15 for average attendance this season. Is this just a case of an apathetic Atlanta sports base or perhaps something as simple as say the weather?

Fans can sometimes get spoiled by winning, Braves fans certainly were for a long time. There are a myriad of reasons for not filling the stadium. Traffic in Atlanta can be an obstacle to attending games during the week, especially during the school year. Keep in mind most folks live outside the city, so it’s at least a 20 to 30 minute commute to and from the game, and much more during rush hour. The heat is certainly a factor for some. I would say that Atlanta is also primarily a football town, as is most of the South, so baseball can take a back seat to football even during the football off-season.

The 2011 Braves are once again competing for a spot in the NL playoffs. What has made this particular team so special and what kinds of move do you think the Braves will make before the trading deadline?

The rookies and young players have really shined this year. Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, and Brandon Beachy are all rookies who will likely compete for the ROY at the end of the season. Other young players like Jason Heyward, Jonny Venters, Jair Jurrjens, and Tommy Hanson have really come into their own as stars of this team. The pitching has been the thing that has paced this team. The Braves go as their pitching staff goes, that was true in the 90s and it’s especially true this year.

views from Turner Field courtesy of Talking Chop

Camden Chat and View My Seats: A Mutual Baltimore Orioles Admiration Society

Stacey Long is the lead writer for Camden Chat, a baseball blog dedicated to the Baltimore Orioles and their fans. Just a few weeks ago, Camden Chat created a page on their site titled “View from Your Seat” where Orioles fans can send in pictures from the game. Being an Oriole fan, and Camden Chatter myself, I figured this was an appropriate time to ask Stacey about the new View from Your Seat section as well as see what she thinks about the current state of our beloved, and much maligned, Baltimore Orioles.

1 – Part of the reason sports blogs like Camden Chat are so successful is because they rely on fans/readers to drive and create content. What we do at VMS, and what you are doing with The View from Your Seat section, is allowing fans to create and share their authentic story. Why do you think so many fans are willing to share their views from the game w/ Camden Chat and how can this help create greater buzz for the Baltimore Orioles?

For baseball fans, there is no better place to be than at the ballpark. Maybe the Orioles are terrible at baseball, maybe you have a deadline coming up at work, but when you’re sitting in center field with a cold beer and some peanuts, life is good. Everyone loves being at the game, and sharing pictures from trips to various parks is a way to extend some of that happiness to others. I started the “View From Your Seat” feature just a few weeks ago and I’ve already gotten pictures from the upper deck, the lower deck, and a private suite at Camden Yards, from several minor league stadiums, and my favorite, from a baseball game being played by troops in Afghanistan.

I don’t know that it’ll create a greater buzz for the Orioles; it’s no secret that Oriole Park at Camden Yards is one of the most beautiful destinations in the baseball world. I do think it’ll help build the sense of community that Orioles fans feel with each other and maybe draw some new fans out of the woodwork and into the Camden Chat community.

2 – What’s your favorite view from OPACY? Mine would have to be section 4 of the Lower Reserve, very close to the right field foul pole and scoreboard. I like this section because the seats face the plate and you’re only a few exaggerated bounds away from BBQ heaven at Boog’s.

I have a few choice places to sit, but my absolute favorite is in the lower deck in left field (sections 80, 82, 84, 86). They’re not the closest to the infield, but you have a fantastic view of the entire field and it’s prime home run territory. Another great place to sit is right in front of the press box, sections 33, 35, 37, 39. You get that behind-home-plate feel without having to shell out for the really expensive tickets, plus you’re a bit higher up than the box seats so you have a great vantage point.

3 – Here’s one for you, would the Orioles be better off today if they had never moved out of Memorial Stadium and into Camden Yards? Totally ridiculous? Yes. But here’s part of my thinking, no OPACY means no tourist destination which means fewer fans from NY/Boston flooding the Inner Harbor which consequently leads to them obnoxiously drowning out O’s fans during the game. Of course, Baltimore restaurants/retail would probably disagree but I’m sure there are at least some old time Orioles fans that long for the days of limited parking and obstructed views.

Absolutely not. Camden Yards in the 1990s was an amazing place to see a baseball game with a full house every night, and even today I wouldn’t choose any other ballpark over it. Anyone who longs for Memorial Stadium is having their opinion skewed by nostalgia and while I’m sure we’d all love for the team playing at Camden Yards to be as good as some of the teams that played at Memorial Stadium, it’s silly to wish away an amazing ballpark.

As for the Yankees and Red Sox fans, one thing will drive them away (or at least shut them up) and that’s winning. It’s up to the Orioles.

4 – Moving forward, how do the Baltimore Orioles turn this thing around? My plan is to wait for realignment when they won’t have to face both the Yankees and Red Sox 20 times a season. But until that time….any suggestions?

The Orioles need to build a team that can compete. The AL East is the toughest division, no doubt, but the Orioles haven’t fielded a team that would compete in the AL Central in the last decade either. They need a stronger presence in the international market, smart drafts, and an end to stupid expensive contracts such as the ones given to Vladimir Guerrero and Michael Gonzalez. They need to stock their farm system and replenish it regularly and stop relying on every single one of their prospects to pan out in order to achieve success.

I’m in favor of a balanced schedule and even the recently suggested realignment that would create just one American League division and one National League division. That will help make the system fairer and more fun to watch, but the Orioles won’t have any more luck in that scenario than they do now unless they improve their team drastically.

views from Oriole Park at Camden Yards courtesy of @staceyMlong

Flip Flop Fly Ball: The VMS Interview

Craig Robinson is the progenitor of Flip Flop Fly Ball, a blog dedicated to his love and appreciation for the game of baseball. His first baseball book, Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure is in stores today. Craig is an Englishman living in Mexico, a story for a later date, and was nice enough to sit down with VMS to discuss his new book, Ichiro, and the universal language of baseball.

So Mexico huh? Sounds like the beginning of an Ernest Hemingway novel. Was the appeal of Mexican League baseball just too enticing for an expatriate like yourself to pass up or was it something simpler that drew you south of the border like say the tequila?

A bit of both. I’m British, and I was in Berlin during the 2009/10 and it was horribly cold and grey. I wanted to skip a winter and be somewhere warmer, and I had a couple of friends here, so gave it a go. It’s a great city. And the fact that there is baseball and soccer here is a massive bonus.

One of the things I like discussing is the accessibility of baseball and how people with limited exposure to the game find it so hard to comprehend. The reason I like your work on Flip Flop Fly Ball is because it has a way of translating the game of baseball into a universal language, something all people can understand. In the States, we have a crisis on our hands where fewer and fewer kids, especially from the inner city, are playing baseball, choosing instead to specialize in either football or basketball. In your estimation, what can be done in the US to attract more kids to the sport of baseball?

I’m not so sure. I never played as a child, but simple things to trim the excess time would be good in general, and that might help get rid of any perception that it’s a “boring” game. Properly making sure pitchers don’t take forever on the mound, stopping all the stepping out of the box, limiting the throws over to first, and IBBs only having to be one throw might help.

How do you explain to your non country of baseball acquaintances that a batter is not supposed to peer back at the catcher as he flashes the pitcher signs? And, taking it a step further, if that batter is to be caught “cheating”, on the very next pitch the pitcher will proceed to put a mid 90’s fastball right in the center of his ribs. It seems to me that this is one of the many nuances that makes baseball different from other sports. Do you think other sports, soccer for instance, have a way of regulating themselves like baseball?

Not really. All the unwritten rules seem fairly singular to baseball. Like everyone barring, in would seem, FIFA, I abhor the diving, play-acting, and lack of honesty in soccer these days.

I’m sure you have been pestered with ideas for future charts and infographs so let me just bother you with one more: track the total distance the ball has traveled, from plate to base, on all the would be basestealers Pudge Rodriguez has thrown out during his major league career. Then compare that number to the other catching greats throughout MLB history. Who would you suppose tops that list?

I have no idea without looking it up, that’s a good idea, though.

In what ways will your new book Flip Flop Fly Ball, available in stores now, appeal to non baseball fans as much as your brethren in the country of baseball?

Well, most of the people I know here aren’t interested in baseball, and they still kinda like looking at the book. It’s colourful and neatly designed which I think is something a lot of people will like. The info, though, will be fairly baffling to a non-baseball fan.

Lastly, your love affair with Ichiro. Please explain. I feel that many fans may now overlook his career accomplishments while he gradually withers away in the Pacific Northwest. If he were say a New York Yankee for the past decade, do you think he goes down as one of the 10 best hitters of all time? My favorite line about Ichiro is that if he had wanted to he could have averaged 30 HR’s and over 100 RBI a season for his entire career.

He’s simply a joy to watch from the moment he steps out of the dugout. His at-bats are never boring, and he’s a great defender. I lived near Seattle for a while, and it was great to sit in right field and watch him between batters. Even though you knew he was concentrating on the game, it kinda looks like he’s got other things to think about in those moments when he’s not required to think about baseball.

all views from Foro Sol courtesy of @flipflopflying

High Five w/ John Henson co-host of ABC’s Wipeout

As Jerry Seinfeld once said: “Slapping hands is the lowest form of male primate ritual.” We here at VMS fully support the high five and believe it has a clear and important place in this world.  In our latest set of 5 questions, we asked John Henson, co-host of ABC’s Wipeout and huge New York Knicks fan, what he thinks about the 2010-11 Knickerbockers and the NBA in general.

VMS: As a big time celebrity, has it become cool again to root for the Knicks or do the scars of Isiah and Starbury still linger?

JH: It’s definitely cool to root for the Knicks now.  But true fans never stopped.  I know I never did… but the reason this season feels so good to Knick fans comes from all those years of waiting.

VMS: At what point does Amar’e “tap out” and tell Coach D’Antoni that he can’t keep playing 40 minutes plus a game?

JH: It’s an excellent question.  With the way Amar’e is playing and the league-wide credit he’s receiving for reviving the franchise (deservedly so)… he wouldn’t pull himself out of a game even if there was smoke pouring out of his knee caps.  I think the bigger question is why Amar’e and Felton need to play 40 plus a night in order for the Knicks to have a chance of winning? Someone needs to break out in that second unit and establish themselves as a threat.  The more guys like Tony Douglass, Shawne Williams and Ronnie Turiaf step up offensively, the more Amar’e and Felton can preserve their legs.

VMS: Tell the truth. Raymond Felton: not quite Walt “Clyde” Frazier but definitely better than Howard Eisely.

JH: First of all, NOBODY is Walt Clyde Frazier!  36 points, 19 assists and 7 boards in a game 7 is epic by any comparison.  That said… D. N. F. W. R. F., baby!  It took, what?  Maybe 4 or 5 weeks for Felton to make everyone stop wondering how much of Stoudemire’s success belonged to Steve Nash?  Felton and Stat are one of the toughest pick and roll tandems in the league, no question.  Ray hits threes, hits the floater in the lane, he’s 6th in the league in both assists and steals.  And most importantly to New Yorkers, he plays fearlessly.  He’s playing like an all star.

VMS: Are you one of those Knicks fans who is now talking themselves out of Carmelo or do you think they would be better with him?

JH: I met Carmelo before the season began and pitched him heavily on NYC.  I told him that all the love and affection, marketing opportunities and hero worship Lebron left on the table was waiting for him in MSG. That was before Amar’e set a franchise record for consecutive 30 point games.  At the end of the day, while it’s great to see us above .500, we need another impact player like Carmelo to challenge for a championship.  The question just becomes what you have to give up to get him.  If we toss out all our young studs and have no role players left to field a team, we’re screwed.  The best part about the team playing well is that we don’t have to make moves out of desperation.

VMS: Who wins an arm wrestling contest: Anthony Mason or Charles Oakley?

JH: I’ve met both of them and Charles Oakley was so intimidating that when he shook my hand, I peed a little.  But Anthony Mason has arms like sides of beef.  Mase was probably bigger but Oak was definitely meaner… so it’s a coin flip.  But I’d pay-per-view it, that’s for sure…


Thanks to John Henson for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Hopefully the Knicks will compete long enough to give their loyal fans a taste of the postseason.

view of Madison Square Garden courtesy of @378cranberries