Archive for September, 2008

Due to work constraints, I was limited to listening to pieces of the extended regular season of the White Sox over the last two evenings on the radio.  Even though the one-game playoff to determine the AL Central championship turned out to be what one of my friends thought was the best baseball game that he had ever seen as a Sox fan (even better than Game 1 of the 2005 World Series, in his opinion) and I wasn’t able to watch it, I haven’t stopped smiling for hours.  (By the way, the Twins over the course of this season have secured a place with Indiana, Michigan, Packers, and Pistons on my list of hated sports teams.  Call me heartless, but I derive great joy out of seeing this team full of virtual David Ecksteins get squished like the gnats they are.  We’ll see how well the Twins’ baseball philosophy will work when they move out of that indoor Hefty bag-walled shag carpet facility and into an actual ballpark.)  The past week for the White Sox has been a microcosm of the past season – looking completely listless and failing at all facets of the game during a critical series and then turning around a couple of days later to put together almost picture-perfect baseball.  As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sox proceed to get swept by the Devil Rays or the South Siders go on a 11-1 run a la 2005 – we’ve gone through 163 games and no one has any better read on this team today compared to Opening Day.

As tense as the regular season was, the one thing that I’ll look forward to this postseason is that I almost have a loose feeling as a result of the White Sox winning the World Series three years ago.  This isn’t to say that I’m complacent or satisfied – I’ll be throwing inanimate objects at my television this month as much as ever.  However, there isn’t the extra checked-in luggage full of bad history and karma making me wonder if I will ever live to the see the Sox win it all.  Instead, all Sox fans can simply focus on this particular team and this particular year without worrying about a flurry of “Eight Men Out” clips.

Obviously, this isn’t going to be the case for my Cubs fan brethren, who will be subjected a continuous loop of billy goats, black cats, and Bartman for as long as the team is still playing in the postseason.  Let me say something nice about real Cubs fans for once (by real, I mean people like Minneapolis Red Sox, TK, Marc, Ted Lilly Fan Club, and many others out there as opposed to the Big Ten Greek Reunion/Iowa tour bus “Wrigley Field fan” crowd) – their loyalty is the envy of every other sports fan base in the country, they break the stereotypes of the lackadaisical fans that supposedly only enjoy the beer garden atmosphere of Wrigley by taking over opposing teams’ stadiums all across the country, and, at the end of the day, truly deserve to get the payoff of a world championship.  Anyone that believes that real Cubs fans are part of a happy-go-lucky fan base that doesn’t care about whether their team loses is either ignorant or completely blinded by anti-Cubs bias.  As a White Sox fan that lived steps from Wrigley Field on the evening of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, I realized that no fan base that gave that much should endure that type of pain (well, except for those Hoosier Satan’s Spawn enablers).

Which brings us to the fact that will surely be repeated almost as much as the Cubs House of Horrors clip show – this year will be the first time that both Chicago teams are in the postseason in 102 years.  In contrast, the Mets and Yankees both made the postseason for New York in 2006, the Dodgers and Angels made it for Los Angeles in 2004, and the Giants and A’s made it for the San Francisco Bay Area in 2003.  The magnitude of the Cubs and Sox simultaneously being competitive, much less actually making to postseason play, cannot be understated.  This is a town that has had such a dearth of good baseball teams over the years that it still celebrates famous collapsers/underachievers such as the ’69 Cubs, ’83 Sox, and ’84 Cubs (I can’t imagine New Yorkers building statues and naming streets after the 1995 AL Wild Card Winner Yankees).  To suddenly have the prospect of a repeat of 1906 (where, by the way, the Hitless Wonder White Sox shockingly upset a Cubs team that still has the best single season record in history) is beyond the realm of comprehension for any Chicagoan.  Just to be safe, I’m moving myself, the wife, and the cat to the basement until the end of the month with a power generator on standby.  Of course, I’m willing to put up with Armageddon if it means seeing an all-Chicago World Series… as long as the White Sox come out on top.

(Image from ESPN.com)

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Fresh on the heels of this blog post on the newspaper industry from last month, the Chicago Tribune introduced its newly redesigned paper today.  The paper has asked for feedback on the “New Chicago Tribune” and here is what I’ve sent to the editor:

Let me preface this by saying that I’m a 30-year old affluent professional that writes a regular blog, uses the Internet heavily on a daily basis, and subscribes to the Chicago Tribune and Wall Street Journal. That is, I’m part of the demographic group that this Tribune redesign is supposedly geared toward.

When I first read about the Tribune Company’s initiative to redesign all of its papers, I wrote the following blog post that addressed my concerns:

How To Kill a Newspaper

Essentially, I feared that the Tribune was advocating “form over substance”, meaning that it would switch around portions of the paper and make heavier use of graphics without making real substantive changes. I also questioned the paper going the route of USA Today as opposed to the New York Times or Wall Street Journal not just from a journalistic perspective but from a pure business standpoint. It’s incredulous that a local newspaper that depends on hometown subscribers would follow the model of USA Today, whose circulation is primarily based upon giving papers away for free to out-of-town travelers in hotels and has virtually no subscribers. At the same time, even if we grant that the web is eventually going to replace physical newspapers altogether, the websites that have the highest journalistic standards – the New York Times, Washington Post, and BBC – are the ones in the top 100 most-visited websites as opposed to USA Today (while the Wall Street Journal has arguably the most successful online paid subscription operation of any website).

After looking at the new Tribune today, all of my fears have come to fruition and then some. The fact that the business section was eliminated and what little business news is left is of the “consumer” variety that can be found in hundreds of other sources on newsstands and the web is a complete abomination for a metropolitan area that is the most important financial center in the world after New York and London. Chicago is the home of the world’s largest financial exchange and a leading center for banking and corporate law, yet the Tribune has neglected an opportunity to fill an important (and from a newspaper business standpoint, lucrative) area of covering the commodities, futures, options, and legal news stories coming out of this city that aren’t being addressed by the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. At the same time, it seems as though the Tribune wants to be a broadsheet version of the Sun-Times, even though that competitor is the one that’s on the ropes financially and in terms of circulation.

Frankly, it’s insulting that the leaders of “old media” seem to believe that members of Generation Y just want flashy graphics and junk food news about celebrities and crime. While those of us 30-and-under certainly enjoy snarky blogs about Hollywood, we are also the most media-savvy generation anywhere and crave great substantive reporting as well (hence, that’s why you see the New York Times and Washington Post websites high on the list of most-visited sites on the Internet but USA Today is nowhere to be found). The Tribune has made a huge substantive error with its redesign. At the end of the day, it will not attract any more of the younger set of potential readers while also alienating its long-time subscribers like myself.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

I’m short on time this week, so I’ll direct you to (1) a rant from Da’ Bears Blog that accurately reflects my feelings about the Bears – Bucs game that I suffered in person at Soldier Field this past weekend, (2) Minneapolis Red Sox talking me off the ledge slightly with the Royals’ recent history of playing the spoiler in the AL Central (the White Sox definitely know how to player spoiler for themselves, though) and (3) a back-and-forth between Black Shoe Diaries (the preeminent Penn State blog) and Illinois Loyalty regarding this weekend’s matchup.  On the eve of a State of Illinois versus Commonwealth of Pennsylanvia football weekend with Illinois – Penn State and Bears – Eagles (along with the White Sox grasping for its last lifeline and the Cubs finishing up a week where they , here are this week’s parlay picks for both college football and the NFL without explanation (home teams in CAPS):

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PARLAY
(1) Colorado State Rams (+26.5) over CALIFORNIA BEARS
(2) Purdue Boilermakers (+1) over NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
(3) Illinois Fighting Illini (+14.5) over PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (The Illini have woken up form their slumber and are showing up for this game, right? Right???)

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-1-1

Illini Games for the Season: 0-2
Overall Season: 6-5-1

NFL FOOTBALL PARLAY
(1) DALLAS COWBOYS (-11) over Washington Redskins
(2) Green Bay Packers (+1) over TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
(3) Philadelphia Eagles (-3) over CHICAGO BEARS (If the Bears could allow Brian Griese to completely shred the secondary, I’m not sure if it even matters whether Brian Westbrook is suiting up for the Eagles.)

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Bears Games for the Season: 0-2-1
Overall Season: 4-4-1

Should anyone be surprised that the Bears would revert right back its old offensive ways against the Panthers?  The only thing that was shocking was that our neckbearded hero Kyle Orton got juiced up and actually overthrew about 10 open receivers as opposed to undercutting them.  It’s also tough for either team to gain any momentum when there was a total of two plays during the entire game where there wasn’t a false start or offsides penalty called.  What a shame that a couple of great special teams plays along with a relatively decent effort by the defense was wasted again (which has been the general story for the past three seasons).  I’m resigned to the fact that this is going to be the case for yet another year, so I’ll just pin my hopes on the fact that if a team is able to play on one side of the ball exceedingly well in today’s NFL, it can at least get into position to make the playoffs (a la 2005).  On to this week’s parlay picks (home teams in CAPS):

(1) Pittsburgh Steelers (+3.5) over PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – I’m not a fan of this week’s lines with every single home team being a favorite with the exception of Dallas at Green Bay (and I have grave reservations about picking against the Packers at Lambeau Field).  The Steelers looked like the prohibitive favorites for the AFC title after week one but were brought back down to Earth with a grindy performance at Cleveland last week.  I’m also not sure what to make of the Monday Night shootout between the Eagles and Cowboys, which was an awful exposure of the once-mighty Philly D.  The Eagles are tough at the Linc, yet I still think that the Steelers are the better team, so it’s worth it to take the points here.

(2) BALTIMORE RAVENS (-2.5) over Cleveland Browns - This year’s Browns are well down the road of being the worst team to ever be featured on the maximum number of national TV appearances during a season, which is a distinction currently held by the 2002 Bears.  This isn’t a good year to own Derek Anderson and Kellen Winslow Jr. on your fantasy team.

/throws laptop across the room

And finally…

(3) CHICAGO BEARS (-3) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers – As a non-Cubs Chicago sports fan, I’m naturally a pessimist, but even I can recognize that the Bears defense ought to be able to hold down a team whose top two wide receivers are Ike Turner Hilliard and Joey Galloway, who happen to be the only two current NFL players that were alive when the Cubs last won the World Series.  Hence, I’m giving the points in this game.

I’ll be at Solider Field on Sunday, so I’m going to be looking for the Bears to do a little better than how the Illini performed when I was in Champaign last weekend.  Go Bears and Go White Sox!

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-1-1

Bears Games for the Season: 0-1-1
Overall Season: 3-2-1

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

I attended the Illinois – Louisiana-Lafayette game this past weekend in person and let’s just say that I enjoyed the company and the new look of the west side of Memorial Stadium, but little about the actual contest on the field.  Juice Williams telegraphed several passes to the opposing defense as usual, the wide receivers ended up dropping passes even when Juice ended up throwing the ball well, Rejus Benn seemed to be on the field for 58 out of 60 minutes yet was a complete non-factor, the Illinois defense allowed significant plays to an inferior offense, and all phases of the Illini suffered from a lackadaisical attitude and idiotic penalties.  Deron Williams deserved a much better effort after his return to campus just off of winning a gold medal in Beijing.  (Speaking of Beijing, check out this Chicago Tribune article on the significant impact that the University of Illinois has had on the development of the Paralympic Games both here in the U.S. and around the world.)  The only positive comparison that I’ve seen is how the Illini played against Western Illinois last season, where the team similarly looked sluggish against a clearly inferior team yet went on to reach the Rose Bowl.  I hope that’s the case, but I’m concerned that Juice is still making some of the same mistakes as a junior that he was incurring as a freshman.  I’ll give him credit that he’s making some more accurate downfield throws this year and I’m long past the point of believing that he’ll ever be a great pocket passer, but his habit of looking straight at the receivers that he’s about to throw to is not going work when Big Ten conference play starts in two weeks at Penn State (let’s hope he looks a bit better on our first prime time ABC telecast of the season than Ohio State’s tandem of quarterbacks did last week).  Juice’s arm is going to be much more of a factor for the rest of this season with the Illini running attack clearly truncated without the presence of Rashard Mendenhall.  The fact that we open up the Big Ten portion of the schedule with back-to-back road games in Happy Valley and Ann Arbor means that we need to use this bye week to get things back into order very quickly if we want to make a January bowl game.  The bye week also gives me the chance to pick three games without having to worry about the Illini (home teams in CAPS):

(1) Notre Dame Fighting Irish (+8.5) over MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS – I’ve seen the horror story called “Michigan State hosting Notre Dame” way too many times.  I doubt that Michigan State is going to give up 97 turnovers in a game in the same manner as its in-state rival last week, but there will be a brain-freeze by the Spartans at some point which will at least allow the Irish to cover the spread (if not win the game outright).

(2) Iowa Hawkeyes (+1) over PITTSBURGH PANTHERS – Dave Wannstedt is still coaching Pitt… ’nuff said.

(3) FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL GOLDEN PANTHERS (+28) over South Florida Bulls – I’ll admit this is a complete gut feeling here since FIU has lost 2 games by a combined score of 82-10, including a 40-10 loss to a Kansas team that USF just beat last week.  Still, FIU is at home opening a brand new on-campus stadium against a USF team that I’m already on the record of being skeptical of the Bulls on the road.  Such a large spread with the road team as a favorite is a red flag in my eyes, so I’m taking the points here.

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Illini Games for the Season: 0-2
Overall Season: 5-4

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

Let’s take a break from the world of sports and other news to bring this extremely important public service announcement.  For lunch today, we decided to order 10 pizzas for everyone in office.  After much debate, we ended up settling on 5 pizzas to contain strictly some type of combination of meat and cheese, while the other 5 pizzas would have a potpourri of greens, onions, olives and mushrooms upon the insistence of a couple of people.  Of course, within 5 minutes of the pizzas arriving, there was a lone slice of sausage remaining while 4 1/2 pizzas with the green stuff continued to lay around, leaving dozens of hungry people to turn to cannibalism.

Here’s the lesson that needs to be hammered home here: if you’re ordering pizza for 4 or more people, ONLY ORDER MEAT AND CHEESE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY.  If for some reason there is someone that simply can’t or won’t eat meat (which it must be noted is a crime against humanity), then an exception for a plain cheese or spinach pizza is acceptable.  I don’t care if it’s just you ordering a pizza along with Charlie Trotter, Wolfgang Puck, and Dom DeLuise – once you get to 4 people in a group, pizza is about sticking to the basics.  There needs to be a muzzle put on “that guy” that insists upon ordering some wacky combination of toppings, because the fact of the matter is that he’ll end up eating one slice of it and then head on to the sausage and pepperoni.  I’ve ordered pizza in large groups hundreds of times in my life and the fucked-up ingredient pizza ends up laying untouched while people stab each other over the last piece of pepperoni EVERY SINGLE FUCKING TIME.

Look, I’m the furthest thing from a picky eater.  The two most prominent athletic inspirations in my life are Michael Jordan and Kobayashi.  Yet, there are simply quite a few things that I normally enjoy, such as onions and peppers, that I just can’t stand on pizza (on a related subject, I’d rather check out how Shaq’s ass tastes than eat another mushroom in my life – just a personal preference there).  For me, pizza is about dead animals and cheese – end of discussion.  This is also the case for 99% of the rest of humanity, which is the reason why the choices of pizza at mass gatherings such as sporting events, rock concerts, and political protests are always limited to sausage, pepperoni, or cheese (with the glorious meat lover’s option thrown in every once in awhile – if bacon on pizza is wrong, then I don’t want to be right).

Once again, the lesson for ordering pizza in a group is (1) meat, (2) cheese, and (3) shoot any dissenters.  When it comes to ordering pizza, you need to put the sickle down like Soviet Russia.

Rants about this past weekend’s Illini and Bears games are forthcoming.

(Image from MeighanMag)

Like Michael Corleone, every time that I think that I’m out with the Bears, they pull me back in.  After writing a screed last week about how this is probably the least excited that I’ve been for an upcoming Bears season, they of course go out an pull off a monster upset on the road on national television.  After a few days of being drunk off of the Matt Forte Kool-Aid, a couple of things have brought me down to Earth.  First, it was remembering the occurrence of a punchless group of Bears heading into Green Bay on Sunday Night Football last year and administering an upset on par with the one this past Sunday evening, with Lovie Smith’s crew then dumping its offense into quicksand shortly thereafter.  Second, this David Haugh column in the Chicago Tribune goes over some pretty poor recent years for the Bears that followed an unexpected wins in the season openers.  Couple that with the fact that the second game of the year is at Carolina, who is coming off their own unexpected road win at San Diego, and it’s apparent that we’re not in the clear as of yet.  Well, at least I can proceed under the guise that we are at least playoff contenders in some form or fashion.  On to this week’s pro parlay picks (home teams in CAPS):

(1) Green Bay Packers (-3) over DETROIT LIONS – Let me just say that I loathe picking the Packers at any point in time, but the oddsmakers have left me no choice for the second week in a row.  The Lions just lost by 13 points to an Atlanta team that featured a rookie starting the first game of his career and allowed LaDainian Tomlinson’s old backup to run for 220 yards.  As I stated yesterday, I’m not one to question Vegas bookies, but I don’t see how this spread could be less than a touchdown in favor of Green Bay.  So, I’m giving the points here.

(2) New Orleans Saints (pick ‘em) over WASHINGTON REDSKINS – I’ve always liked the home field advantage for the Redskins, but that only takes you so far.  It’s possible that Washington played as horribly as they could have played last Thursday night, yet it’s more possible that they are simply horrific this season.  Getting to lay money down on the Saints’ offensive machine against this lackluster ‘Skins team straight up is a gift.

(3) CAROLINA PANTHERS (-3) over Chicago Bears – Let me preface this pick by saying that this isn’t for reverse jinx purposes, although I’ll gladly fall on my sword in real life here.  As I alluded to above, the Panthers themselves came away with an impressive road win against a superior-on-paper AFC opponent last week just like the Bears.  I don’t think that the Panthers (regardless of the presence of Steve Smith) are necessarily better than the Bears, but they are close enough talent-wise that I believe that the home field will be determining factor.  If this game were to be played at Soldier Field, I’d take the Bears, yet since it’s in Charlotte, I’ve got to give the points.

I’ll be enjoying the weekend in lovely Champaign and checking out the newly renovated Memorial Stadium.  Hopefully, Illinois won’t have too many problems with the Ragin’ Cajuns.  Have a great weekend and Go Bears, Go White Sox, and Go Illini!

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 2-1

Bears Games for the Season: 0-1
Overall Season: 2-1

(Image from Chicago Tribune)