A Chosen Bullet: Workbook Edition
  • Fan Pendulum Might Swing Back to South Side

    I recently had lunch with one of my best friends who bleeds Cubbie blue and is probably the most knowledgeable Cub fan I know both from a contemporary and historical perspective.  He has the complete Topps set for every Cub team from the 1950s – 70s.  As for me, I like to consider myself a South Side Chicago fan – someone who roots for those teams with Chicago on the front of their jerseys; meaning the Cubs just as long as they’re not playing the White Sox.  

    As we sat there looking forward to and analyzing the upcoming season, my friend said something that I’ve quite frankly never heard and never thought I’d hear – that he’d rather take in a Sox game at U.S. Cellular right now than a Cubs game at Wrigley.  Ultimately for him, the mystique of Wrigley has faded and the despair surrounding the Cubs is just too much to bear right now.  The Sox, on the other hand, are fresh, vibrant and full of hope while playing in an underrated and fan friendly ballpark since undergoing its facelift nearly a decade ago.

    Whether you consider his shift in ballpark tastes to be treasonous or not, it underscores the outlook and optimism couldn’t be more different for both teams right now both on and off the field.  As such, the opportunity has never been right for Chairman Reinsdorf’s organization to seize back the dominate market share he lost to the North Siders 30 years ago.  People lose sight that there was a time when the split between Chicagoans allegiance was close to, if not right at 50/50.  But all that began to change when Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn bought the Sox before the 1981 season.  Spurred on some of the goodwill left over by Bill Veeck combined with some big free agent splashes by the new ownership, the signings of Carlton Fisk and Greg Luzinski, the Sox outdrew the Cubs annually from 1981 – 84.  The culmination for the South Side took place in 1983 when Comiskey Park hosted the 50th Major League All-Star Game and the White Sox won the AL West.

    But one move, one disastrous overreach  by the Sox new ownership in 1982 set in place a course over the next three decades where Cubbie Blue would be the dominant color on Chicago’s baseball canvas.  For those of you old enough, harken back to SportsVision – Reinsdorf’s brainchild that charged fans a monthly fee to watch the Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks.  Simultaneously, WGN became one of the first cable superstations and Harry Caray left for the significantly bigger audience the Cubs provided and the rest was, as they say, history as ‘Cable Cub Fan’ became a catch phrase in the 1980s.   

    Fast forward to 2011 – the number of Cub games on WGN has continued to dwindle for the last 15 years (mainly because of restrictions from Major League Baseball to maximize revenue through its satellite and cable packages) thus leveling the exposure playing field with the White Sox.  Upstairs, the Sox, a stale franchise a decade ago, now has an “All In” owner who has completely reinvented himself into a loving grandfatherly figure as well as a general manager always playing for this year’s World Series.  But most of all, the Sox enjoy a “one of us” presence on the field.  Ozzie Guillen has been a face for this franchise for the better part of 25 years.  Franchise cornerstones Mark Buerhle and Paul Konerko are “one of us” as is A.J. Pierzynski.

    For the Cubs, Harry is long gone and the mystique of Wrigley, judging by the empty seats late season has faded.  Fans don’t really know new owner Tom Ricketts or new manager Mike Quade while preferring they didn’t know GM Jim Hendry.  If you’re a diehard Cub fan, who do you look at the way you once looked at Ryne Sandberg  or Mark Grace and say “he’s one of us” – Soriano? Fukudome? Zambrano? probably none of the above.  Maybe the day will come and the bonds built with Ricketts, Quade and young guys like Tyler Colvin, Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner will link back to a storied past of fans and players feeling like family.  But until that times comes, ‘All In’ for the Sox has as much to do with what happens on the field as it does with trying a recapture its share of a Chicago fan base once though irrecoverable.

    March 31st Posted in: The Windy City Sports Blog with No Comments

  • When Bad Things Happen to Innocent People

    In the era where everyone everywhere has a camera, a natural disaster like the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami allow human beings the instant ability to connect as well as sympathize with the plight of the victims.  I, for one, sat in front of the TV in utter shock and sheer horror of the devastation to the Northern part of Japan.  Homes, lives and families were literally swept away, vanished from existence in the matter of minutes. 

    When devastating natural disasters occur, the inevitable questions also arise:  Where was God?  Why did God allow this to happen?  While I’m certainly not a theologian and don’t claim a pipeline to God whereby I’m able to get the answers to these types of questions, I do have some thoughts and insights I’d like to share.  First off, it’s vitally important to point out that the tsunamis of life come to us all, often times unexpected and don’t discriminate on whether or not someone is a “good person” (Matthew 5:45).  We live in a fallen world due to the decisions and choices of mankind (Ecclesiastes 7:29) which was given free will by God.  Sin therefore impacts everybody; evil, pain, suffering and the like, whether inflicted from fellow man or nature is all part of the package.  Be it a natural disaster such as that described above or a personal tsunami like marital or financial distress, the unexpected loss of a loved one – the trials, tribulations and storms of life are coming to you if they haven’t already.

    I also think there’s a misconception, particularly in a country like ours, that the “good life” is a birthright.  That if work hard and do what you’re supposed to do that you should be blessed with a long, fruitful and abundant life.  Well, unfortunately that’s quite a misnomer.  Nobody worked harder, served more and lead a sinless life like Jesus Christ yet he was pummeled, bloodied, beaten and died a horrific, suffering death at the age of 33.   Further, 8 of his original 12 disciples died martyr deaths ranging from beatings to stonings to being hung on a cross upside down (Peter).  So we need to understand that it’s not the quantity of years but the quality with which we live our lives because tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us.

    The good news is that God has given us the ability through His Spirit to bear up and not only survive when the tsunamis of life come but to thrive.  I’ve been told and firmly believe that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you make of it.  Toughness, resiliency and resolve are traits that develop under the toughest of circumstances (James 1:2-4); but if we endure, God’s blessing is there waiting for us in the end (Romans 5:3-5).  And finally, God allows disaster to come our way to draw us closer to Him.  To this day, I’ve never seen a bigger crowd for a church service then I did at the Wednesday Night Service on September 12th, 2001.  Cars lined up down the street further than any Christmas or Easter Service I’ve ever seen.  Why? Because even in the midst of a tragedy like 9/11, God was moving and stirring in the hearts of people.  So when tragedy comes next, we need to comfort, weap and wrap our arms around each other in sorrow.  But we also need to step back, look up and say “OK God, strengthen us, help us to move forward as well as rebuild our lives and all the while help us to stay focused on you.”

    March 28th Posted in: Christian Living with No Comments

  • The Rob Bell Controversy

    Rob Bell has stirred up quite a bit of discussion, as well as controversy, over his new book Love Wins.  If the discourse hasn’t yet come across your radar, now is as good a time as any to tune in as the ensuing conversation is likely to shape the future direction of Christianity in the United States.  I thought originally that I’d be writing an article suggesting that the controversy was overblown and that Bell provided us with a maligned and sympathetic character in the face of criticism from a Christian Establishment sometimes overly eager to pounce on new and fresh ideas.  But the more I’ve looked into Bell, the more aghast I’ve become with his theology.  I’m not going to delve too deep into what Bell professes other than to say this is a conversation that needs to take place albeit at a civil and respectful level so as to not feed into some of the judgmental perceptions Bell and others have of establishment Christianity. 

    What I will say about Bell’s doctrine is that he seems to suggest that us believing in our own ability and power is as important as us believing in Jesus’ ability and power – as if elevating human beings so we’re on a level playing field with Jesus.  Bell also seems to suggest in a post-mortem salvation in addition to heaven and, especially, hell being more a figurative place of what you make of it here on earth. All in all, I’ve come to the conclusion that Bell’s theology is, to say the least, vague with little basis in sound doctrine.  I’ve watched countless scripted messages from Bell and no less than 10 interviews with Bell from CNN to ABC’s Good Morning America to interviews produced by outlets friendly to his message – and not one specific mention of scripture.  This point, for me, was a major red flag.  While I certainly don’t need, or want, a pastor getting on a holy pedestal, quoting scripture in every other sentence of an interview, I’d prefer to hear one or two bible verses to put your beliefs and statements into context during the course  of a 5 to 10 minute interview.  At some point, stand on the Word of God assuming you actually believe it.

    Bell’s message springs forth from the “emerging church” movement.  I’ve been to these churches with an open mind and the “sermons” are usually feel good, pat yourself on the back messages – great for a self help seminar but not so much when you’re calling it a Christian worship service.  Some would refer to it as “cotton-candy Christianity”.  I know the difference because I’m blessed to be a part of a vibrant church where a personal spiritual growth message is ALWAYS developed within the context and springing forth out of scripture.  In a bible-based church, the scripture is the main dish with the personal growth message emanating as a sweet aroma throughout the sanctuary.  Emerging churches flip that around so you get a personal growth message with a little scripture sprinkled on top as seasoning as opposed to the actual entrée.  I once sat through a service where the “pastor” was 20 minutes into a 30 minute message before he even cited a bible verse.  The question becomes are you afraid or ashamed of God’s Word or do you not really believe it?  And if you don’t believe it, then fine; but then why masquerade as a church with a cloak of Christianity?  Why not just call yourself a self help movement that believes in a higher power?

    All that said, I will give Bell credit for getting the dialogue going among the Christian community.  While I feel his message, and that of the emerging church is dangerous for those not grounded in their faith (read 1 Corinthians 3:1-2) and seekers who want to have their ears tickled by those like Bell (read 2 Timothy 4:3), I think the controversy is great for mature believers to reignite their faith while providing opportunity for much needed revival within the Christian community.  I also agree with Bell on one other point to the extent that He thinks many Christians are a big part of the problem for the way non-believers look at Jesus.  While it’s true that the Gospel has always been seen as hostile by the world (after all, Jesus himself was crucified by an unrepentant world); it’s also true, in my opinion, that modern-day Christians (especially in America) too often give the unbelieving world the excuse they’re looking for to turn off to the Good News of the Gospel.     

    I am one who believes that when a large perception of you exists, it’s time to look in the mirror and examine why that perception is there.  I’ll be starting a series in next month’s Bullet to discussing that perception with some potential solutions to bridge the gap between how we demonstrate Christ’s love in presenting the Gospel and how we’re perceived by the unbelieving world.  How should we frame our message to an unbelieving world? How should we share our faith?  How vocal should we be politically? How should we, or should we avoid, hot button topics like abortion and homosexuality?  We’ll find out starting next month.

    March 28th Posted in: Christian Living with 8 Comments

  • Professor Thibs Chem Lab

    You can’t trade for It, can’t draft It, can’t sign It for $20 million a year, you can’t teach It and you can’t time It with a stop watch.  It is not always the most talented. It, is either there or It isn’t.  It is the most important word in all of sports because you have to have It to win.  Of course, It is chemistry and the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls have IT like no other team I’ve ever seen.

    The master of It when it comes to the Bulls is biochemist and rookie coach Tom Thibodeau who has synthesized his roster to a near perfect reaction.  He’s concocted It with only one All-Star as compared to six combined from the other two Eastern contenders in Miami and Boston.  Of course, It becomes easier when your lone star player is Derrick Rose.  If Jonathon Toews is Captain Serious and Jay Cutler is Captain Oblivious than Derrick Rose is Captain It.  Rose has It in the purest form possible of internal fortitude and combined with his natural talent has him playing at a level for a pure point guard that will go down as one of the best in NBA history.

    As the Bulls close in on a one of the top two seeds in the East and one of the best records in the NBA, Rose is now a lock for MVP.  As good as he was his first two seasons, you would have been accused of being a major Chicago homer if you would’ve told anybody that Rose would be in the MVP discussion before the season.  As well, you would’ve been branded as quite delusional to even suggest the Bulls would be a potential 60 win team completely healthy, let alone the games the starters have missed due to injury.     

    51 wins and counting with 60 a real possibility for a team whose core (Rose, Deng, Boozer, Noah – has played together less than a 1/3rd of the season).  Luol Deng gets the Stealth Award for flying so far under the radar that the Israeli Army would not detect him.  Not that long ago, the organization was trying to give Deng away to anybody that would take him in a salary dump.  Without a legitimate 35-minute a night starting shooting guard, Deng, has now become the perfect complement to Rose on the wing.

    But back to It.  In an era, where players routinely take nights off mentally and physically, where egos get in the way, where guys stop showing up once they get the big pay day, coaches get tuned out, where so many headlines are made off the court; this young, humble, aggressive and “all for one” Bulls team is difficult to take your eyes off of for all the right reasons.  To see the starters (all but Deng) all standing on the bench and rooting for the bench as they were blowing Atlanta’s first unit off the court in the 2nd Quarter of Tuesday Night’s game was truly special.  Maybe because it’s March or maybe because some of these guys are so young, but the Bulls give you the feeling you get when watching an energetic underdog making a run in the NCAA Tournament.  

    This Bulls team is just fun to watch and we’re likely to watching them well into June.  “Why not us? Why not now?” is becoming the motto of these Bulls. The rest of the NBA may soon find out that there may not be an answer to those questions.

    March 24th Posted in: The Windy City Sports Blog with No Comments

  • Giving Kudos to Krause: Organizations Do Win Championships

    “Organizations win Championships”.  In my 30+ years of following Chicago sports, there’s never been a more ridiculed, yet completely true, statement ever uttered by someone on the payroll of any one of the cities’ five professional teams.  Of course, any lifelong Chicago fan knows that those infamous words were uttered by Bulls General Manager during the bitter power struggle between the front office on one side and head coach Phil Jackson along with the players on the other.  This power struggle provided a back drop during the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s and would ultimately prove to be their undoing.  Say what you want about the break-up of the Bulls, and how Krause along with his handpicked coach Tim “Pink” Floyd drove the Bulls franchise to the Dark Side of the Moon for the better part of a decade; but it’s time to pay respect to Krause while giving him his proper due for the Bulls dynasty.

    I write this now because Krause will be one of a very few not to attend the Bulls 20th anniversary celebration of their first title this weekend.  The official word is that “he’s busy scouting baseball”.  The unofficial word is that the man derided as “Crumbs” by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen is not welcome.  It’s sad in so many ways, but not the least of which, is because Krause was the architect of the greatest dynasty in American sports in the last 40 years.  The reality is that the Bulls never would have become a contender and then a champion without the successful people Krause put around Jordan – who won a total of one playoff game in his first three seasons.

    But after that third season, Krause pulled off one of the most defining if not greatest drafts in NBA history. With two picks in the top ten, he traded up (from the eighth to fifth pick) for an unknown player named Scottie Pippen. Pippen was a true American fairy tale.  He “walked on” as a non-scholarship player to a small school where he literally worked as a locker room towel boy his freshman year. But he grew six inches before his sophomore year and started developing as a basketball player. Pippen was soon after discovered by Krause, who drafted him and then selected Horace Grant at number ten. And with that draft, the nucleus for an NBA dynasty was born.

    After the 1989 season, the Bulls’ front office made an unpopular move with the fans as well as the media, but a move eventually and overwhelmingly proved correct. Doug Collins was the popular head coach and, in his three years, the Bulls improved each season, culminating with the ’89 playoff run. But in June, the Bulls shockingly fired Collins and replaced him with an unknown assistant – Phil Jackson.  Krause (who hired Jackson as an NBA assistant when no opportunities existed for him in the league) took a tremendous amount of heat as did owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Jackson, though, through a blend of coaching and personal philosophies, proved to be a steady hand in guiding the Bulls to six NBA titles in eight years.

    It also goes unstated as well – but lesser moves such as trading Charles Oakley for Bill Cartwright (also a highly unpopular move initially), drafting an unknown European named Toni Kukoc in 1990 and later trading an underachieving Stacey King for Luc Longley all set the stage for the Running of the Bulls.    As much as I loved Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech, I cringed and felt sorrow inside for the way he continues to treat Krause all these years later.  I often thought most, if not all, of the criticism surrounding Krause had to do with his less than Hollywood-like physical appearance.  I often wonder if he had the look of a GM like Kenny Williams or Theo Epstein if he would’ve taken the same amount of ridicule.  Regardless, I hope somewhere during the celebration this weekend the fans, media and most importantly the players have some private conversations about the contributions a man known in his better days as ‘The Sleuth’ had on his club.

    March 11th Posted in: The Windy City Sports Blog with No Comments