An inside look at sports happenings from the local scene to the professional ranks by the sports staff at The Courier News.

July 2008 Archives

By Andy Rohr
Staff Writer

Although, the world will now be fixated on the three-team Manny Ramirez trade that will land the eccentric left fielder in Dodger blue. Here in Chicago, all the talk has been about the acquisition of future Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey Jr.

All "this would have been a great deal 8 years ago" joking aside, Sox fans should hope that Griffey can emulate the output of another potential Hall-of-Famer playing in Chicago, Jim Edmonds.

Since being let go by San Diego, Edmonds has torn it up with the Cubs. A two-homer performance that capped the Cubs four-game sweep of the Brewers only cemented his status as a great pick-up.

Since suiting up with the Northsiders, Edmonds has hit .277 with 12 homers and 36 RBIs. Throw in a .372 OBP and a .587 slugging percentage and you can see why Cubs fans are now huge fans of the one-time Cardinal.

Sox fans should hope for similar production from "The Kid," who at 38 has seen a drop-off in production but is still someone that the opposition has to take notice of.

The main question most Sox fans have concerns where Griffey will fit in the lineup. The guess here is that Nick Swisher, Jim Thome and especially Paul Konerko will have to give up some playing time. Having lineup depth like this heading into the stretch run is always a nice commodity and something the Sox rarely have.

Griffey to White Sox?

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By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports is reporting that the White Sox will land Ken Griffey Jr. pending his approval.

Rosenthal doesn't mention yet what the Sox would be forking over for the tail end of Griffey's career, but I can't imagine it would be much. The Reds would probably be happy just to get his salary for the rest of the season off the books. Griffey's price tag would likely preclude either team from offering him arbitration this winter, so he wouldn't yield any compensation draft picks.

This year Griffey is batting .245 with a .355 on-base percentage and .432 slugging percentage. Those are obviously all well off his career totals. But over the last month he's hitting .263/.391/.553. So long as the Sox are only sending over a fringe prospect, it's probably worth the gamble to see he can keep it up through the rest of the year.

Of course to ride the hot hand, the Sox will have to drop someone from the lineup, and my guess is that it will be first baseman Paul Konerko.

Konerko and Nick Swisher are both touting poor batting averages, but Swisher has at least maintained respectable on-base and slugging numbers. Swisher also offers a lot of lineup flexibility with his ability to play all over the outfield and at first base.

That will be the right move. Sentiment might not favor benching a player that was a key cog for the team when it won the World Series three year ago, but reason dictates that Konerko has had enough time this season to try to pull himself out of his slump.

Besides, the Sox might be on the verge of acquiring a legitimately good player to replace him in the lineup. Not some guy like Brian Daubach.

I stand corrected

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By Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

I officially stand corrected on the prediction I made last weekend in this space that the Cubs would stand no chance against the Brewers.

Now that the Cubs have gone into Milwaukee and taken the first three games of the four-game series, it's clear that I underestimated the Cubs' character and the overestimated the Brewers' swagger.

With the way the Cubs were tanking after the All-Star break, I felt all signs were pointing to Lou Piniella's squad going belly-up like so many Cubs teams have before. However, with selfless hard workers like Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot and Kosuke Fukudome in the lineup and determined winners like Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster on the mound, I guess should have seen this coming.

The Cubs still aren't out of the woods because of their penchant for slumping on offense. However, the chances of this team missing the playoffs now appear to be very slim. A September schedule packed with challenging road trips could cause the Cubs to slip to wild-card status, but this team will be playing in October one way or another.

As for my prediction that the Cubs would be chopped to pieces by the Brewers' buzz saw, I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again. In the end, it's me and the Brewers who look like bums.

Doom in the dome

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By Andy Rohr
Staff Writer

After the White Sox wilted once again under the bright lights of that awful Metrodome on Tuesday night, it was hard to resist the panic that was setting in.

I knew I had a Jacobsen-esque rant in me about the pending disaster that is now looming over the Sox's season (and look how Jacobsen's blog helped spur the Cubs on to a 3-game win streak) but I've decided against it.

Breathe in and breathe out Sox fans. There's still two months left in the season and this road trip will not alone derail their season.

What could derail it down the stretch is the lack of consistency at the back end of the rotation. Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Clayton Richard, Southside the mascot - anybody please step forward.

Of course, that's not it. Sox fans are clammoring for something to be done with fallen hero Paul Konerko, Nick Swisher is struggling and Scott Linebrink and Joe Crede sit on the DL.

Obviously, the Sox have had better stretches this season but I'm still holding out hope that the front end of the rotation will pull them through it.

Now only a 1/2 game up, tonight's game will pit Gavin Floyd (10-6, 3.57) against Livan Hernandez (10-7, 5.31). Looking at the stats, one would have to like the Sox's chances. As long as Floyd can avoid having Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau step up to the dish with men on base (Richard and the Sox were unable to do this on Tuesday, when the two combined for 5 RBI's), I'm confident the Sox will do enough against Hernandez and regain that 1 1/2 lead. Cross your fingers, Sox fans.

By Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

Enjoy being in first place Cubs fans, because it probably isn't going to last long.

Expect a blood bath when the Cubs travel to Milwaukee for a four-game series next week. Considering the way the North Siders have been hitting the ball lately and how they've played on the road all year, they will likely be chopped to pieces by the Brewers buzz saw that's been almost unstoppable since signing CC Sabathia earlier this month.

I'm thinking Milwaukee will win at least three of the four games, but the good news is that the Cubs should have a decent lead in the wild card race after relinquishing the top spot in the NL Central.

It's definitely time for Cubs Nation to recalibrate the expectations because the Brewers look like the team to beat in the National League at the moment.

Home sweet home

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By Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

Here are a few numbers to chew on in the wake of the Cubs' 6-3 win against the Marlins on Thursday night.

-The Cubs are now 38-12 at home this season and 22-30 on the road.

-The Cubs lost their first two home games, meaning they've won 38 of their past 48 at home. They haven't lost back-to-back home games since those first two contests at Wrigley Field this season.

-The Cubs are 1-4 at home against the Milwaukee Brewers and 37-8 at home against all other teams.

-The Cubs have 31 home games remaining and 29 road games remaining.

-22 of those 31 remaining home games will take place in August.

-16 of those 29 remaining road games will take place in September, a month that includes trips to New York to play the Mets and Milwaukee in the final week of the season.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Judging on how the Cubs have played at home and on the road this season, they will need to mop up at the Friendly Confines in August if they hope to coast into the playoffs.

I think 97 wins will assure a playoff spot, meaning the Cubs will need to go 37-23 the rest of the way. If the Cubs play near .500 ball on the road for the rest of the year, that means they'll need to go 23-8 at home to reach that magic 97 number.

By Andy Rohr
Staff Writer

After their thrilling 10-8 win over the Rangers on Wednesday, the White Sox will head off for a 10-game road trip against the rest of the AL Central.

Wednesday's victory was huge for a variety of reasons. The Sox won despite commiting four errors, avoided a losing homestand, showed once again that they can battle back, got Carlos Quentin back to being the sport-dominator that he often was in the first half and went up by 2 1/2 games on the Twins.

The jury is probably still out on rookie lefty Clayton Richard who endured three errors (and a variety of other mental hiccups) behind him, while allowing seven hits and four earned runs in four innings. There were things to like about the southpaw - he struck out seven while only allowing one walk and he worked quickly. The two-out rallies that plated four Rangers' runs against him were certainly troubling but it was his first Major League start. Here's hoping he sticks in the rotation for another shot in the Metrodome on Tuesday.

But before the Sox get there, they'll be meeting up with the Tigers, who trail them by 5 1/2 games in the standings.

We all remember what happened the last time the Sox made a trip to Comerica Park, kickstarting Detroit's surge back to and above .500.

The pitching matchups are as follows Gavin Floyd (10-6, 3.52) vs. Nate Robertson (6-8, 5.69) on Friday, John Danks (7-4, 3.03) vs. Justin Verlander (8-9, 3.95) on Saturday and Javier Vazquez (7-8, 4.57) vs. Zach Miner (4-3, 3.73) on Sunday. Sox fans can breathe a sigh of relief because they won't be taking on the Gambler, whose earned quite the reputation as a Sox killer.

Floyd's last start against the Tigers was his no-hit bid back on April 12. Danks has yet to face Detroit on the season and will be looking to rebound after his poor start against the Royals earlier this week. Vazquez's previous start against the Tigers yielded poor returns.

Verlander was on the other end of that Tigers' win, tossing a complete-game four-hitter. Robertson made a quality start against the Sox in Game 1 of that series, but has struggled in his last two starts, allowing 12 earned runs in just 9 1/3 innings. Miner has only made one start so far this season but threw two scoreless innings of relief against the Sox back in April.

The weekend series will not only give the Sox a chance to put a little more space in between them and the Tigers in the standings, but also an opportunity to get off to a good start on this important trip.

ESPN hits new low

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By Andy Rohr
Staff Writer

The last few weeks, ESPN has been putting 5-10 minute segments in the middle of Sportscenter to promote cities vying for the prestigious honor of "Titletown."

Honestly, I hate this but it's actually still better than last year's awful, "Who's Now" promotion.

What are your opinions on these ESPN Sportscenter-interrupting segments?

By Andy Rohr
Staff Writer

Today's hottest viral video has to be the brawl that erupted last night in the WNBA between the Los Angeles Sparks and Detroit Shock and involved some of the league's most notable characters: Candace Parker, Lisa Leslie, Cheryl Ford and current coaches (and former Lakers and Pistons) Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Michael Cooper, with Mahorn taking the most active role.

Although this one clearly lacks the violence and ferocity when compared to that other brawl in Detroit from a years ago, it'll certainly be on a constant loop on basic cable for at least the next week.

The shock value (pardon the pun) comes from the fact that these are women doing the pushing and shoving. Actually, there really wasn't that much in the incident, unless we're arguing about whether or not Mahorn meant to shove Leslie to the ground.

The major casualty was Ford, who reportedly ended up tearing her right ACL just before the brawl. This sounds a little fishy because it was Ford who tried to play peacemaker and tumbled to the ground. Ford was taken off the court in a wheelchair.

Obviously this was also not a bright spot for WNBA golden child Parker. The Naperville Central grad (Go Redhawks!) will probably see her status tainted a little bit because of this but it's not like we've never seen basketball's best involved in altercations.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

In honor of Clayton Richard's first MLB start, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the first starts of some other White Sox call-ups. Here are a handful of guys Kenny Williams has thrown into the fire:

Dan Wright, Aug. 1 2001
Wright had actually pitched in relief a few days earlier, but with the Sox rotation in shambles he would get the starting nod the rest of the year. Wright threw five unspectacular innings on his way to the win.

Neal Cotts, Aug 12, 2003
Not Cotts' most memorable start, but I'll get to that in a minute. The lefty had been racking up huge strikeout numbers in the minors before walking the tightrope against the Angels in his first big-league appearance.

The game that stands out in the minds of most Sox fans is this one. Skipper Jerry Manual elected not to pitch Mark Buehrle on short rest, instead tossing Cotts against the Yankees. In Yankee Stadium. In the middle of a heated pennant race. Cotts didn't make it out of the first inning.

Arnie Munoz, June 19, 2004
Even Rodney Bolton didn't have one this ugly on his resume. Munoz left after three innings with the Sox behind 11-1.

Brandon McCarthy, May 22, 2005
Even going against the Cubs in the pressure cooker that the Crosstown series can be, McCarthy was solid in the 4-3 loss. He later took over for Orlando Hernandez and helped the Sox hold off the Indians down the stretch. The rest is history, as they say.

Charlie Haeger, May 10, 2006
The knuckleballer was rocked for six runs by the Angels and was banished to the bullpen the rest of the season. A call-up isn't likely this year before September.

Lance Broadway, Sept. 27, 2007
Broadway was impressive in his only big-league start with eight strikeouts in six innings against the Royals. He hasn't been impressive at AAA Charlotte this year.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

Bears training camp begins today, and in earnest so does the team's quarterback competition between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton.

Barring a preseason meltdown, Grossman's going to win. Despite his inability to put it all together, his upside is still that much greater than Orton's, and the team needs to hope for the best to overcome a questionable offensive line and an unproven running game.

In that sense they've both been set up to fail.

But if the team thought Orton would be a capable starter, Grossman would be wearing another uniform right now.

Orton will just have to settle for being the Steve Walsh to Grossman's Erik Kramer. Or if you really hate Grossman, the Erik Kramer to Rex's Rick Mirer.

By Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

In Rich Harden's brief Cubs career, he's pitched 12 1/3 innings, struck out 19 batters and allowed one run, amounting to a 0.73 ERA. Yet he owns an 0-1 record after being completely let down by his offense Monday night in Arizona.

The lack of offense is nothing new as the Cubs continued to struggle to score runs on the road. Since the All-Star break, the Cubs are 1-3, and yet their pitching staff has allowed only six runs in those four games.

Having a staff with aces like Harden, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster is nice, but it likely won't amount to anything if the Cubs don't score and their top hitters continue to prove susceptible to lengthy slumps.

Some might think this sounds hysterical considering how well the Cubs have hit at home and that Alfonso Soriano has been out of the lineup with a broken hand. However, this current trip to the desert should conjure memories of last year's playoff trip when Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano were completely unheard from as the Cubs were swept out of the Division Series by the D-Backs.

Lee and Ramirez have fallen off the face of the planet again. Lee hit into a backbreaking double play in the ninth Tuesday -- the 20th time he's hit into a twin killing this year -- and Ramirez is a pitiful 0-for-17 since the All-Star break.

There's no doubt the Cubs are one of the best teams in baseball when their offense is in high gear. But as talk of a trip to the World Series builds, fans must take a reality check and realize that the team's top hitters have never proven able to avoid big slumps at crunch time.

Last year, people said it was a fluke that Ramirez, Lee and Soriano all went ice cold at the same time once the postseason arrived. I say it will be a fluke if those three can contribute consistently over a 20-game stretch in the playoffs this year and lead the team to the promised land.

The bottom line is the Cubs' top hitters simply aren't reliable enough to make the team a clear favorite in the National League.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

Brian Urlacher got the contract extension that he clamored for through much of the offseason. And it basically looks the same as the one the Bears offered before the drawn-out haggling process became public.

So the face of the franchise gets some extra dough and the Bears don't waste too much space under the salary cap to put it in his pocket.

While Bears GM Jerry Angelo can be criticized for a number of personnel decisions, give him credit for this: He hasn't dished out any salary cap-busting contracts.

Sox looking for arms

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By Andy Rohr
Staff Writer

After a poor showing in their series loss to the Royals over the weekend, the White Sox pitching staff is really starting to show its holes.

Various reports, including this one here have the Sox taking interest in relievers Jon Rauch and Huston Street.

Also, now that Jose Contreras has been been put on the shelf, here's a list of starting pitchers that might be out on the market.

It's good to see that Sox GM Kenny Williams is looking over the trade landscape to try and improve the club. As I stated before, the Sox are still in a strong position to win the division despite their pitfalls. It's just that you can never count on the failings of what seems to be an inferior opponent, epecially if they are the Twins.

By Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

Sure, Greg Norman's poor showing in the final round of the British Open was disappointing. However, the 53-year-old put on a pretty good show throughout the weekend and would have needed to be at the very top of his game to beat Padraig Harrington, who was outstanding down the stretch en route to his second straight Open title.

How about that shot at No. 17 by Harrington? I loved how the broadcasters were questioning the move as the ball was in the air. Then as it rolled onto the green and broke toward the pin, they were left speechless as Paddy was left with a short eagle putt.

Speaking of the broadcast crew, I found ABC's coverage to be lacking. I know the ABC/ESPN crew isn't doing much golf these days after dropping its share of the PGA Tour schedule. But the broadcast seemed pretty choppy for a major championship, especially considering what CBS and NBC do for the other three major tournaments.

Among my biggest complaints were the high number of commercial breaks. It seemed like after every other shot we were going for a word from the sponsors. I also didn't like how the telecast had so many key shots on tape delay and how a number of shots - like Norman's late chip out of fairway bunker - weren't even shown. I know this might have to do with sharing a feed with European counterparts, but the effect wasn't very pleasing to the viewer. Another beef I had was that key shots down the stretch by players like Anthony Kim, Ben Curtis and Henrik Stenson were never shown. In an event without Tiger Woods in the field, there is no excuse for ignoring some of the players who were in the hunt late in the final round.

As for the broadcast team, there weren't too many blunders. Mike Tirico was solid as usual, but I'm still not seeing him as one of the sport's top voices. Paul Azinger was informative as usual while adding in a few of his customary zingers. Tom Watson fared pretty well for being a newcomer in the booth, but you can tell he still needs some work. Also, I'm not normally a fan of Tom Rinaldi, but I did enjoy his postround interviews, which were well conducted and made both the viewer and player feel comfortable.

One more note on the broadcast. It was annoying that ABC never fixed its graphic showing Greg Norman's record in majors when holding a 54-hole lead. It said he led the 2006 Masters, when indeed it should have been the 1996 Masters. Somebody needs to do some copy editing over there.

All in all, it was a pretty entertaining major considering Tiger wasn't in the field. That gives us some hope looking forward to next month's PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.

*On a local golf note, Black Sheep Golf Club in Sugar Grove continues to attract big names to its facility. Chris Brown, a Naperville native and running back for the Houston Texans, played at the course Sunday. Meanwhile, former Cubs catcher Todd Hundley was in the field for an event at the track Friday.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

Some have already suggested that LPGA officials should have let the fact that Michelle Wie forgot to sign her scorecard slide and not disqualified her. The justification being that there would be a huge amount of interest if Wie were in the field Sunday competing for her first LPGA Tour victory.

I say forget about that. The rules are the rules, and leaving your John Hancock on the scorecard at the end of a round is the most basic of requirements. Just like if I don't turn in my timecard, I don't get paid.

Could officials have let it slide? Sure, but only while compromising the integrity of the game and its rules.

Besides, Wie shouldn't want her first win stained by the notion that she got a free pass that another golfer wouldn't have gotten.

By Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

Who needs Tiger Woods in a major championship?

That's the prevailing opinion now that Greg Norman has come out of nowhere to put himself in contention at this weekend's British Open. After his second straight 70, Norman is alone in second place at even par, one stroke behind leader K.J. Choi.

Seeing the Great White Shark in the hunt brings me back to my formative years when I first started to enjoy watching golf in the mid-1990s as a pre-teenager. Back then, Norman was the man, even though he rarely pulled through in crunch time (this is the guy who has 29 top 10 finishes in majors but only 2 major titles).

I'll never forget watching Norman's collapse in the final round of the 1996 Masters with a final-round 78. It was agonizing watching the man let a six-shot lead slip away into oblivion and eventually a five-shot defeat with one awful shot after another. When Norman fell to his knees after nearly chipping in for eagle at No. 15, it was the first time I truly realized what a cruel game golf is.

Now Norman is back at the age of 53, providing an interesting storyline. He joins Rocco Mediate and David Duval as the guys within three shots of the lead at the 36-hole mark that you can't help rooting for this weekend.

Norman has a new high-profile wife of less than a month and we all know he has friends in high places. But a victory this weekend would do way more to rekindle Norman's star power than those connections ever could.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

The Cubs and White Sox begin the second halves of their seasons tonight, so here's how the clubs have done after the All-Star break over the past decade, with their final records in parenthesis:

2008: ???? (????)
2007: 41-34 (85-77)
2006: 32-42 (66-96)
2005: 36-39 (79-83)
2004: 42-33 (89-73)
2003: 41-27 (88-74)
2002: 32-44 (67-95)
2001: 37-39 (88-74)
2000: 30-46 (65-97)
1999: 26-51 (67-95)
1998: 42-34 (90-73)

White Sox
2008: ???? (????)
2007: 33-43 (72-90)
2006: 33-41 (90-72)
2005: 42-34 (99-63)
2004: 37-41 (83-79)
2003: 41-27 (86-76)
2002: 39-35 (81-81)
2001: 42-35 (83-79)
2000: 40-35 (95-67)
1999: 33-43 (75-86)
1998: 45-31 (80-82)

Things that jump out at me:

-- The Sox have been bad in the second half each of the last two years, though last year was just a continuation of their miserable first half.

-- Jim Riggleman, with the help of an extra game, is the only Cubs manager to win 90 games since the start of the 90s. Are you kidding me?

-- The 2003 Sox didn't lose it in the last devastating series in Minnesota. They blew it in the first half.

-- It's hard to lose more than 50 games after the All-Star break, but the 1999 Cubs did it. I guess that also has to go in Riggleman's scorebook.

-- What a lift the Jose Canseco pickup was to the Sox in 2001!

By Andy Rohr
Staff Writer

The White Sox are teaming up with hip-hop star, actor and Chicago native Common when the White Sox play the Royals on August 12.

A portion of all purchased tickets will go towards the Common Ground Foundation, which aims to help Chicago's youth.

Orders submitted on behalf of the Common Ground Foundation must be received by the White Sox no later than Friday, July 18.

By Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

I have nothing against Phil Mickelson. I just think he's missed his chance to earn his spot in the pantheon of golfing greats.

The proof was there Thursday when Mickelson carded a 9-over-par 79 in the first round of the British Open at Royal Birkdale. That leaves him in a tie for 123rd place and in line to board a plane back to the States on Friday night.

Some Lefty lovers will point out that Mickelson never performs that well at the British Open while others will say he's been overthinking his appearances in majors lately.

Those are nice excuses, but take a look at Mickelson's recent showings in major tournaments and the decline becomes apparent. Since his meltdown at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open, Mickelson has only one top-15 finish in a major championship, and that came at this year's Masters where he tied for fifth but finished six strokes off the lead and was never really in contention.

Mickelson was at his peak going into that U.S. Open as the owner of both the Masters and PGA Championship titles. Maybe his collapse caused the downward spiral, but he hasn't really been the same since. Sure, he's won five events in the time since, but Mickelson's showings in the majors are telling, especially for a guy who prepares tirelessly for each major championship.

Lefty is fun to watch when he's on top of his game, but don't count on seeing that much more during his career. But with a beautiful wife and lovely children, things could be much worse for Mickelson.

By Andy Rohr
Staff Writer

As the Bulls continue to sit on their hands - not breaking up the 2-guard logjam that seems to make up a third of their roster - many other NBA teams are shuffling their decks.

On Tuesday, the LA Clippers - fresh off losing star forward Elton Brand - swung a deal to acquire Marcus Camby from the Nuggets for the option of swapping 2010 second-round draft picks. Upon hearing that, you might assume that Camby is worth about as much as a carton of milk but the man still has game. Last year, the former Defensive Player of the Year averaged 9.1 ppg, 13.6 rpg and 3.6 bpg while playing in 79 games, a high total for the notoriously flimsy big man. For Clippers fans, Camby should at least serve as a band aid for the departed Brand and will likely be the recipient of many no-look passes from new Clipper Baron Davis.

The Nuggets meanwhile, are looking to trim their bloated payroll but as long as George Karl is in charge, the finicky coach will always find a way to get his talented teams to bow out early in the playoffs. Of course it doesn't help when you have one of the league's "promsing" young stars getting yearly mugshots taken.

James Posey, the 2-time champion, who Bulls fans love to hate, just signed a four-year deal with the Hornets, a solid move by a promsing team.

Heads up, Illini Nation! Dee Brown is back in the States. A year after playing ball in Turkey, little Dee is back after signing an offer sheet with the Wizards.

Also of note, former Bradley Brave and NCAA Tournament star Patrick O'Bryant has found a new home, signing with Boston. O'Bryant + Boston = how fitting. On second thought, maybe they just want him to do tournament reenactments with Glenn "Big Baby" Davis.

And finally, the Bucks. After trading for the costly Richard Jefferson last month, Milwaukee gave a completely insane extension to Andrew Bogut. Yeah, I guess he's all right but raise your hands if you think this move will ruin the team for the next decade.

All-Star changes?

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By Andy Rohr
Staff Writer

After the American League won the All-Star Game 4-3 in 15 innings on Tuesday, the Courier sports staff and intern John Bailey got to thinking about ways to improve the game.

Bailey believes that in a game that is supposed to "matter," the fans have too much of a say in who makes the team. Bailey put a bull's-eye around Milwaukee's Corey Hart and the Cubs' Kosuke Fukudome. Bailey pointed to Philadelphia's Pat Burrell and Houston's Carlos Lee as two men more deserving of spots.

Bailey was also displeased to see second-tier All-Stars like Dioner Navarro and Christian Guzman playing the bulk of the extra-inning contest.

I challenged Bailey to give me 10 names of players undeserving of the All-Star roster. After mulling it over and checking the stats, he supplied 12: Derek Jeter, Ichiro, Alfonso Soriano, David Ortiz, Carlos Marmol, Miguel Tejada, Hart, Aaron Cook, Jason Varitek, Joe Crede, Carlos Guillen and Fukudome.

I countered that many of those players were chosen by the players themselves.

I threw out a proposal that in games like these, players - and even pitchers - should be allowed to re-enter. That way the managers can get everyone in the game and if it heads to extras, the best of the best can get back in.

What would you implement to improve the Midsummer Classic? Invite more players? Get rid of the World Series home-field advantage prize for the winner?

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

It's no secret the Blackhawks would like to unload goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Not only did they recently add Cristobal Huet in net, but Khabibulin is the top-paid goalie in the game and eating up the Hawks' salary cap space.

If the Hawks could unload him and get something useful back, well.... that might qualify as a miracle.

The Toronto Sun says it could happen with a three-way deal between the Hawks, the Senators and the Kings.

To summarize, the Hawks would give up Khabibulin and either Cam Barker or Brent Seabrook and get back 20-year-old Anze Kopitar, who scored 32 goals to go along with 45 assists (77 points) last season.

To put that in perspective, Patrick Kane had 72 points last season, and that was by far the most by a Hawks player since the end of the NHL lockout.

With the Hawks now deeper on the blue line with the addition of Brian Campbell, it would be quite a coup if GM Dale Tallon package one of his young defensemen with Khabibulin and get one of the best young centers in the game back in the deal.

That's why this rumor sounds too too good to be true.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

The White Sox bid adieu to Pablo Ozuna, the player manager Ozzie Guillen dubbed "The Secret Weapon" in the middle of Ozuna's career season of 2006, during which he batted .328. The utility man was designated for assignment earlier and refused an outright assignment to AAA Charlotte on Wednesday.

Ozuna caught flack in a lot of corners for his paltry career hitting stats (.285 BA, .322 OBP, .358 SLG), and for his below-average glove. But he did two things well for the Sox. He could at least pass at every infield position and left field. Ozuna also crushed left-handed pitching (.302 BA career vs. LHP), which helped paper over a severe handicap the Sox have had for years.

In the end it was his lack of leather that cost him his job. Juan Uribe, despite all the rumors that have him on the way out of town, is very valuable as a backup for the Sox. He's above-average defensively at every infield position, and the power in his bat is a nice tool off the bench late in games.

But Sox fans should thank Ozuna for the memories. He was a part of the 2005 team that won it all.

And for those of you counting, there are only nine players left from that team.

Ugly Night For Uggla

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uggla.jpgBy Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla didn't look much like an All-Star in the wee hours of the night Tuesday into Wednesday.

The National League reserve was simply brutal both at the plate and in the field, and his awful performance was made all that much worse by the fact that the circumstances were magnified by a tense, competitive contest.

At the plate, Uggla went 0-for-4 and left six men on base. He struck out in three of his four at-bats and also grounded into an inning-ending double play. Meanwhile, Uggla also made three errors in the field, each time putting his pitcher in a precarious position. The three errors were a record for an All-Star Game.

Luckily for Uggla, none of the defensive miscues cost his team. However, the National League might have home field advantage in the World Series if Uggla had been able to put together at least one positive at-bat.

For a guy who wasn't a household name before the game, it'll be tough for Uggla to shake the distinction of being the guy who didn't practically everything wrong during the All-Star game.

Let me know if you can think of an uglier baseball performance on a similarly big stage.


By Andy Rohr
Staff Writer

There's a very interesting and funny story on Yahoo! Sports right now about the reason the American League has dominated the All-Star Game of late. Yearly profanity-laced pep-talks from Ichiro.

The American League has won every All-Star Game since 1997, aside from the infamous 7-7 tie in the 2002 game, featuring a flustered Bud Selig.

Also, when you're enjoying the game tonight try not to think about the fact that the play-by-play man isn't even enjoying himself. Not even if Tim McCarver would offer him some of his cotton candy. Poor Joe Buck.

Anyone else wish the games were back on NBC with Bob Costas behind the mic?

From Staff Reports

This weekend's Kane County Baseball Tournament, originally slated to be held at Cambridge Lakes, will be moved to Wing Park in Elgin. Friday's game time is also changed. An updated schedule:

Elgin Post 57 vs. St. Charles, 5 p.m.
Elgin Post 57 vs. St. Charles, 1 p.m.
Elgin Post 57 vs. St. Charles, 1 p.m. if necessary

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

While the consensus is that the Cubs committed highway robbery in last week's deal for A's hurler Rich Harden, that can only be the case if Harden stays healthy and dominates down the stretch.

Can he stay healthy, though? Nobody knows, but a lot of people are trying to make educated guesses.

If you're into looking at a pitcher's mechanics for clues to this kind of thing, Alex Eisenberg at Baseball-Intellect has an article breaking down Harden. His conclusion: He doesn't know if Harden will hold up either.

Mechanics might not be the best place to assess a pitcher's injury risk, anyway. After all, I remember a guy who supposedly had mechanics so flawless he would never get hurt.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

Outfielder Alex Escobar has been released by the Washington Nationals after struggling in AAA this year. Why the mention? He used to be a White Sox farmhand.

The Sox picked him up off waivers from the Indians late in the 2004 season and early the next year traded him to the Nats for Jerry Owens.

Right now that trade is looking like a garbage-for-garbage swap. Owens has hit so poorly at AAA Charlotte this year that even fans with a fetish for speed at the top of the lineup are having a hard time making a case for his inclusion on the Sox's 25-man roster.

Another tangential link between Escobar and the Sox? Escobar was the centerpiece of the package the Mets gave the Indians for Roberto Alomar before the 2002 season. And as we know, Sox GM Kenny Williams has traded for Alomar twice. No word on if Williams will get him out of retirement for the second half of this season.

Bears sign Jones

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By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

The Bears have signed running back Kevin Jones.

Jones, who is coming off a torn ACL in his right knee, will provide a little depth to a Bears backfield that looks thin after the release of Admiral Cedric Benson, but I don't know that there's a lot of reason to think he'll be anything more than that.

After rushing for 1,113 yards (and 4.7 per attempt) as a rookie in 2004, Jones' numbers have been in Rashaan Salaam territory, minus the fumbles. By that I mean his yards per carry have been way down. And that was before the Lisfranic fracture in his right foot late in the 2006 season.

It could be the system in Detroit changed, and that hurt Jones. The Lions went from Sherm Lewis as offensive coordinator in 2004 to Ted Tollner in 2005. Pass-first coordinator Mike Martz was in charge the last two seasons.

While this signing might end up being more like Edgar Bennett's farewell tour through Chicago, Jones might also be a pleasant surprise for the Bears.

Pillow.jpgBy Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

I think this is the only must-have accessory for watching the Home Run Derby.

By R.J. Gerber
Sports Editor

Christmas has come early for this college basketball fan.

CBS Sports announced today that Billy Packer is out as lead analyst on college basketball coverage. Clark Kellogg is in.

And that's just fine with me.
The smug Packer should have been removed from doing the Final Four long ago. Yes, he knows the game. But the way he conveys it to viewers rubs me the wrong way. We don't need a person telling us things as if it's our first time watching hoops.

Billy's time has long passed.

As for Kellogg, he sometimes gets carried away, but he's a welcome addition to partner with Jim Nantz.

CBS executed the dunk shot with its announcement today.

Bring on the Packer-less Final Four.

No way Jose

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By Andy Rohr
Staff Writer

If it hadn't already, a red flag certainly went up during the White Sox's 12-11 defeat to the Rangers on Saturday.

No, not Paul Konerko's 0-for-6 performance, hidden amongst a 22-hit offensive output by the Pale Hose, but the continuing lack of anything positive coming out of the right arm of Jose Contreras.

After a win over the Royals on June 5, Contreras had a sensational ERA of 2.76. Since then, the big man has turned into a mess on the mound, serving up an ERA of 8.60 in his last seven starts and no doubt reminding Sox fans of his 2007 meltdown.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention, Contreras' rotation buddy, Javier Vazquez. Vazquez has posted a 6.80 ERA in his last seven starts.

The good news for Sox fans is that Contreras and Vazquez are delivering these poor performances in June and July, rather than in the stretch run when fans and Sox GM Kenny Williams could do nothing but wring their hands.

With the trade deadline approaching, Williams needs to at least survey the market and have a good heart-to-heart with owner Jerry Reinsdorf about potentially expanding the budget for another White Sox playoff run.

I'm not calling for a move here yet. Williams should be applauded for the work he did in the offseason and the trio of Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd has certainly stabilized the rotation and given the Sox one of the better front-ends in the AL. But what happens if Contreras or Vazquez or even both continue to struggle? Can Danks and Floyd continue to pick up the slack with the rotation vets crumbling in the second half? Can the young guns handle the additional pressure that would come with it?

Contreras, who has one more year left on the extension he signed in 2006 for $10 million/year, could still come out of his slump but unlike Vazquez it's hard to imagine him posting quality starts with much regularity. Vazquez posted a solid 3.74 ERA a year ago and unlike Contreras has age - and probably "stuff" - on his side.

With the Indians already closing up shop and the Tigers seemingly undecided on whether or not they feel like competing this season, the AL Central is ripe for the taking. A game and a half out at the break, the Twins continue to be the irritant that they have always been to the Sox this decade, while often beating out the more talented Sox for the division crown in the process. And while I've said it before about the Twinkies, this team seems destined to decline. Why am I confident? No Santana. No Hunter. Smoke and mirrors. Lots of smoke, lots of mirrors. Please, just take a look at this starting pitching staff. They've also only scored 16 more runs than they've allowed, while the South Siders have outscored their opponents by 83 runs.

But they're still the "piranhas" and because of that, I hope Williams will take the GM Yellow Pages out of the filing cabinet.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

Now that that we're at the All-Star break and baseball's trade deadline is around the corner, the rumor mill is spinning into high gear.

While it's fun to speculate by kicking around a few hypothetical trades, it might also be time to dispel the notion that trading for any aging veteran yields a bounty of draft-pick booty.

Dave Cameron at the U.S.S. Mariner blog tosses out a few trades that he thinks make sense (though some of them seem very debatable to me). He suggests that a team willing to take Raul Ibanez will get the two-month rental, plus draft picks when Ibanez signs a deal with another team at the end of the year.

That's true, but only if Ibanez is offered arbitration, he doesn't accept and another team signs him. Ibanez is making $5.5 million this year, and I wouldn't bet on the 36-year-old getting a deal nearly than that in the offseason. Why wouldn't he just accept arbitration, through which the acquiring team can offer him no less than his current salary with a 10-percent pay cut? That team is then stuck with a contract they probably don't want.

A famous example of a player surprisingly accepting arbitration is when Greg Maddux took the Braves up on their offer after the 2002 season. Maddux ended up getting as much in 2003 as he likely would have on the open market in a two-year contract. Plus it blew out the Braves' budget, forcing them to trade Kevin Millwood. And they got no draft picks out of the deal.

Now, there are situations where teams are likely to pick up draft picks.

The Brewers will get another team's first-round pick, plus a compensation sandwich pick (between the first and second rounds) when CC Sabathia bolts Milwaukee. But that's because Sabathia is a superstar who is certain to sign with not only another team, but likely a contender that won't have its first-round pick protected (the first 15 picks can't be snagged as free agent compensation).

For another, but slightly different situation, look to a rent-a-player deal the White Sox made in the offseason. Orlando Cabrera is in the last year of a contract that pays him $9 million this season. The Sox will offer him arbitration because 1) baring a horrendous second half, he'll garner interest from other teams and 2) there's no down side to Cabrera accepting. He wouldn't destroy the team's budget and could hold down the shortstop position for another year without forcing the Sox to bear the burden of long-term contract.

So yes, rent-a-player strategies can still bear some long-term fruits. But the idea that you can trade for any team's trash and turn it into draft treasure is just fruity.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

The Tampa Tribune reports the Bears might have interest in acquiring Chris Simms, although they might just be parroting a report Pro Football Weekly had a few days ago. So take that with a grain of salt.

For his career Simms' numbers are probably pretty similar to Rex Grossman's, except that Simms' best season was better than any year Grossman has had. Plus there's probably the feeling that Simms still has more potential, while most think Grossman and Kyle Orton pretty much are what they are.

If interest really heats up, Sun-Times Bears beat writer Brad Biggs will probably have it first over on his blog.

No relief

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By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

As tough as it was to stomach a near-meltdown by the White Sox bullpen against the Rangers on Saturday, there's no denying that this year's group of relievers has been a vast improvement on the trash that took the mound for the Sox in 2007.

Bad bullpen work is one of the most difficult things to endure as a baseball fan, which probably explains how relievers have gotten to be so overpaid in free agency. And when a guy is bad, you almost begin to hate him.

It got fellow staffer Andy Rohr and I talking about some of the White Sox relievers we've hated through the years.

Billy Koch
Jose Paniagua
Mike Jackson
Rick White
Dewon Day
Bill Pulsipher
Carlos Castillo
Tony Castillo
Rob Dibble

That's hardly a comprehensive list. Who are we forgetting?

Favre a Bear? Get real

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By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

As the Favre-Packers saga continued to unfold, someone asked me if I thought the Bears should make a play for the future Hall of Fame quarterback.

I said no. Not only is it a moot point, but how certain can we be that Brett Favre would be an upgrade? I know that sounds laughable considering the cast of clowns the Bears are rotating under center, but here's my reasoning.

Favre was obviously great last year with a 95.7 passer rating and 28 TDs to only 15 interceptions. But that's not the version of Brett Favre that's likely to take the field in 2008. Don't forget that the previous two seasons Favre posted passer ratings of 70.9 and 72.7. That was while throwing 38 TDs against a whopping 47 picks.

Those numbers from 2005 and 2006 sound an awful lot like Rex Grossman's career totals (70.9 passer rating, 31 TDs, 33 INTs).

Add in the Bears' weakness on the offensive line, the garbage bag full of receivers the team's QB will have to throw to and another candle on Favre's birthday cake, and I think the odds would be stacked against seeing the 2007 version of Favre lining up behind Olin Kreutz.

So while the addition of Favre might be a panacea for some other teams, he probably wouldn't do much good for the Bears even if he were truly available.

By Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

A pair of PGA Tour pros paid a visit to Black Sheep Golf Club in Sugar Grove on Friday. For Tour rookie Kevin Streelman, the visit was a homecoming.

Streelman was joined by fellow pro Kevin Stadler at the acclaimed private course. Streelman has close ties to Black Sheep and is the course's touring professional.

Streelman is enjoying plenty of success during his first year on the Tour. He's earned $526,516 and is No. 110 on the Tour's money list. He has three top-15 finishes this year.

With the PGA Tour coming close to home, Streelman decided to take this week off and skip the John Deere Classic in Silvis. He'll reportedly return to action next weekend at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

White Sox starter Gavin Floyd didn't even get out of the third inning Friday night against the Rangers, but it was still long enough to walk a career-high seven batters.

It was by far his worst performance with the Sox control-wise and eclipsed the career-high of five walks he matched three times when he was with the Phillies.

How did it stack up against the career-worsts of the other members of the Sox rotation? Take a look:

Mark Buehrle
6 on May 11, 2003 against the Mariners

Jose Contreras
7 on Aug. 23, 2004 against Detroit and July 1, 2005 against the A's

Javier Vazquez
6 on Aug. 10, 2006 against the Yankees
(Also on May 30, 2003 against the Phillies as a member of the Montreal Expos)

John Danks
4 on four separate occasions

More Packer pondering

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By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

If only there were so much news on the Bears quarterback front...

It's been mentioned that one of the reasons the Packers should cut their ties to Brett Favre is that Aaron Rodgers is ready and capable of taking over at quarterback. I'm not sure I believe that.

Considering the Packers drafted two QBs this year, I'm not sure they believe it either.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Rodgers is coming close to the end of his rookie contract (2 years left), so the team needs some protection there. But Packers fans have to be worried that Rodgers will turn out similar to the QB taken before him in the 2005 draft.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

Apparently Brett Favre wants out of Green Bay. Should the Packers feel obligated to accommodate the legendary quarterback?

I'd say no. For years the Packers have put up with Favre's annual flirtation with retirement. Every year the team has had to go into the draft and free agency with a question mark at the most important position on the field. You can hardly blame the organization for saying enough is enough.

Favre's been treating the offseason like a game of musical chairs. Well, bad news Brett. This time you don't have a seat.

By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

With one more series to go before the All-Star break, how about a look where the Cubs and White Sox have been at the season's intermission the past few years.

2008: ????
2007: 44-43, (2nd place, 4.5 games back)
2006: 34-54 (5th, 14.5 GB)
2005: 43-44 (3rd, 12.5 GB)
2004: 47-40 (2nd, 7 GB)
2003: 47-47 (3rd, 3 GB)
2002: 35-51 (5th, 12.5)
2001: 51-35 (1st, 3 games up)
2000: 35-51 (5th, 15.5 GB)
1999: 41-44 (6th, 8.5 GB)
1998: 48-39 (2nd, 5 GB)

White Sox
2008: ????
2007: 39-47 (4th place, 13 games back)
2006: 57-31 (2nd, 2 GB)
2005: 57-29 (1st, 9 games up)
2004: 46-38 (1st, 0.5 games up)
2003: 45-49 (2nd, 7 GB)
2002: 42-46 (2nd, 7.5 GB)
2001: 41-44 (3rd, 13 GB)
2000: 55-32 (1st, 10.5 games up)
1999: 42-43 (2nd, 13 GB)
1998: 35-51 (4th, 15.5 GB)

Bonus fun fact: The Cubs beat the Sox two out of three in interleague play wrap up the first half in both 1999 and 2000.The Sox exacted some measure of revenge in 2001 when they took two of three from the Cubs coming out of the break

By R.J. Gerber
Sports Editor

Juan Pablo Montoya did it.
The NASCAR driver's rendition of the Seventh-Inning Stretch at Wrigley Field on Wednesday night and subsequent interview in the bottom of the frame were enough for me.
When asked if he grew up a baseball fan, in another awkward moment for play-by-play man Len Kasper, the Colombian responded, No.
That was the final straw for me after the non-baseball man rushed horribly through the song, finishing reading his cheat sheet as the crowd finally caught up seconds later.
The Cubs should trash the interview after the singing -- which is making me more and more uncomfortable.
Especially since Cubs' games for the rest of the season apparently will grow in significance as the divisional race intensifies.
The last thing I want to hear during a key moment late in the game is that the guy in the middle of Len and Bob doesn't like the sport.
Let 'em sing and then show 'em the door.

By R.J. Gerber
Sports Editor

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