Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Owner Fan or Owner Winner?

By R.A. Monaco
August 24, 2011

In the 1980’s baseball entered a new age—it became big business. Entrepreneurs like Phil Wrigley one at a time were being replaced by corporate entities like the Tribune Company, which owned not only the Cubs but television station WGN and the Chicago Tribune. Similarly, teams like the Angels, once owned by Gene Autry and the Dodgers, formerly owned by the O’Malley family come to mind too.

On into the 90’s the synergy of possibilities of corporate ownership, the brass ring of strategic tax maneuvers and media rights were just too golden an opportunity for Corporate America, so it seemed. Corporations like The Walt Disney Company which owned the ABC broadcast television network and cable television network, ESPN purchased the Angles. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, owner of the Fox network (which also owns broadcast rights to MLB games) too had discovered nirvana, or so they thought and purchased the Dodgers.

Players, now free to go to the highest bidder, all had agents to do their negotiating, sophisticated men who could talk to the general manager on equal—and sometimes superior—footing. With the establishment of the big corporation-agent relationship, the players no longer had a personal relationship with the ball club. Owners like William Wrigley and Tom Yawkey in Boston had known every player personally and treated some of them as sons. Paternalism has since died in this new system era. As player compensation grew, team executives increasingly stopped seeing their performers as people. Kids have stopped trading bubblegum cards and began only to look at the value of the cards and the team owners in kind see only the cost of their players. It’s probably true these days that fans identify more with their home team broadcaster than the players themselves.

More and more the owners became disillusioned and bitter with how much they’ve had to pay the players—worse they’ve vented their self-inflicted frustrations onto the public. Owners continue to dangle millions of dollars in front of free agents, and after the player accepts the money, the owner begins grumbling that the player is getting too much money. Who put the cannon to these owner’s heads--do sports writers ever ask?

The most important skill in the new age of bank account competition and fungible free agency is to know whom to pay and keep happy and whom to discard—submit your resumes’ at Clark and Addison. The Cubs, have consistently over the years allowed their brightest stars, including potential Hall of Famers Lee Smith, Greg Maddux, Andre Dawson, Rafael Palmeiro and Rick Sutcliffe to get away.

Last year, the Cubs farm system included pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Jak-Ju Lee, and outfielder Brandon Guyer who were all traded to Tampa Bay in the Matt Garza deal. While Matt Garza threw seven scoreless innings against a treacherous Cardinals line-up on Saturday to record his sixth win of the year, it’s hard not to flinch when we reflect on former Cubs that got away.

The Matt Garza trade hurt the depth of the Cubs’ minor league system to be sure, but that isn’t to say that the trade was a bad one either. According to Marc Hulet, who contributes scouting reports on MLB prospects and is considered one of the 100 most influential Canadians in Baseball thinks that the Cubs have some good lower-level depth. Jim Hendry was a player development guy and there is every reason to think that, while thin, there’s some decent talent to start building on for the next Cubs’ GM.

Commissioner, Bud Selig, 29 other teams and baseball fans around the world are about to find out if Cubs owner, Tom Ricketts is secure enough in his baseball acumen to sort through the dogma of organizational baseball and recognize who the up-and-comers are in the MLB potential GM pool. The stakes are large, 103 years and counting. Now, the question to be answered is whether Tom Ricketts can do his own thinking-- this is major league competition, he's not just an owner he's on the team. My suggestion, if I'm allowed another is to avoid being enamored with “industry experts” and think outside the box.

If the fate of the Cubs is going to change Tom Rickets must graduate from being an owner-fan to an owner-winner. Being a winner in the major league baseball arena isn’t only about money or what “industry experts” tell you--in baseball, more than commonly understood, instincts matter.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cubs' Luck - Jim Hendry Out!

By R. A. Monaco
August 20, 2011

Hendry’s out! That’s right, the axe has fallen at Wrigley and for the Chicago Cubs the timing couldn’t be better.

Not much explanation is needed, reciting a few names like Milton Bradley, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and compiling a 212-236 record overall should be enough to satisfy those who would question owner Tom Ricketts' decision to terminate Jim Hendry despite his 9 years at the helm. Sure, he’s won three division titles in his first six seasons, but his ambitious 2007 spending spree has left the Cubs with the league’s third highest payroll, little flexibility, a fifth place team and a next-to-worst record in the National League.

According to reporter Dan McGrath of the New York Times/Chicago News Cooperative, the next general manager of the Chicago Cubs will come from outside the organization. Tom Ricketts is said to be consulting with “industry experts” and a national search is supposedly already under way.

Since Randy Bush, Hendry’s assistant, will act as an interim general manager it’s unlikely that a permanent selection will be made prior to the end of the season though names like Kim Ng, Andrew Friedman and Rick Hahn are being tossed about. Serious discussions with some worthy potential candidates may be contractually prohibited during the remainder of the season. That doesn’t really leave much time when you think about what needs to happen between the end of the season and the first week in December which is when the MLB winter meetings usually take place.

The name most frequently mentioned as a potential candidate to run the Cubs is the once gifted pitcher Pat Gillick, who began his front office career in 1963. As a general manager he has five division titles and collected three World Series rings, most recently in 2008 with the Philadelphia Phillies and before that with Toronto (1992 and 1993). It’s hard to argue against the Hall of Famer’s successes, particularly since we’re now talking about a senior advisor to a current first place team in the NL East--never mind that the 73 year old former GM of the Phillies has said he isn’t willing to consider a lateral move or step down to the Cubs GM spot.

Outside of fantasy baseball, the Cubs need to be looking for an up-and-coming baseball executive that is ready and has something to prove too. Under the circumstances, saving a few nickels rather than paying-up for someone like Gillick, couldn’t hurt either. I like the idea of incentives too, don’t you?

Traditionally, the scouting director position has been considered a stepping stone for future GMs. Ricketts would be well advised to be exploring this pool of potential candidates and demand that the next Cubs general manager be a seasoned major league executive with a demonstrated record of recognizing amateur talent and graduating them to the big leagues. He should be looking for the type of executive that has shown the ability to execute an organizational strategy that drafts, signs and develops enough prospects within their own minor league system to replenish the major league roster and maintain a stash of trade chips as well.

It certainly wouldn’t hurt for the next Cubs GM to have experienced, firsthand, the challenges and virtues of frugal player development spending either. In short, the new Cubs GM would have honed the skill of knowing what he’s looking at long before dollars are spent—sorry Kim Ng and others if that leaves you out.

According to team owner Tom Ricketts’ vision, the next Cubs’ general manager will emphasize player development and have “an old-school appreciation for physical tools”--presumably he’s thinking of someone that has been in charge of scouting operations. Exactly what Ricketts meant by having a “familiarity of advanced statistics” is unknown. Possibly, Ricketts is referring to some variation of sabermetrics, the computer system that projects statistics using proprietary formulas to analyze past stats and predict future outcomes. He might consider using those advanced statistics to identify an objective pool of potential GM candidates—just a suggestion.

With that said, and before he’s lured elsewhere, allow me to throw Logan White’s hat into the ring of potential candidates for the Cubs' top job. Logan White, the current Dodgers assistant general manager in charge of scouting, meets, if not exceeds, Tom Ricketts' list of qualifications. White has the demonstrated successes that will ultimately earn him the opportunity to challenge the next level of organizational baseball somewhere. Just my opinion, but he might be one of the best, if not the best, available candidates up to the challenge of putting an end to the Cubs' 103 year drought without winning a World Series.

Drafted in the 23rd round of the 1984 amateur draft, Logan White spent three years as a pitcher in the Seattle Mariners organization. White’s scouting experience is extensive. Prior to joining the Dodger organization in 2002, he served as a scout for the Mariners, West Coast Supervisor for the Padres and seven years with the Baltimore Orioles as scout and cross-checker.

Now in his fifth season as Assistant General Manager and prior to being promoted in 2007, White served as Director of Amateur Scouting for five seasons with the Dodgers. In that role, he headed up the draft selections or signings of 22 players, including three All-Stars who have appeared in the Major Leagues for the Dodgers over the past four seasons – Tony Abreu, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Blake DeWitt, Scott Elbert, A.J. Ellis, Chin-lung Hu, Eric Hull, Kenley Jansen, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Andy LaRoche, Brent Leach, James Loney, Russell Martin, James McDonald, Russ Mitchell, Xavier Paul, Eric Stults, Ramon Troncoso, Cory Wade and Delwyn Young.

With White in charge of amateur scouting, the Dodgers have been able to build a club that has a core of homegrown talent and has reached the NLCS twice in the past three seasons despite ownership adversity. White’s history of success in the draft contributed to the Dodgers being named Baseball America’s 2006 Organization of the Year.

Importantly, the Dodgers amateur scouting strategy under White has paid dividends. The team has graduated numerous draftees to the Major Leagues, including Billingsley, Broxton, Kershaw and Elbert. Moreover, his scouting successes haven’t been limited to the first few rounds either. The Dodgers 17th-round pick in 2002, Russell Martin, now with the Yankees, emerged as a two-time All-Star catcher, while Matt Kemp, who's having a breakout season this year, was a sixth-round selection, earning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger honors in 2009.

There’s much more that can be said about Logan White and the strategic decisions that go into Tom Ricketts' next move, a decision that definitively puts the Ricketts brand on the history of the Cubs. If it was my money, I’m looking for a guy like Logan White who knows how to allocate limited resources and who’s always championing the young players as the most efficient tool of organizational stability and growth.

I began by first saying, that the Cubs' timing couldn’t be better. In that phrase I was, in reality, referring to the current state of affairs within the Dodger’s organization and a potential opportunity for the Cubs to snag one of baseball’s best, up-and-coming executives—Logan White. While the organizational successes of the Dodgers have been overshadowed by Frank McCourt’s tragic mismanagement, his divorce and unresolved issue of team ownership, problems with the Court and finances, his former law firm and the MLB Commissioner’s Office, those problems may prove a change of luck for the Cubs.

In baseball, the definition of “luck” is when opportunity meets preparedness, for the Logan White and the Chicago Cubs that time, I hope, is now.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Community That Leads By Example--The 43rd Annual Sheffield Garden Walk

By R. A. Monaco
July 24, 2011

Despite the Sunday morning rain that brought with it even more rain to "The Summer's Best Festival," the 43rd Annual Sheffield Garden Walk and Festival continued its traditions and commitment to the Sheffield community.

Following Friday night's storm that dumped between 5 and 7 inches of rain on the Chicago area and forced the closure of several flooded expressways, and blacked out nearly 90,000 Com Ed customers, the Sheffield Neighborhood Association and their dedicated volunteers saved the day and kept the day long activities on schedule.

On Saturday afternoon, the Revivalists band kicked off the Festival's music to the survivalists who ventured into the unpredictable Chicago weather to support the annual community effort and enjoy the traditions which have continued since 1969.

The rain surpassed the previous record high single-day rainfall total of 6.64 as recorded by the Chicago Weather Service while flooding countless basements including that at Kelly's Pub directly across the street from the event, whose owners Polly and John Kelly are long time patrons of the Garden Walk.

After discovering that the flooding had short circuited the buildings air conditioning at Kelly's Pub, long time relationships prevailed. An early Saturday A.M. call to their trusted heating and air conditioning vendor, Bob McCann Heating and Cooling came to the rescue, so that festival patrons seeking air conditioned relief nearby would be available if needed. It seems the perfect example of the type of community spirit which says more about what has made this festival an enduring part of Chicago's heritage.

For the third day in a row, showers and thunderstorms were unable to discourage the Sheffield Neighborhood Association and their patrons commitment to the event. The non-profit community volunteer-managed festival provides support for neighborhood schools, local institutions, and community projects. Event proceeds are critically important to SNA's Award-Winning Beautification Program, a plan that has continued to give recognition to the Sheffield neighborhood as the Garden District of Chicago.

Garden and Architecture tours went on as scheduled, as did the food, music and good times. Little more needs to be said about a community that leads by example.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Coolest Place in Chicago

By R.A. Monaco
July 8, 2011

For kids like these, this was—not to sound too feverish—a truly eye-opening experience, and for each of the 46 young men the hopeful beginning of an inevitable sequel to a life-long commitment. These up-and-coming hockey prospects were gathered at literally the coolest place in Chicago on an 82° Friday in July—Johnny’s Icehouse, Practice Home of The Chicago Blackhawks for the 2011 Prospects Camp.

While Johnny’s Icehouse was surely the coolest place on earth for 2011 NHL Entry Draft Selections, Mark McNeil (18th overall), Phillip Danault (26th overall), Adam Clendening (36th overall), Brandon Saad (46th overall) and Michael Paliotta (70th overall), it was too for life-long Blackhawks fan Jim Sorce, owner of Jim and Pete’s restaurant in Elmwood Park, now in its 70th year and a favorite haunt of hockey and Italian food buffs. There to see the prospects on-ice sessions and to have a firsthand look at Mark McNeil, the Blackhawks number one pick, the team’s first home game couldn’t come soon enough for Jerry Pontteralli, Sam Anzaldi, and Jim Sorce who may be equally well known for his Blackhawk enthusiasm as he is for Italian cuisine and pizza.

Concurring with early scouting reports, Jim, Sam and Jerry avidly approve of the 19 year old NHL-ready physique of 6’2”, 210 pound Mark McNeil who they hope to see make the Blackhawks this year. While overtly pumped about this new crop of Blackhawk prospects, Mr. Sorce was also enthused about the recent free agent signings of Andrew Brunette #15 (6'1", 210 lbs), Daniel Carcillo #13 (6'0", 205 lbs), Jamal Mayers #22 (6'1", 215 lbs) and defenseman Sean O’Donnell #6 (6'2", 237 lbs) who he believes will improve the team’s physical presence on the ice, deliver plenty of bruises and some much needed pain to their rivals on their way to helping his 11th team to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Come September 28th the coolest place in Chicago moves to the United Center for the 2011-2012 season and when the Blackhawks go on the road, judging from their banter in the stands at Johnny’s Icehouse, you’ll most likely find the hottest fans in town at Jim and Pete’s.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Got Rank? You've Been Tweeting

By R.A. Monaco
June 26, 2011

Companies have been scouring social networks looking for the new influencers and it seems that they've gotten to the bottom of the barrel quickly as they recently found me on a beautiful Sunday morning in Sheffield, a near north side Chicago neighborhood.

My discovery began while reading the New York Times, the last of my guilty Sunday morning pleasures, when a style reporter wrote that, "You've been scored" and that I may even have clout. As Stephanie Rosenbloom explained, if you have a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, account you're already being scored and that we are in the midst of experiencing the democratization of influence. She went on to say that no longer do we need to be a celebrity, politician or media personality to be influential.

As I understand this all, there are over 2,500 companies who will give me free round-trip flights, hotel upgrades in Las Vegas, even tickets to the circus--sounds like a Groupon, leverage the world, scheme. What else could it be? Groupon is a homegrown, non-tech startup and clout is a Chicago word if I've ever heard one--or is it Klout? Anyway, so I've got clout, great, we're going to Las Vegas!

I don't know for sure, but, maybe my good fortune came by way of my writing with compelling imagery and sprinklings of Groupon's style of absurd humor. Maybe my well-crafted absurdities have an unintended Grouponesque voice that will give game to my clout ranking--that would be cool. Too cliché? Sorry. On the other hand, I think Groupon has a policy that you must be under 24 years old and nonsensical because appealing to the baby boomers' intellects doesn't seem to be too high on their marketing target--so that's probably not it either.

Anyway, no sooner than I finish reading about how my impassionate knowledge is about to pay off, I signed on to LinkedIn ready to game my clout rating score, and discover that a nice young man had sent me a message offering to help me with my Social Media Profile difficulties that he says, now, even the most tech-savvy computer whizzes need help with to make an impact. Wow, I'm considered in the category of tech-savvy computer whiz, too? What a day, pinch me!

This very nice, short and to the point email got me at, "Hello Randeli"--my friend Kevin calls me that and misspelling my name comes as no surprise because I have long been subject to others telling me how to spell my name. But, it also meant that he might have actually written the message and that it might not have been spam, so I read on. Good thing that I did because he said that he could give my business the 1st class look it deserves. Now that impressed me--having been a career criminal defense attorney now public affairs journalist, I no doubt needed the help. So I decided to write him back. Here is what I said:

Greetings Mark,
So, it's free you say? Is my image that bad? I know my photo is several years old--I'm fat now having entered the ranks of geezerdom.

Mark, you certainly are on the cutting edge of something here but according to the NY Times, I've already been ranked. So, what's my rank--PFC? Am I to understand that my rating now determines how well I'm treated by everyone with whom I interact? I deserve a break every now and then too--can you get me a seat on the El?

I was recently credited as the Top Huffington Post Influencer of the Week. I'm not sure that I wanted that distinction. Was that a good thing? The people at the WSJ hate me, but they're worried about their money and don't like what I say, I think. It's really not easy being popular, I'm not sure I can handle it.

You must know of companies named Klout, PeerIndex and Twitter Grader--have you worked for any of them? What do they say about my brand? How long before my brand gets me tickets to Cirque du Soleil or an upgrade on Southwest--I'm tired of sitting in the middle seat?

Do you regret contacting me yet? Hopefully not! If you're reading this far, I haven't been deleted yet, that's good.

The world is a highly subjective place and having an effective marketing impact seems to have a very dynamic component--time. How long are you prepared to work for free? Truth, I've been working for free, too. But, if you'd like to give me a 1st class look, you're welcome to contact me. Just be more specific about my rank and don't spam me as LinkedIn doesn't like that and I wouldn't want your charitable efforts wasted.

Especially Kind Regards,

I don't expect to hear back from Mark and consider the score even, if he reads my email to the end. It seems that whether we like it or not, we've all become part of a "social media caste system" where those of us with high scores get preferential treatment from airlines, prospective employers and, who knows, dates, too. I'd just like to say that I'm not about to go on vacation anymore and risk letting my Klout score go down. I'll be working hard at gaming my score to get that preferential treatment that I'll have no time to enjoy.

Monday, May 16, 2011

New Era in Chicago and Sheffield Community

By: R.A.Monaco
May 16, 2011

Today, after six terms of Daley tradition and for the first time in 22 years, Chicago will have a new mayor.

The winds of change and Emanuel's aspirations to succeed Mayor Daley were made public about a year ago on the Charlie Rose PBS talk show when he exclaimed, "it's no secret." Certainly, it was no secret that Emanuel would not have considered challenging Mayor Richard M. Daley had he decided to seek re-election, however, the proverbial cat was out of the bag at that point about Mayor Daley having a new horizon.

Significantly, in this city of tradition, today's swearing in of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel will also give Chicago its first Jewish mayor.

Over the past year, Chicagoans have heard plenty about Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's high profile legal battle over residence eligibility in his quest to become the 55th mayor of Chicago. Following an appellate court ruling that he was not eligible to run for the City's top job because of time he'd spent out of the city, the Illinois Supreme Court ended the controversy reversing the decision.

Having served as a top aide to President Obama, the former Chief of Staff and our newest mayor is not without friends in other high places, which include Vice President Joseph Biden who is expected to attend today's Millennium Park inauguration ceremony, Chinese President Hu Jintao and former President Bill Clinton each of whom made a stop to the city during Emanuel's mayoral campaign.

Determined to meet the challenges of Chicago's future head on, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has tapped Jean-Claude Brizard, Rochester, N.Y. schools superintendent to run our city's massive school system and Garry McCarthy, Newark, N.J. police director as the city's new police superintendent. Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff, has been given the nod to remain at his post.

So, as we begin this new direction in Chicago's history, the Sheffield community is invited to share their thoughts, ideas, concerns and optimism here on the Sheffield Gazette and Digital Fish Wrap. It would be great to hear about the ceremony at Millennium Park and downtown from anyone attending.

Finally, our City's newest mayor has many challenges that we must now face together, let's let the city know that the Sheffield community wants to (((Be Part Of The Fix, Not The Fight)))!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sheffield Gazette and Digital Fish Wrap

The Sheffield Gazette and Digital Fish Wrap is aimed at a wide community audience. You are welcome to contribute as a volunteer enthusiast interested in the Sheffield Community.

While gossip, trivia,unofficial news of neighborhood interests, supposed miracles, witchcraft and the like are appropriate content we ask that volunteers be mindful that our community is also of likely interest to the children of the Oscar Mayer School, T-Baller's at Trebes Park and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

With that said, please choose language appropriate to the broadest sensitivity of the community.

Mark your July calendars this year for the 23rd and 24th which will commemorate the 43rd Annual Sheffield Garden Walk and Festival!

In the weeks to come don't forget to let everyone know how much you've enjoyed this event in the past thanks to the considerable efforts of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association