Monday, July 28, 2008

Can't Say I Saw THAT Coming...

Here's to the highly unlikely in baseball: Bo Jackson's dominance of two sports, Ken Caminiti's addiction to cocaine (sadly ending in death), the Red Sox's 2004 ALCS comeback against the Yankees, the Cubbies' 100 year-long drought, the Mets' 2007 collapse (paving way for the resurgence of the National League champion Colorado Rockies), and Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, & Bonds standing little chance to make the Hall of Fame collectively. These teams and individuals watched as irony and karma struck destiny and glory square in the nuts, showing that any and all is possible---and surely against what you initially intended (row-sham-bow, anyone?). Below are five more storylines to add to the mix, all of which will affect the state of our national pastime, for better or for worse.

5. George Bush: The Next Commissioner of Baseball?
Our nation's 43rd leader, Mr. George W. Bush, will go down in history as America's most disgraced commander-in-chief, whose last act in the Oval Office may involve pardoning a self-proclaimed criminal (see Marion Jones). Prior to his tremendously awful tenure in the White House, Bush served as an adequate 'managing general partner' of Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers, who, under his watch, brought a thrilling close to Nolan Ryan's illustrious career. Speculation behind Bush's potential as baseball's leading man rose long before his stint as governor of Texas, as one-time commish Fay Vincent discussed the possibility of Bush serving as baseball commissioner in the 1990's. Upon leaving the White House, baseball commissioner would be an ideal position for W (unfortunately, it is a dream that will be put on hold due to the extension of current commissioner Bud Selig's contract). With Bush at the helm, who knows what would be in store for the game of baseball?

4. Mark Cuban: The Next Cubs Owner
With July dwindling to a close, Mark Cuban, boisterous owner of the Dallas Mavericks and Internet tycoon, has made the final cut (out of three others) as potential principal owner of the Chicago Cubs, a franchise bolstered by fans in love with the North Side's lovable losers. Imagine the Friendly Confines of Wrigley visited constantly by the NBA's most raucous (and most fined) owner, whose antics often earns the ire of referees and fans alike? Imagine a franchise of tradition (Harry Caray, outfield ivy, the post-game Go Cubs Go sing-along, the raising of the white W flag after each Cubs win, and the 7th inning celebrity Take Me Out to the Ballgame rendition) suddenly infused with new, albeit 'far-from-customary,' blood? Say what you will about Cuban's unorthodox ways (he, not his coaching staff, is often the one jeering at referees), Cuban has pumped enough money into the Mavericks to make them relevant again (they were a game removed from taking home the 2006 NBA championship after spending countless decades as the league's doormat). It's one thing to own an NBA franchise: it's a whole other to man one of baseball's most storied organizations. Mark Cuban may be the next man behind the curtain for Chicago.

3. Albert Pujols: Going Against Doctorly Advice....and Dominating
Prior to the 2008 MLB season, Albert Pujols came face-to-face with a career-altering decision: would he forgo the 2008 campaign for surgery or play through unbearable pain in order to continue his monstrous career and, perhaps, put the Cardinals back in the playoffs? The scenario that medical experts conveyed was rather imposing: Pujols, by agreeing to play, would be one errant swing away from shredding, perhaps even separating, the tendon that holds the elbow joint intact. Second opinions further suggested that Pujols could play, although he would be beset by gut-wrenching anguish. Ever the fiery competitor, Pujols opted to play this season, a juncture that has the Cardinals within 6 games of the NL Central-leading Cubs, all thanks to Albert's .353 average, 20 homeruns, and 60 RBI's, including a recent dinger that bested the New York Mets in 14 innings (on Saturday, July 26th). Now that is baseball legacy in the making.

2. Jeff Samardzija: The Cubs' Next Big Thing
Bo Jackson's turn as a two-sport athlete was logical, when you consider Bo's positions (running back for the Raiders and leftfield for the Royals) were dictated by his blazing speed. While contributing swimmingly in both sports, Jackson paved the way for the likes of Deion Sanders, who starred for the Atlanta Braves and Dallas Cowboys, among other NFL clubs. Unfortunately, Jackson endured a hip injury (later resulting in the condition avascular necrosis, which results in a shortening of the blood supply to the pelvic region) that abruptly ended his career in both sports. Enter Jeff Samardzija. In 2006, Jeff Samardzija helped deliver a 10-win season for Notre Dame, ending his career as an All-American wide receiver for the Fighting Irish. Due in part to Samardzija's success, Brady Quinn became a top-20 NFL pick, the heir apparent to Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson. Many NFL analysts thought Samardzija was pegged for a spot on an NFL roster, seeing as how his footwork was complemented by a set of hands that could reel in any ball thrown his way. But there was the matter of Samardzija's true passion: the sport of baseball. Putting a prestigious past behind him (Jeff holds multiple Notre Dame receiving records), Samardzija ended up signing a $16.5 million incentive-laden contract with the Cubs in 2007. Due to numerous circumstances (stellar Cubs closer Kerry Wood is on the disabled list with a sore blister and Carlos Marmol cannot get a handle on his location), Samardzija was called up to join the Cubs in their most recent series against the Marlins at Wrigley, a time when Jeff compiled his first major league save with an overpowering fastball and slider. Could this be the Cubs' answer in the bullpen that delivers the Cubs their long-awaited World Series victory? Manager Lou Piniella and a legion of Cubs fans sure hope so.

1. Rick Ankiel: From Bust to Boom
Ask your grandfather: what Rick Ankiel has accomplished has never happened in the history of the sport. At the age of 20, Ankiel began his career as a major league hurler, compiling an 11 - 7 record with a 3.50 ERA and 194 strikeouts, good for seventh in the league. Then came the 2000 playoffs. In spite of his outstanding stuff (Ankiel possessed a 97 MPH fastball and devastating curveball, both of which could deliver a strikeout), Ankiel faced the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs and threw seven wild pitches, five of which were hurled in one inning (the first time that had happened since 1890). From that day forward, he was never the same. The tumult continued in 2001, as Ankiel was sent down to AAA to work on his control. As fate would have it, Ankiel would never pitch in the majors again. By 2005, Ankiel opted for a drastic change to his career: he wished to channel Mickey Mantle, so as to become a power-hitting centerfielder. By 2007, Ankiel was brought up by St. Louis in a late August call-up. His major league experience would continue through 2008, where he is hitting .278 with 22 homeruns and 56 RBI's, wielding a glove that is worthy of best-in-the-league status. Human-growth-hormone controversy aside, Ankiel has proven his value in the mythology of treasured baseball lore.

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