Monday, November 24, 2008

Top Ten Chicago sports goodbyes – 2008

This past season has been a glorious year of firings and teams deciding to go in “other directions.” In 2008, Chicago has seen an everyman, a fiery coach, a sex icon and a complete ass all leave, lose or get fired from their respected jobs. Let us honor our fallen brethren and solute the top ten Chicago sports goodbyes in this great year of two thousand and eight. But first a serious note...

10. Kevin Foster/ Geremi Gonzalez

When I was about 10 I had a pitching instructor named Martin. Martin would always make fun of me for having a name with two first names – Zach and Martin. I disagreed, making sure he knew he was the weirdo with two last names. Martin also was a friend of Kevin Foster. He showed me a little trick that Foster taught him and I use it to this day to increase the break and spin of a breaking ball. He taught me to place the ball in-between my thumb and my middle finger, then snap. It took some practice, but it worked.

Foster always seemed to be a nice guy, posting decent numbers in five years with the Cubs. The Evanston, IL native died of renal cell carcinoma after a six-month battle with the disease. He was only 39.

Gonzalez had a different ending to his rather short life. The 33-year-old died of a lightning strike on his boat in Venezuela. The strike hit a large chain he was wearing around his neck. Gonzalez pitched two years with the Cubs, even finishing ninth in the 1997 Rookie-of-the-Year voting.

9. Muhsin Muhammad

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“Moose” was a very average player in Chicago. The Bears signed him to a large contract, especially for an aging wide receiver, and made him the man. He did ok, but was better known for dropping big passes in key situations. To add to that fire, Moose decided to open his jaws and spew some hate in the Bears direction this season prior to playing Chicago on Sept. 14:

“(Chicago) is where receivers go to die.”

As true as this may be (not sure considering how much Berrian made this offseason), Moose just needed to keep his mouth shut. The fans didn’t really hate Moose, we just thought he was old and needed to go away. I mean old people drop stuff, right? I’m looking at you grandma. Now his time in Chicago will be tarnished forever.

8. Ben Wallace

When I first heard this might happen I was an intern at 670 The Score. The program engineer on the show I worked for, Cy, was so hyped by this potential signing that it got me genuinely excited about Wallace too. Wallace was going to be a team leader, a reliable defender and rebounder and give the Bulls that extra fro-ness that brings championships to an up-and-coming franchise. Basically, he was supposed to piss wins. I thought, nay, knew Wallace was the missing ingredient in a championship pie (or at least a second round playoff birth pie). Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Wallace turned out to be a whiny distraction in the locker room, a black hole on offense and seemed to be extremely mediocre on defense. However, in the end it appears that he wasn’t all that bad considering we now have Larry “Bricks” Hughes in his stead. (If anyone dares to mention his shot last night I will NOT be happy).

7. Nick Swisher

I enjoyed Swisher’s short stay in Chicago. But then again I am a Cubs fan. Swish did things that made the Sox look kind of lame. With his guidance, the Sox had pink facial hair, a blowup doll scandal and made Paul Konerko’s batting average seem decent. I will always hold Swish in a special Money Ball-place in my heart, right next to the part that hates Woody Paige and Bill Plaschke (not the men, but their written words). Farewell brave prince of OBP, I know I will miss you.

6. Bernard Berrian

I don’t really have anything to say about Berrian. He left for more money than the Bears wanted to pay him (and rightfully so). The only part of this equation that seems to be getting screwed are the Vikings. But then again, Berrian is playing pretty well, considering his QB, so, again, I’ve got nothing.

5. Brendan Ayanbadejo

Can one man, blocking, on special teams really make that big of a difference? It kind of seems that way. Ayanbadejo was a special teams king, making the Pro Bowl last year and absolutely destroying returners on kickoffs. Without Ayanbadejo, Hester has lost his groove, even loosing his kickoff return duties this past week. I am not sure if the two correlate, but it can’t help, right?

4. Rex Grossman

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Unlike the rest of the departed on the list, Grossman is still with his team, he just lost his job. I want to, but I can’t get upset with Grossman. He’s like your lovable, pudgy-faced younger brother who always tries his best, but just cannot keep up with you and your friends… because he is retarded. That is Rex Grossman in a misshapen nutshell.

3. Scott Skiles

If you want a short, angry, Napoleonic, balding, in-your-face-type head coach, Skiles is definitely your man (especially the balding part). I liked Skiles’ message early on, but it became clear that as the Bulls aged, they would no longer tolerate his my-way-or-the-highway approach to coaching. So, like the Tim Floyd’s before him, he got tossed aside, like a roach out of Joakim Noah’s car window.

2. Kerry Wood

This is pretty sad. Sox fans have kind of been jerks about this too, but Wood has not only represented the North-side, but all of Chicago for ten years. In fact, he was the only player on either Chicago baseball team that was on either roster for all real Cubs/Sox games since 1998. Wood is an “everyman” that basically played for a blank check this past year. He wanted so bad to come back to the Cubs, that he even tried to get the Cubs to sign him for one more year. Unfortunately, the Cubs could not afford him and have moved on without him. I promise to pour one out every time I have an Old Style next season in Wood’s honor.

1. Jay Mariotti

This may be the greatest departure in Chicago literature ever. Not just sports “journalism,” but all writing-styles, in all fields, ever, in Chicago. That’s right, ever, in Chicago. I thought Skip Bayless would hold this honorary award forever, but I am proven wrong, once again. Mariotti’s forced contrarianism troubled many athletes, coaches, readers and fellow sports journalists alike. This was further aggravated by Mariotti’s refusal to enter locker rooms (out of fear), often insinuating things that only writers privy to locker room banter would fully comprehend.

His antics led to some memorable and, quite frankly (with SAS) funny moments. The first came when he came running from the Bulls locker room screaming, “keep them away from me,” another when he asked for personal security guards at a Cubs game to keep him safe from fellow writers, another when he misquoted Rex Grossman, bashing him relentlessly based on said quote, yet another was when he claimed AJ was a clubhouse cancer, without ever stepping foot in it and finally, his constant and bizarre battle with Ozzie.

In a very real way, Mariotti was one of the first American bloggers – a true pioneer. But not the good kind of pioneer we all learned about in grade school, but the bad kind of pioneer – the kind of pioneer that slaughtered Native Americans – that we learned about in high school, ruining Thanksgiving and our childhoods forever.

Honorable Mention – Mike North (but he’s back), Denis Savard (but he has a fake position)

If I have forgotten somebody worth mentioning, please let me know in the comment section.


Phil Barnes said...

Dennis Savard was rough but he was given the team ambassador position, which if I am not mistaken, is a made up position. Savard deserves better than that. His position is more awkward than watching that one individual guy who for some reason made the cheerleading team perform at halftime.

Zach Martin said...

Wow, how could i blow that one... u, as always, are a king among men, mr barnes.

Anonymous said...

Friday Freddy. Though his posts were all about women who had very little, or nothing at all, to do with Chicago, he always chose some real knockouts.

Anonymous said...

To that last commenter, you must be on drugs. Honestly.

Have Jumpshot Will Travel (a.k.a. Trashtalk Superstar) said...

Lost amidst all the hoopla when Ben Wallace signed with the Bulls, was Wallace's statement that he hadn't been happy with how little he got the ball enough in Detroit, and was looking forward to showing more of his offensive game with the Bulls.

To me, that was a major red flag. But it helped to explain Wallace's eagerness to leave the Championship contending Pistons for the upstart Bulls. Wallace apparently didn't feel like he was getting enough respect in Detroit; thus, he left an elite level team for a much less talented team with the thinking that -- in addition to a fat paycheck -- he'd get more shine with the Bulls.

Once I heard that, I had a feeling that things could get ugly.