Paul Sullivan on the Cubs

I heard that someone tried to get a goat into Houston's game [Tuesday] and was refused admission. They then "transferred" the curse to Houston. Nothing in the Tribune. What's the story? --Bill Carter, Munster, Ind.

From what I understand, it was one of those wacky DJ stunts that were meant to bring attention to someone who craves ratings. If we wrote about every wacky DJ stunt, there would be no room for important stories like J-Lo and Ben. Please respect our news judgment, Bill.

Paul, how can people supposedly in the know say that Eric Gagne is going to get the Cy Young award on the strength of coming in and getting one or two outs a game? Mark Prior is having a career year in only his second season and he's leading the Cubs to the playoffs. Gagne may make one pitch that matters and get the save, while Prior strikes out 14 when the Cubs need it most. Shouldn't there be separate categories for starters and relievers? --Holly Danks, Portland, Ore.

As much as almost everyone who writes here wants Prior to get the Cy Young, you can't say Gagne doesn't deserve it because he's a closer. Jason Schmidt and Russ Ortiz are also deserving candidates for that matter. The Cy Young is supposed to go to the best pitcher of the year, and all four can lay claim to that honor. Gagne has been spectacular in his role, perhaps the most dominating season for a closer ever. Closers are eligible, and whether it's fair or not, you can't change the rules mid-stream. I haven't decided yet who gets my vote, but I expect it to be a very close race and whoever gets it will have deserved it. The unfortunate thing for Prior is he was charged with six runs in that early season game in Houston when Mark Bellhorn should've been charged with an error, making those runs unearned. Someone asked me about it in this column back when it happened, upset that those six runs would cost Prior the ERA title. I said it probably wouldn't, but obviously I was wrong.

Paul, we all know that Sammy was temporarily replaced by the goatee-wearing, anemic-hitting "Bizzaro Sammy" earlier in the season. But it's possible that after the All-Star break the entire team has been replaced by the "Bizzaro Cubs," a winning team that gets clutch hitting and pitching. Your thoughts? --Russell Pearlman, New York

Sammy hasn't had a strong September, sans goatee, so I think this proves once and for all that the wacky goatee theory that consumed the readers of this column earlier this summer is proving to be false and defamatory.

What happens if the Cubs and the Astros tie for first place and both are out of the wild-card race. Is there a one-game playoff? --Matt Hermsen, Chicago

The Astros would play the Cubs in a one-game tiebreaker in Wrigley Field on Monday. Looks like Shawn Estes would be ready to start on four days rest, coming off his complete game shutout of the Reds.

Paul, not to overlook the great season the Cubs are having but I have a few off-season questions. One, what are the chances that Sosa will be back with the Cubs next year? Will he bolt for the Yankees or some other team? Two, what are the chances that the Cubs will get someone like Miguel Tejada to add some offense at shortstop? And third, are the Cubs seriously going to pursue Jason Kendall? --John Doshan, Valparaiso, Ind.

Sorry, but I believe you should spend the final week of the season enjoying what has happened and what is happening without worrying about next year. Are Cubs fans programmed to worry about next year, or is it just me?

Randall Simon, Eric Karros and Hee Seop Choi. One of these players won't be around in 2004. Will the Cubs try to prove that they can develop young players by hanging on to Big Choi or is he now Big Trade Bait? --Micky Govern, North Hollywood, Calif.

I believe Choi will get another opportunity next year, probably in a platoon situation. Since he and Simon are both left-handed and play no other positions, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Simon is arbitration eligible. Choi hasn't had a big year, but many people gave up on Corey Patterson after his early struggles, so don't give up on him yet. Karros made a significant contribution, but I think he'll be a starting first baseman elsewhere unless something unforeseen happens.

Paul, I sent a second letter to Bob Watson, vis-à-vis Antonio Alfonseca. I reminded Bob that belly-bumping an umpire was punishable by a lifetime expulsion from baseball, effective immediately. Please. --Pat Navin, Evanston, Ill.

I think I get your point, Pat. Now stop stalking Bob Watson and me and start writing someone else about Antonio Alfonseca's belly-bumping episode, which is old news.

Sammy Sosa needs to realize that this is America, and this is the real world. It's not what you've done in the past; it's what you've done for me lately. Wake up Sosa, you're in a SLUMP! Don't act like what you've done in the past makes up for it. IT DOESN'T! --Brad Ryan, Chicago

If Sosa doesn't want to believe he's in a slump, that's his right as an American. He doesn't like thinking negative thoughts. The Cubs need his bat in the playoffs, if they get there, so if not believing he's in a slump helps him get out of his slump, the Cubs will be better off. Does that make any sense? Well, has anything made sense this year?

I'm wondering just how many of these ex-Pirates the Cubs will keep next year? Kenny Lofton has given the team a huge lift but Corey Patterson will be back. Will the Cubs deal Choi or keep Randall Simon? Will there be room in the budget for a long-term deal for Ramirez? Is this the guy we want to make the regular third baseman for the long term? All I know is, the Cubs are playing very good ball with the addition of these fine players. Now all we need is another starter or two. --Keith Totzke, Spring Valley, Calif.

Ramirez is already signed for next year at around $6 million. Lofton is probably a goner unless he accepts a role as a backup, which I'm not sure he feels he's ready to do, especially since he's proven he's still a starting center fielder and leadoff man. I already addressed Simon. The Cubs need another starter, maybe a shortstop and another middle reliever to replace El Pulpo, who becomes a free agent. But hey, enjoy this and worry about next year in November.

Why are so few games on WGN-TV for this close race? --Bill Murphy, Hazel Green, Ala.

In '98, the Cubs moved a few late-season games from cable to WGN for the pennant race so more people could watch. I agree they should've done the same thing this year, but I believe they are contractually bound to televise a certain number of games on Fox Sports Net. Bad news for Cubs fans. Good news for WB fans, whoever they are.

After the comments that Matt Morris made, I can't help but think St. Louis took a three-game dive for the benefit of the Houston Astros. Does that kind of thing happen in Major League Baseball? Do teams form secret alliances near the end of the season to bring down others in their division? Am I just paranoid? How else did the Astros sweep the Cardinals? --Mike Mortensen, Omaha, Neb.

The Cardinals beat the Astros two of three in St. Louis, so there goes your wacky theory. Yes, you are paranoid, but that's OK. It's all part of being a Cub fan.

How can one even imply that Cubs fans should cheer for the Sox and vice versa? My fear is that they will play each other in the series. Then, I not only will be stressed for the Cubs to win, but also for the Sox to lose. Too much to handle. I would never cheer for the Sox. Sox vs Cardinals? Go Cardinals! --Luke Pascale, Valley Village, Calif.

I guess you don't have to worry about a Cubs-Sox World Series, so you should be stress-free all winter, unless you're also a Bears fan. It's interesting to see my friend, Tribune columnist/Cubs-basher John Kass, give the Cubs his whole-hearted endorsement in a recent column bemoaning the Sox's fate. If anyone spots Kass at Wrigley Field this weekend, please notify security immediately. I believe he is up to no good.

Hi Paul, I enjoy reading the majority of your columns, but I've grown tired of how condescending you are. Does your Tribune-issued laptop give you a sense of enlightenment or are you just a bitter, failed writer who can't stand dealing with perpetually optimistic Cubs fans? --Tom Driscoll, Madison, Wis.

Fortunately for you, the season is over and no one can force you to read this anymore. But thanks for reading.

Is it true that 85 percent of the people in Chicago have jobs and the rest send in questions to "Ask Paul"? --Tim Bob McCuddy, Chicago

Evidently. Thanks for all the enlightening e-mails this season. I hope I answered all the questions to everyone's satisfaction. If I've offended anyone with any sarcastic answers, I sincerely apologize for my serial crankiness. Like Eric Karros, Kenny Lofton, Shawn Estes and El Pulpo, I don't know if I will be back with the Cubs next year. But if they make it into the postseason, I'll continue answering your always-relevant e-mails until it's all over.

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