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Inside Tarpgate

I know everybody is having good-time feelings about the Cubs right now because Jim Hendry amateur free-agent signee Arismendy Alcantara is hitting .228 after 41 games in the majors and Jim Hendry draft pick Javy Baez is hitting .207 after 20 games, though he does have 36 strikeouts and four walks to go with his 11 home runs, but let's not move on from Tarpgate so quickly, because it is so revealing of a franchise skating by right now on the excitement generated simply by the act of calling up prospects rather than those prospects' actual production in the major leagues.

For starters, the Cubs are trying to create an impression that Sun-Times beat writer Gordon Wittenmyer got the story wrong when he reported the grounds crew was shorthanded that ridiculous night due in part to a cutback in hours resulting from an effort to evade paying health benefits per Obamacare.

For finishers, the incident is a reminder that Cubbie Occurences don't happen because the team was once cursed by the owner of a goat, but because the team has been cursed by the worst succession of owners in global sports history except maybe some hapless squad of gladiators in Roman times that I don't know about; only the meshing of this clownish history with the magic of Wrigley Field has saved the franchise (or doomed it to perpetual misery, depending on how you look at it), which is ironic because each bunch of hacks running the place have neglected that chief asset at best and tried to destroy it at worst, though it's the only thing filling their pockets with gold.

Let's take a look.

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First, watch this MLB.com video and listen to an astounded Jon Miller describing the scene.


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Now, for good measure, a Sun-Times video featuring ticket-buying fans chanting "Pull! Pull! Pull!"

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And now, the whole thing put to the Cubs theme song.

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The conundrum for the umpires was that once the rain stopped and it was time to resume the game, the field had been rendered unplayable by the screw-up, but in order to declare the game suspended until the next day, the screw-up had to be due to a mechanical failure; the rulebook doesn't allow for a cheaped-out grounds crew. The opposing Giants, in a playoff race, were livid and appealed to MLB. No one ever wins these appeals - at least no one has won an appeal since 1986. Until now. Somehow, the commissioner's office found a right to not be negatively impacted by Kubs Kulture in the game's statutes, sort of like how the U.S. Supreme Court found a right to privacy in the Constitution when it decided Roe v. Wade. (It's a joke, people.)

I'm not sure which is weirder - that MLB granted the appeal or that the Cubs came back to win the suspended game too. That's the Cubs - even when they win it doesn't feel good.

But that wasn't the end of the story. It turns out one of my tweets that night wasn't that far off.

What I got wrong was that the Cubs weren't being miserly about the tarp, but about the grounds crew.

"Add the Affordable Care Act - or, specifically, the big-business Cubs' response to it - to the causes behind Tuesday night's tarp fiasco and rare successful protest by the San Francisco Giants," Wittenmyer reported two days after the incident.

"The staffing issues that hamstrung the grounds crew Tuesday during a mad dash with the tarp under a sudden rainstorm were created in part by a wide-ranging reorganization last winter of game-day personnel, job descriptions and work limits designed to keep the seasonal workers - including much of the grounds crew - under 130 hours per month, according to numerous sources with direct knowledge.

"That's the full-time worker definition under 'Obamacare,' which requires employer-provided healthcare benefits for 'big businesses' such as a major league team."

The Cubs are certainly not the only business effectively gaming the system, but they operate in an environment different than perhaps any other industry in America in that the government has granted them and their brethren an antitrust exemption in order for them to create an artificial, socialistic market. Oh, and the Cubs are the most profitable team in the major leagues and generate the fourth-highest amount of revenues.

Still, it might only be half the outrage if the maneuver was, say, in the front office instead of on the field, where it endangers not only the team's own players but players from other teams who care more about their employees.

"[S]ources say this year's protocol has changed dramatically since the off-season shakeup with game-day personnel in anticipation of the ACA taking effect - along with the experience level in many areas because of resulting attrition," Wittenmyer reports.

"There have been organizational changes," [Cubs spokesman Julian] Green acknowledges. "Every organization, whether it's baseball or corporate, is always continuing to evaluate inefficiencies, and obviously that translates to ours.

"We're no different than any organization trying to gain efficiencies. However, our efforts to manage costs had nothing to do with the episode on Tuesday night."

So the Cubs have tried to "gain efficiencies" on its ground crew, though they deny those "efficiencies" have anything to do with the fact that 10 crew members were sent home early Tuesday because the team was gambling on clear weather.

Once the story went viral, Green issued a stronger denial, which ESPN Chicago, for one, bought hook, line and stinker.

Green denied that health care costs played a role in Tuesday's incident

"We've made some organizational changes to make sure our scheduling is in line," Green said. "If we want to be a successful, functioning, profitable operation, you have to make sure your personnel and workforce is in line.

"Anyone in this organization who would even suggest that it was Obamacare and tried to make this a situation about work hours at the expense of guys who are widely viewed as the best in the business, it's unfortunate."

I'm not sure which is worse - cheaping out the grounds crew on general business principle or doing it because of Obamacare. Either way, though, we know it happened.

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And let's not forget who really owns the Cubs: Right-wing Obama-hater Joe Ricketts. You can bet he hates Obamacare too. Until the Cubs make someone available who isn't a paid propagandist with no direct knowledge of the situation, draw your own conclusions.

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And then there's Pete Ricketts, Joe's son and Tom's brother. He wants to Stop Obamacare. Bad.

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Obviously I'm no fan of Obama or Obamacare either, but I get the feeling that's not for the same reasons as the Rickettses.

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And the Rickettses are entitled to their view. And they are entitled to use Wrigley Field for Republican fundraisers.

But they aren't entitled to endanger their employees, even if those employees are multimillionaires. And they especially aren't entitled to lie about it. If Wittenmyer truly got the story wrong, prove it and demand a retraction. But don't try to spin it away.

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The Week In Review: The Cubs beat the Mets to start out the week, completing a four-game split, then split four games with the Giants (including the resumption of the Tarpgate game), and ended the week sweeping the Orioles. It was exhausting.

The Week In Preview: In Cincinnati for three, and in St. Louis for four. Hackneyed and unimaginative storylines will include how each franchise is a model for the Cubs, and how the Cubs can somehow get some satisfaction out of playing spoiler. It will be exhausting.

Wrigley Is 100 Celebration: Javy Baez will bat .100 while hitting 100 homers the rest of the way.

Mad Merch: Free grounds crew uniforms to the first 15 fans through the gates to any home game the rest of the way - benefits not included.

Prospects Are Suspects: Matt Szczur auditioning to be a major-league platoon player.

New Dale: Rick Renteria: Savor These Spoiler Games.

Laughable Headline Of The Week: I think we just did it.

Kubs Kulture: I think we just did it.

Billy Cub vs. Clark Cub: John Groce Meets Clark The Cub.

Advantage: Billy.

The Junior Lake Show: Crushed his first Triple-A homer of the season.

September 1 can't come fast enough!

Mustache Wisdom: Podcast: Villanueva Spells Cubs' Names.

Not backwards, though.

Ameritrade Stock Pick of the Week: Spoilers were trading slightly higher on car markets this week.

Jumbotron Preview: 5,700 square-feet of part-time players who don't qualify for health insurance.

Kubs Kalender: Wait 'til next year 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021.

Over/Under: Number of members on the grounds crew next season: +/- 15.

Beachwood Sabermetrics: A complex algorithm performed by The Cub Factor staff using all historical data made available by Major League Baseball has determined that wins down the stretch will be overvalued by Kool-Aid drinkers.

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Hashtag Cubs

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The Cub Factor: Unlike Alfonso Soriano Starlin Castro, you can catch 'em all!

The White Sox Report: Schooled By JRW.

The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour: Bearsgate vs. Tarpgate.

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Comments welcome.

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