ME­TER IN THE CLUB­HOUSE

Fact, fic­tion or a com­bi­na­tion? We give you the truth be­hind the state­ments

Chicago Sun-Times - - CUBS BEAT - GOR­DON WITTENMYER

How of­ten has fic­tion trumped fact in spring train­ing? Are the pri­mary nar­ra­tives and plat­i­tudes we hear the real deals or cruise-con­trol talk­ing points likely to leave the be­liever feel­ing like a rube or feel­ing the burn of mis­di­rec­tion once words turn to ac­tion?

Not to worry. The Sun­Times is tire­lessly fact-check­ing the char­ac­ters and can­di­dates at spring train­ing in and around Mesa as the Cac­tus League heats up ahead of the Cubs’ bid for, even­tu­ally, a win in Novem­ber:

Joe Mad­don on Feb. 24 re­sponded to a ques­tion about a non-ros­ter in­vited player’s chance to make the open­ing ros­ter with: ‘‘Ev­ery­body’s got a shot.”

Truth-me­ter read­ing: Pants on fire. Mad­don might have been re­fer­ring to the 1992 bus ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing his old An­gels, with man­ager Buck Rodgers suf­fer­ing a bro­ken el­bow, knee and rib. If, say, 14— or maybe 23 — spe­cific Cubs broke ribs this spring, then, yes, that could the­o­ret­i­cally put ‘‘ev­ery­body’’ in play for the ros­ter. But his­tory does not sup­port this state­ment. Casey Close, Dex­ter Fowler’s agent, on Feb. 25 is­sued a state­ment in re­sponse to re­ports of a three-year agree­ment be­tween Fowler and the Ori­oles be­fore Fowler shocked many in Cubs camp by re­turn­ing on a one-year deal. Wrote Close: ‘‘Both the Ori­oles’ front of­fice and mem­bers of the me­dia were so busy reck­lessly spread­ing ru­mors that they for­got or sim­ply chose not to con­cern them­selves with the truth.’’ Truth-me­ter read­ing: Mostly false and com­pletely bo­gus. The Ori­oles clearly leaked the in­for­ma­tion that was re­ported. But Close, who goes out of his way to have less con­tact with the writ­ers than a salad, could’ve stopped the spread of ru­mors with one well-placed phone call at any time dur­ing the two days re­ports cir­cu­lated. Cubs chair­man Tom Ricketts on Feb. 25 re­sponded to the ‘‘sus­tain­abil­ity’’ of team-pay­roll trends with the claim: “Pay­roll more so than any other time in his­tory doesn’t de­ter­mine how many wins you’re go­ing to have. Fact is, it’s re­ally not about how much you spend.” Truth-me­ter read­ing: Half-true and mostly mis­di­rec­tion. Smaller-rev­enue teams such as the Roy­als and Pi­rates, for ex­am­ple, have had much more suc­cess the last three years than the high­est-spend­ing Dodgers and Yan­kees. And grow­ing in­dus­try con­sen­sus on the ris­ing val­ues of younger (cheaper) play­ers is a sig­nif­i­cant part of a gen­eral shift in that di­rec­tion. But 24 teams em­ploy 47 play­ers on nine-fig­ure con­tracts — in­clud­ing four signed by Ricketts’ top base­ball ex­ec­u­tive, Theo Ep­stein. The Cubs, in fact, would al­most cer­tainly not have made the play­offs last year with­out the $261 mil­lion in con­tract com­mit­ments un­der­taken the pre­vi­ous off­sea­son— in­clud­ing a $155 mil­lion pitcher. And me­dia re­ports sug­gest much of their World Se­ries ex­pec­ta­tions this year are based on a $276 mil­lion win­ter that in­cludes a $184 mil­lion player. Also: The state­ment is not rel­e­vant to the ques­tion. Joe Mad­don on Feb. 26 made this claim about Jake Ar­ri­eta’s first spring ses­sion throw­ing to hit­ters in live bat­ting prac­tice: “It­was live.” Truth-me­ter read­ing: True. Based on periscope trans­mis­sions from the event and news re­ports, Ar­ri­eta was, in fact, not dead. Shane Vic­torino, the Cubs’ backup out­field can­di­date, on Feb. 28 made this claim when talk­ing of his de­ci­sion to re­turn to switch-hit­ting af­ter a back in­jury pre­vented that much of the last three sea­sons: ‘‘If you’re a switch hit­ter, I don’t care if you hit a buck-50 on one side and you hit .400 on the other, do not give it up be­cause to­day’s game is about matchups; it’s about num­bers.’’

Truth-me­ter read­ing: True. This state­ment is sup­ported by an ex­am­i­na­tion of pub­lic records that re­veals Emilio Boni­fa­cio has re­ceived more than $11 mil­lion in his life­time to play base­ball and, in fact, Nick Swisher re­ceived $56 mil­lion in com­mit­ments over a four-year pe­riod from a cer­ti­fied Amer­i­can League team. Jon Lester on March 2 spoke of Jake Ar­ri­eta’s Open­ing Day as­sign­ment by mak­ing this claim: “It’s one of those days that kind of sucks. I think it’s one of the hard­est days to pitch. [There are] a lot of dis­trac­tions.” Truth-me­ter read­ing: Half-false, half-true. Me­dia in­ter­views and eye­wit­ness ac­counts as far back as the 1870s con­sis­tently re­veal that Open­ing Day does not suck any­where in the United States, with the rare ex­cep­tions of such non-base­ball lo­cales as Nome, Alaska, or Belt, Mon­tana. But Lester’s own his­tory in five open­ers sup­ports a gen­eral truthi­ness to the state­ment. He’s 1-4 with a 4.15 ERA in those games and 126-75 with a 3.54 ERA in his oth­ers. Joe Mad­don has based the en­tire 2016 cam­paign on an “Em­brace the Tar­get” plat­form, pro­claim­ing the wis­dom of “run­ning to­ward the fire, not away from it.” Truth-me­ter read­ing: Mostly un­sup­ported. Base­ball records on this sub­ject are not com­plete. But other his­tor­i­cal records have been found that in­clude Davy Crock­ett em­brac­ing the Alamo in 1836 (“You­may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas”), Ge­orge Custer em­brac­ing the tar­get of the Sioux Na­tion in 1876 (“The greater the odds, the greater the glory”) and the naval ar­chi­tect of the RMS Ti­tanic em­brac­ing ice­bergs in 1912 (“Unsink­able”). Joe Mad­don on Feb. 27 in re­sponse to a ques­tion from a San Diego TV out­let said: “We all love San Diego. ‘An­chor­man’ re­ally taught us a lot about San Diego.” Truth-me­ter read­ing: True. Sun-Times fact-check­ers can find no me­dia re­ports or cred­i­ble stud­ies to dis­pute this claim.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter@GDubCub.

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