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posted: 4/14/2010 12:01 AM

Baseball panic sign of economic times

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If it's Chicago and it's a week into the baseball season, then there's almost certain to be panic in the streets on both sides of town.

Except, it wasn't always this way.

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"I think it's kind of a new thing," said Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams. "And I think a lot has to do with the salaries.

"It used to be a guy was given a chance to get himself together, more than five or six games, that's for sure."

Williams believes the exorbitant contracts have changed the way fans view players, and their patience is nearly nonexistent.

"The expectations are much greater, and no one wants to see a guy start slow," Williams said. "The thing is, you can't really judge a pitcher on just a few starts, or a player on a few weeks' worth of at-bats.

"Unless a guy is just too old to play, or he's hurt, then chances are pretty good he's going to wind up with the numbers he usually has. That's the way baseball is. That hasn't changed."

Williams, now a Cubs senior adviser, had to chuckle a little over how petrified people were when Carlos Zambrano's first outing of the year was ugly.

"I had a lady tell me we should release him," Williams said with a smile. "This is a guy with a proven track record, and one start doesn't mean a whole season is bad.

"Pitchers have a bad week or month during a season. It happens. But if it's the first week or month, people want to say a guy's done."

Zambrano bounced back with a very good second outing, and fans have stepped back from the ledge.

"Like I said, a guy like that, if he's not hurt," Williams said, "then you just have to have a little patience."

That's not the only thing that has changed, however. Williams does not laugh about the lack of fundamentals he sees throughout baseball.

"To me it's real simple. Guys just don't spend enough time in the minors anymore," Williams said. "In my day you didn't get to the big leagues without being able to do everything on a baseball field, and you spent a long time in the minors learning how to play.

"There was nobody here who couldn't field or hit or execute baseball plays on the field. If you couldn't do it, you were sent back down - and fast.

"Now there's twice as many teams and players are rushed here without learning. It hasn't been good for the game."

Fire and passion

Think Cubs manager Lou Piniella doesn't have it anymore?

The word is that his conversation with Carlos Silva on Saturday morning in Cincinnati was very loud and unpleasant.

Silva took himself out of the game Friday with shoulder stiffness after only 71 pitches (6 innings), but later told the media he was fine, leading Piniella to call him in and remind him of what really occurred the night before.

In many ways, Piniella appears to have entered the season with a short fuse and that's not at all a bad thing.

New owner

Tom Ricketts did virtually every TV and radio show in town Monday and talked to dozens of reporters.

At this point, Ricketts has a stock answer for pretty much every question, and he reiterated his pleasure with the job done by his baseball people.

But when asked about the rest of the front office and the operation in general, Ricketts said, "You want to make informed decisions and we've only been here a short period of time, so I think it's wrong to talk about things I don't know that much about."

A posture that might benefit team president Crane Kenney in the future.

Splitting time

Don't be surprised if Lou Piniella starts platooning at positions where you wouldn't normally expect it, maybe even at catcher where Geovany Soto is hitting .133 with no RBI.

At least with Koyie Hill, the Cubs know they're getting an excellent defender who calls a superb game.

Iron deficiency

We know players aren't used to playing every day anymore, but this is ridiculous.

The Brewers' Prince Fielder owns the longest consecutive-games streak in the majors at 192, which is shockingly low for the top spot. Second place belongs to the Padres' Everth Cabrera at a sickly 104.

Ticket special

The BMW Championship is offering a tax-deadline day "Economic Stimulus" Thursday, when they'll roll back prices to 2006 levels for one day only.

Any-day tournament round tickets will be $37 (instead of $45) and weekly badges are $100 (instead of $150). Tickets can be purchased at BMWChampionshipUSA.com.

The BMW is the third event in the PGA Tour playoffs and returns to Cog Hill in Lemont on Sept. 9.

Howling

Before the Blackhawks open at home Friday, the Wolves drop the puck Wednesday (7 p.m.) at the Allstate Arena for Game 1 against Milwaukee in the division semis. For ticket info, visit chicagowolves.com.

Milton Bradley

First seven games: two incidents with fans, two meetings with manager, one game lost with glove, 1 hit in 22 at-bats, 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

If only the Mariners could have somehow seen this coming.

And finally -

Miami Herald's Greg Cote: "Lucille O'Neal, Shaq's mother, has written an inspirational book about her life. She hopes young girls all over America can follow her secret to success: have a child who grows to be freakishly big and makes $20 million a year."

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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