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Ricketts, Canning lead this race
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/9/2008 12:07 AM

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For a guy who wants to stay in the background and out of the spotlight, Mark Cuban sure has a funny way of showing it.

Namely, he's consistently in the spotlight and out front in Chicago, especially when there's talk of him buying the Cubs.

During a recent trip, he sat in the boxes by the Cubs' dugout, spent time in the bleachers, and spoke to every reporter within sight while at Kerry Wood's charity bowling event.

Low-key, to be sure.

The reality is Bud Selig and his fellow owners want little to do with Cuban, despite much rhetoric to the contrary. They've seen his act, and they're not buying - or in this case, selling.

Now, Sam Zell knows something about driving up a price, and that's exactly what Cuban does for him.

By sitting Cuban down front, offering company seats, and making sure the company cameras are on him all day, it makes for great publicity and makes other potential buyers nervous.

In the unlikely event Cuban becomes the high bidder, Selig can merely take a vote among the owners, who will decline to accept Cuban, and then Zell can't argue baseball refused to consider the best offer.

But we hear much of it is nonsense anyway, as has been much of the sale propaganda.

The two top groups are, and probably always have been, the ones led by Tom Ricketts (Incapital) and John Canning (Madison Dearborn).

It would be somewhat surprising if they weren't the last two standing when the process gets serious as soon as the Cubs are done playing for the year, with a sale completed perhaps by Christmas.

Canning has the in as a minority owner of Selig's beloved Milwaukee Brewers, but that might actually work against him because Canning has been seen as the front-runner from Day One, and crowning him champ could make it look like an inside job, giving Cuban's people (or Zell's) more of a chance to demand a recount.

So we make Ricketts the leader after a couple of rounds, but with the toughest work yet to be done.

As for Mark Cuban, a seemingly pleasant and jovial man with a lot of money and time on his hands, if he behaves this time he may get a chance to buy the Pirates someday, but we didn't see him as a competitor for the Cubs at the start, and still don't.

Time, and Bud Selig, will ultimately tell.

Cubs vs. Phillies?

If you don't watch a ridiculous amount of baseball, it would be easy to view Arizona as the greatest threat to the Cubs again, but breaking down the National League, the club that really appears to be a problem is the Phillies - if they can make the playoffs.

The Diamondbacks can't hit, they inexplicably traded their closer, Randy Johnson was just scratched from a start, and Brandon Webb has gone ice cold.

The Brewers can't play defense, have no bullpen, and their starters would have to throw nothing but complete games.

The Mets aren't, well, really good at anything they do, and would be a surprise entry in the World Series, considering their numerous holes.

The Dodgers are getting hot at the right time, but their starting pitching is a question mark. In their favor is Manny Ramirez, and they have nothing at all to lose.

The Phillies have the most balanced team in the league, aside from the Cubs, with a lineup that can hit with the Cubs and a strong top of the rotation that matches up with anyone, including the Cubs.

They also have a first-class closer, but at times they can't get the ball to him, which looks like their biggest weakness. In the postseason, however, you'd expect their starters to go very deep.

All in all, they look like the club the Cubs would least want to face in October - but the Phils have to get in first.

Fearless forecast

Got a lot of e-mail from those believing I was insane for picking the Bears on Friday to win Sunday night.

There's no doubt the cheese slid off my cracker years ago, so you'll get no argument, but in this case there was nothing insane about the selection.

With Peyton Manning rusty and coming off surgery, the Colts' line a mess, the new stadium distraction, and no one taking the Bears seriously, it all added up to a perfect upset scenario.

But the Bears would be wise not to chirp too much because they'll get none of the same breaks in Carolina, and any belief on their part that they're suddenly an elite team will not benefit the cause.

They were an 8-8 team coming in and still look like one. With some breaks, maybe there's another win in there somewhere, but you can't sneak up on anyone when you're crowing.

Fearless QB

What a difference having Kyle Orton standing in the pocket, attempting to make plays, and protecting the football, huh? Slightly better than the Three Stooges program of the past couple of years that led to turnovers, nightmares and painful defeats.

The good cause

The White Sox are offering half-price tickets to current and retired members of the military and first responders (and their families) for Thursday's game (Sept. 11) against Toronto. Advance purchase is required. For more info, call (312) 674-5147.

Yards after catch

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: "Warning to future employers: (Tatum) Bell comes with a lot of baggage - and not all of it his."

Fly, Robin fly

Deadspin. com: "Rick Neuheisel brings the helicopter to L.A. recruiting, flying to two different high school games. Not to be outdone, Pete Carroll's looking into buying the Batmobile.''

And finally -

Greg Cote of the Miami Herald: "Fantasy football? Here is my definition of fantasy football: The Detroit Lions making the playoffs."