Programming Note: CTB to become HardballTalk

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Remember how Philip Morris changed its name to Altria so people wouldn’t always be reminded of the fact that they sell things that give you cancer? And how ValueJet changed its name to AirTran so people wouldn’t always be reminded of all of those people who died in that crash?  And how Datsun changed its name to Nissan because, well, I’m not sure about why they did that one, but remember when it happened?

Well, we’re doing the opposite: we’re changing the name of this concern to foster some positive associations: some time this week we’ll be switching from Circling the Bases to HardballTalk.

I know there are a lot of people out there who hate change — I’m usually one of them — but we’re doing this for a couple of reasons. Most obviously — and I’m not going to b.s. you about it — is the branding thing. Our brother blog ProFootballTalk is one of the most popular and successful things going in sports media and we’d be nuts not to try and leach off of some of Florio’s redonkulous traffic.

Another reason: starting today the estimable Kurt Helin, late of Forum Blue and Gold joins the NBC Family to launch ProBasketballTalk (which I highly recommend that you start reading on a daily basis). By changing our name to HardballTalk we’re rocking the thematic consistency across the major sports.

Those of you who have read me for a long time have known me to snark about branding. And I’ll still snark at it because branding is kind of a silly concept on some level.  I mean, just because you give something a new name doesn’t change what it is.  This, however, is different.

Why? Because here the names flow from the concept, not vice-versa.  In launching CTB last April and bringing PFT over a month or two later, NBC really set out to change the way sports are done online.  On every other major media site the blogging and commentary takes backseat to the wire reports and the overpriced columnists and is buried in the mix.  Here the conversation — the “talk” if you will — is what leads.  Florio, Helin and all of the rest of us around here know that you’re big boys and girls and rather than have someone declare the news to you from on high, you can handle it being put out there and hashed through immediately. Which allows you to start hashing thorough it too, in as close to real time as possible.

Put differently, when Jon Heyman tells you something, he expects you to take his word for it. When I tell you something, I hope, and have come to expect, that you’ll tell me if I’m full of baloney within five minutes. If I am, I’ll rethink and then you will and then we’ll fight about it and then we’ll laugh about it and maybe we’ll all have learned a little bit or, at the very least wasted some time. It’s a conversation. We’re just talking here. About baseball. The name, in other words, fits.

If none of that convinces you just ask yourself: What’s “Circling the Bases?” It is nor hand nor foot nor arm nor face nor any other part belonging to a blog. That which we call CTB by any other name would smell as sweet.  The content isn’t changing. Just the name. And I think we can all deal with it.

Alex Rodriguez credits Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein with Cubs’ turnaround

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13:  Tom Ricketts, owner of the Chicago Cubs, celebrates after the Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the National League Division Series to win the NLDS 3-1 at Wrigley Field on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals with a score of 6 to 4.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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It isn’t difficult to see the fingerprints left by Cubs’ president Tom Ricketts and general manager Theo Epstein on the club’s remarkable 2016 season. In a piece for, former Yankee Alex Rodriguez highlighted the duo’s effectiveness in liberating the Cubs from a five-year losing streak and six-year postseason drought, citing both the unrelenting work ethic and passion that Ricketts and Epstein brought to the club as major factors in their success.

Rodriguez’s first brush with sabermetric savant and all-around baseball wizard Theo Epstein came in 2003, when the then- 27-year-old All-Star was eyeing a deal with the Red Sox. The Major League Baseball Players Association eventually nixed the trade, and the Rangers’ young shortstop was sent to the Yankees shortly thereafter, but not before Rodriguez glimpsed the inner workings of Epstein’s mind.

What I remember best about that time was watching Theo furiously scribbling out the Red Sox lineup for the upcoming season on a room-service napkin. That’s when I saw Theo’s baseball mind at work. I saw he had a passion for the game, a depth of knowledge, and a thirst to be great. Theo’s passion was contagious. We were three 20-somethings convinced we were about to turn baseball upside down together. Though I never got a chance to work with Theo, I knew then that he was going to be a force.

A-Rod also referenced Ricketts’ thorough approach to rebuilding the organization. Ricketts, who purchased the franchise for $875 million in 2009, first made it his mission to transform Wrigley Field into a comfortable and enticing playing environment, then targeted top-tier management to run the show behind the scenes. With Ricketts fully backing Epstein’s transformative approaches — including an overhaul of the Cubs’ farm system, investments in international player development, and a comprehensive understanding and practical application of sabermetric advances — the Cubs’ path to a 97-win season in 2015 seemed a natural consequence of the pair’s hard work.

This year, the attention has been even more intensely focused on the Cubs’ elusive third World Series title. Rodriguez, however, believes that winning a championship is secondary to the strides Ricketts and Epstein have taken with the club.

Together, Ricketts and Epstein have built one of the greatest franchises in baseball and transformed 1060 W. Addison St. It’s a task that no one could quite get right for a hundred years. While four more wins would put a giant exclamation point on five years of focused work and determination, I won’t worry if this team doesn’t win the World Series in the next nine days.

Mets expected to pick up 2017 option for Jose Reyes

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22:  Jose Reyes #7 of the New York Mets celebrates after hitting a game tying two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies Citi Field on September 22, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News reports that the Mets are expected to pick up the 2017 option for Reyes, but they haven’t done it yet. The option will be worth the major league minimum salary ($507,500), as the Rockies will continue to pay down the remainder of Reyes’ $41 million remaining on his contract.

The Mets signed Reyes after the Rockies released him in June. He had a .659 OPS in Colorado but improved to a .769 OPS in 279 plate appearances with the Mets, mostly playing third base in place of the injured David Wright. Bringing Reyes back next season will provide them more insurance at the hot corner.

Reyes, 33, served a 51-game suspension due to an offseason domestic violence incident while on vacation in Hawaii with his wife. As a result, he didn’t make his season debut until July 5, having spent some additional time in the minor leagues to get into game shape.