There are only a few, but I think Bruce Miles is the best of them. The Cubs beat writers have accessibility to the team that we can only dream of.
Unfortunately the Daily Herald went behind a paywall, so I’m unable to read Bruce and participate on his blog, which was by far the best of the beat writers, routinely seeing hundreds of comments of (mostly) civil discussion. It was the best because Bruce took part in those discussions. One time, he even said that I was a bit of a ‘curmudgeon’!
Bruce was nice enough to answer a few questions for me and for more insight, follow him on Twitter @BruceMiles2112
VTFB: Can you give a brief synopsis of your career path, beginning from your days in college? I’m curious about the road you took that led you to Cubs beat writer.
Bruce Miles: I studied at Loyola University Chicago, concentrating in communications and journalism. I worked four years at the college radio station and was thinking of a broadcasting career. But at the start of my senior year, I got an internship at the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and immediately became hooked on newspaper work. The internship was unpaid, but I tried to work at the Law Bulletin as much as I could. I was always interested in sports, so I came up with a few features at the Law Bulletin. I interviewed athletes who had become lawyers, including Alan Page, former Bears kicker Bob Thomas, Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden and others. After graduating, I took a full-time job in corporate communication while covering high school sports for the old Suburban Trib and finally the Daily Herald. The Herald hired me full-time in 1988 to work the sports copy desk. I worked in a number of writing assignments while on the desk. When the Cubs beat opened before the 1998 season, I interviewed for the job and got it. It’s been quite a ride.
VTFB: Rumors have taken on a life of their own in recent years and I often wonder how much is true. One minute the Cubs are in on Prince Fielder, the next minute they’ve never made contact. How often are these so-called rumors nothing more than misleading leaks by either the agent or the team, to improve negotiations?
Bruce: More times than not, many more times, the rumors are not true. When Andy MacPhail and Jim Hendry ran things, they never liked starting rumors and rarely would comment on the record about them. I see the same thing happening with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. From my experience, these rumors start with agents, trying to drum up markets for their clients.
VTFB: Continuing with the ‘wonder if it’s true’ thought, I’ve seen it reported that Jim Hendry did NOT want to sign Alfonso Soriano to that 8 year, $136 million contract back in the 2006 offseason. That it came from above, perhaps by John McDonough who was then Team President. Do you know anything about this? Do you think there were any moves where Hendry received unfair blame due to interference from above?
Bruce: Hendry deserves his fair share of the blame for chasing Soriano so hard in the first place. From what I’ve been told repeatedly, the Tribune Co. higher-ups tacked on the additional two years to what would have been a six-year deal for Soriano. ? The Tribune Co. wanted Hendry to spend a lot of money after 2006, so maybe that led to him giving the kinds of contracts he gave to players such as Jason Marquis.
VTFB: Are there any players that take a leadership role in the clubhouse that the television watching fan might not notice? Someone who may be the first one there, last to leave, or even pull a youngster to the side for instruction?
Bruce: I’ve seen plenty. Some have led quietly; others have been more vocal and public about it. Kerry Wood and Bob Howry have been instrumental in helping Andrew Cashner. That’s partly why the Cubs brought Howry back for a second go. Although Aramis Ramirez never was a vocal leader or one who sought out attention for himself, he did help out a number of youngsters. Over the years, I can recall players such as Ricky Gutierrez, Greg Maddux and others make their feelings known when they didn’t like things. As far as getting there early and leaving late, I don’t think anybody ever beat Juan Pierre in that department, as unpopular as he may have been with some fans. I don’t think I ever saw anybody work harder.
VTFB: Normally when a team makes a trade or acquisition, the reports say that the GM made the move. With the Cubs today, it seems Theo Epstein is talked about more than Jed Hoyer. Any insight as to how they split their duties?
Bruce: Theo is heavily involved in all acquisitions. That seems right. Why not use his expertise? I don’t know that there’s any definite “split” in their duties. Hoyer has wide leeway and all the responsibilities of GM, but Theo is involved, especially with the bigger-ticket items.
VTFB: On a scale of 0-10, where would you rank the Jim Hendry era’s usage of advanced stats/sabermetrics? How about Epstein/Hoyer?
Bruce: With Hendry, I think his tenure began with that scale at 1, and gradually grew to about 4 or 5. With Epstein and Hoyer, it’s at a solid 9, but they also look at things like “character” and “chemistry.” They also believe in good scouting and listening to their scouts.
VTFB: You are one of the more statistically inclined Cubs beat writers, do you recall at what point you took up an interest in the advanced stats? Were you on board from the beginning or were you more of convert like Bill Simmons as he detailed in this article?
Bruce: Well, I like to think I’m THE most statistically inclined Cubs beat writer! I read Bill James’ Abstracts in the 1980s and developed an interest in that analytical side of the game then. As far as using advanced stats on the beat, it’s been a gradual process for me that I really believe took off around 2003. I credit that to the explosion of blogs back then and the large number of emails I would get from statistically inclined readers who always encouraged me to look at things in new ways and in different lights. When I tell people I learn a lot from the readers, I really mean that. I have to remember to balance my own interest in sabermetrics with the realization that not every reader has a handle on it. For example, I was asked by a reader once what slugging percentage is. When I presented a player’s stats as, say, .280/.350/.400, I had one reader ask what those numbers were. Another asked, “What is that, sabermetrics?” So you have to be mindful you’re writing a for a diverse readership.
VTFB: Give us a bold prediction for 2012.
Bruce: Carlos Zambrano comes back to the Cubs, stays on his best behavior and has a good (and complete) season. That may be completely off, but you wanted bold.
VTFB: When do you think the Cubs will be competitive enough to win the NL Central?
Bruce: Realistically, 2013, given the nature of the NL Central. The key will be sustainability, the bane of the existences of several Cubs front offices. So if players such as Brett Jackson, Javier Baez, Dillon Maples come on and join the likes of Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner, maybe, at long last, the Cubs can achieve sustainability.