Author Archive

Book Excerpt: Let’s Go Cubs! A New Era on the North Side

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

The Daily Herald just recently put out a new book and they were kind enough to send me a copy to preview and post an excerpt from.

Leading to the Top
Cubs’ Clubhouse Not Lacking in Leaders

Bruce Miles
May 21, 2016

Walk into the Chicago Cubs’ sparkling new clubhouse and the first thing you notice is the shape: a perfect circle.

The diameter of that circle is 60 feet, 6 inches, meaning pitcher Jake Arrieta could warm up with catcher David Ross from across the room. The circle also means that no one locker is any more important than any other — neither status nor seniority gets rewarded with a prime slice of clubhouse real estate.

One thing you won’t see on the crisp white uniforms hanging in those lockers is the letter “C” emblazoned on the front of any jersey to signify a team captain.

But what you will find are team leaders at any point along that circle: Arrieta as the ace of the pitching staff and example setter through his strenuous fitness regimen; Ross as the veteran vocal leader; Anthony Rizzo as the emerging young leader; Jon Lester as the veteran pitcher who now seems more comfortable in his own skin; and John Lackey as the guy who has helped Lester relax and brought a prickly presence to a young ballclub.

Each in his own way is a leader and a team captain without need of a letter to prove it. That’s the way manager Joe Maddon likes it.

“I think it’s an organic situation,” said Maddon, who sprinkles the word “organic” liberally into his conversations. “Leadership is taken. You can’t give leadership. You can’t give it to somebody. People have to take leadership. It’s just the way it happens.

“You just can’t anoint a leader. You can maybe through politics by having people vote for you, I guess. I’ve often thought that’s a fabricated way of anointing a leader sometimes.

“But when you’re within a group setting like this, with us there’s no real hierarchy set up specifically. So if somebody wants to emerge as the leader, they have to take that. Players have to want to follow this particular person. I just can’t say, ‘Go put a C on your chest and all of a sudden people are going to listen to you.’ ”

Good Players and the Right Players

It goes without saying that good sports teams have talent, and the Cubs are a good team. The really great ones, the memorable ones, ooze an intangible quality that comprises confidence and accountability with just the right touch of fun loving.

Watching the movie, “Miracle,” about the 1980 U.S. hockey team that won the Olympic gold medal, one can’t help but be struck by the line uttered by coach Herb Brooks, portrayed by Kurt Russell.

When told by his assistant, Craig Patrick, that he was missing some of the best players, the Brooks character replies: “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.”

There are obvious differences between amateur and professional teams, but it never hurts to have the right players in addition to a lot of very good ones.

The Cubs seem to believe they have both.

“I think it’s a good mix,” said Ross, a 39-year-old veteran who says this is his final season as a player. “Obviously, talent is No. 1. You’ve got to have good talent to win in the major leagues. You just can’t bring in a bunch of good guys.

“You’ve got to bring in guys who want to be great and have the ability to be great and want to be great for the right reasons.”

Cubs team president Theo Epstein built two world-championship teams in Boston, and he has turned the Cubs into contenders after overseeing three losing seasons from 2012-14. Last year’s team advanced to the National League championship series, and the current squad has come out of the gate as the best team in the major leagues.

This past off-season, Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer brought in free agents Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist.

Heyward was the marquee signing, and he immediately drew a crowd of followers among teammates during spring training for his baseball acumen. Lackey is a plain-spoken Texan who isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers. And Zobrist is known as being among the most solid citizens in the game.

“The longer I do this, the more I realize character really matters, makeup really matters,” Epstein said. “Obviously you need talent, but the mix you have is really important. I think we have a really great clubhouse, a lot of quality individuals, so you want to add to that and enhance it. You don’t want to do anything that might compromise it in any way.

“Zobrist is one of the many guys who makes your club that much better. He really cares about his teammates, sets a great example and is someone you can sit down with and exchange ideas about baseball and life.

“He’s been a great add to the clubhouse.”

The edge Lackey brings also is important, according to Epstein.
“We have so many guys who are nice guys,” he said. “We played hard (last year). We played intensely, but we transitioned from to a club that’s in the crosshairs and has to show up every night over the course of 162 (games) to get where we want to go.

“Someone like Lackey demands excellence from his teammates. When he’s on the mound, there’s that little bit of extra gear. He holds everyone accountable. He’s such a fierce competitor.

“It seems like a little added shot in the arm. And John’s really well-liked by his teammates even though he does bring that edge every fifth day (on the mound). That’s something we didn’t have in quite the same way. He adds to the mix without taking anything away from it at all.”

Title for a Time Gone By

The Cubs have had team captains in the past. Late Hall of Famer Ron Santo captained the club from the mid-1960s until being traded to the White Sox after the 1973 season.

The title was revived in 2000, when manager Don Baylor bestowed it on pitchers Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera, first baseman Mark Grace and right fielder Sammy Sosa. Grace and Aguilera were gone after that season, so Baylor awarded the “C” to second baseman Eric Young and catcher Joe Girardi for 2001.
“To me, it’s a responsibility,” Baylor said in 2000. “It’s not just thrown out there. It means something.”
The modern-day Cubs don’t seem to be in any rush to formalize a captain’s role.

“I think that’s more different teams and tradition,” Ross said. “If you’re looking for labels around here to be ‘the guy,’ that’s not the group we have in here. Everybody’s ‘the guy’ in their own right. Everybody contributes in their own way.

“I think it’s important about just knowing your role as a teammate and as a part of the club and doing your role to the best of your ability, whether that’s to lead by example, to lead on the field, to lead the pitching staff, to be the second line on the pitching staff, whatever it is. Each person’s role is important in its own right.”

When Epstein was general manager of the Boston Red Sox, catcher Jason Varitek was the team captain. Epstein also sees no need to reprise the role with his Cubs of today.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s something that I ever set out to do and say, ‘Hey, we should have a captain,’” he said. “If it gets to that point, it’s probably too late. You probably don’t have the right guys in there.

“But if somebody stands out as a clear, unquestioned leader or if somebody has been around a long time and might benefit in some way from a ‘C’ on his chest as a physical manifestation of what is already in place as far as a leadership dynamic, that might be something to consider. But that’s not something I desire to do ever again.”

As close as Maddon has come to the captain concept has been to meet with several players in spring training — players he termed “lead bulls” — to allow them to run with leadership responsibilities.

“When you are a good leader, you are really sensitive and have a lot of empathy toward everybody else around you,” the manager said. “If you are looking for guys in clubhouses, I would look for empathy as much as anything regarding whether or not you believe somebody’s a leader. And also listening skills and somebody who is not always pontificating. That leads you in the wrong direction.

“I like the fact that it’s spread out among them. The topic was leadership. I think that has to be taken more than it’s being given.”

“This excerpt from Let’s Go Cubs!: A New Era on the North Side by Daily Herald is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.  For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/LetsGoCubs.”

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Yesterday’s News: Dreaming of Fernandez

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

ABOUT LAST NIGHT – Reds 2 @ Cubs 5 (Box Score / Condensed Game)

I decided to not watch the game last night. Between the fact that it was a Jason Hammel start and the fact that the Bears were playing on Monday Night Football, I opted for football. I made the wrong choice. What I can tell you is this: The Bears are not a good football team this year and it’s very hard to continue to come back year after year and cheer for them. They remind me a lot of Cubs, which is probably why I can’t give them up.

On the Cubs side, there were some takeaways. Hammel pitched a nice game and was helped by some very late run support to earn a win. We talked about how he was one to watch down the stretch. He’ll probably get two more starts, so it will be interesting to see what happens with those. I don’t get the impression that Joe Maddon trusts Hammel all that much and I get the feeling that their relationship is not that good. If he gets a playoff spot, he’ll have earned it. Jason Heyward went deep as well. I differ from Sherm on his spot. You absolutely have to take Heyward. He was great in the series last year against the Cardinals in the NLDS. He can be that guy again. Last year we saw it with Jorge Soler, who had struggled all year, and then lost his mind by reaching base like 57 straight times. Heyward can have that kind of series and he brings defense, something Soler does not. Absolutely has to be on the roster.

TRANSACTIONAL NEWS – Jack Leathersich, who has been in the minors this year, was scheduled to be able to file for minor league free agency at the end of the year. He has decided to re-sign a minor league deal to stay with the Cubs. He’s a guy that, if he can work on his command, can be a part of the pen. He’s got strikeout stuff, which is what you want, but he walks too many guys. Walks kill bullpens.

ANYONE INTERESTED IN A FLAME THROWER? – Nick Cafardo had this tasty nugget in his article yesterday:

There’s more buzz that the Marlins will listen to offers for Jose Fernandez this offseason. Fernandez has long been the apple of the eye of a lot of big-market teams that wouldn’t mind writing that extension check. The Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, and Cubs for sure would all be in line. Right now, it doesn’t appear there will be any extension talks early this offseason between Miami and Fernandez’s agent, Scott Boras, if at all.

Yes Please!!!

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4 Things to Watch For in the Final Two Weeks of the Season

Monday, September 19th, 2016

We are two weeks from the start of the playoffs. The division is clinched and we’re dangerously close to clinching home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. We’re not used to this type of season, so I decided it might be helpful if I provided a little bit of a viewers guide to these last two weeks. Here are things you should be watching for.

HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE – The magic number to clinch home field to the World Series sit at seven. As you watch this week, pay attention to the out of town scoreboard for the Nationals. Currently they sit in 2nd place in the NL and have series’ left with the Marlins x 2, the Diamondbacks and the Pirates. It’s not a particularly difficult schedule, but it’s doubtful they will be able to overcome the Cubs lead.

VETERAN ROSTER SPOTS – Right now there are a couple of veterans who have their roster spots for the playoffs that are still in question. Jason Hammel has struggled of late and with the need to just carry four starters, he may miss the roster all together as you typically don’t just stick a starter in the pen when we hasn’t had time to get used to that role. The Cubs can opt out of the last year of Hammel’s deal at the end of the season, so it’s very possible we’re watching the last couple starts for him as a Cub. Watch those closely, beginning with tonight. Good, sharp starts may mean he gets the chance to grab one of those bullpen spots, but I highly doubt it. The other veteran on the bubble is Miguel Montero. He’s played better in the 2nd half, particularly this month, but in a perfect world you would rather not take a 3rd catcher on the roster. It limits your flexibility. The one thing Montero has going is that he hits left-handed. I think he makes the roster, but if it were up to me, he’d be left off.

BULLPEN SPOTS – There figure to be seven guys in the pen for the playoffs. If we do the math, then there will be a crunch for the last spots. Aroldis Chapman and Hector Rondon are locks. You would also figure Justin Grimm is a lock. Travis Wood and Mike Montgomery both throw left handed. Do you take both? I think you do. That leaves two spots. One would go to Pedro Strop assuming he returns healthy. Who gets the last spot. Carl Edwards Jr? Trevor Cahill? Hammel? Spencer Patton? Felix Pena? Funky throwing Joe Smith? There is going to be a lot of jockeying these last two weeks.

FIRST ROUND OPPONENT – As it stands now, the Cubs would play the winner of the Giants and Mets matchup, but the Cardinals are still in the mix. As a Cub fan, you should be hoping there is a three way tie for the wild card spots so those teams have to play a multi-tiebreaker situation. It burns pitchers and dramatically increases the Cubs chances to advance to the NLCS. I’m not sure which team I want to face. Certainly the Mets just got a little weaker with news that Jacob deGrom is done for the year, but any team can get hot and a short five game series is dangerous.

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Division Championships – Phase One Complete

Friday, September 16th, 2016

ABOUT LAST NIGHT – Brewers 5 @ Cubs 4 – I watched the game and was excited to watch the end and the celebration. Sometimes, it’s helpful to look back and see what this team has looked like for playoff appearances and really appreciate what is being done.

2015 NL Championship Series New York Mets Lost, 4-0
NL Division Series St. Louis Cardinals Won, 3-1
NL Wild Card Pittsburgh Pirates Won Game, 4-0
2008 NL Division Series Los Angeles Dodgers Lost, 3-0
2007 NL Division Series Arizona Diamondbacks Lost, 3-0
2003 NL Championship Series Florida Marlins Lost, 4-3
NL Division Series Atlanta Braves Won, 3-2
1998 NL Division Series Atlanta Braves Lost, 3-0
1989 NL Championship Series San Francisco Giants Lost, 4-1
1984 NL Championship Series San Diego Padres Lost, 3-2
1945 World Series Detroit Tigers Lost, 4-3
1938 World Series New York Yankees Lost, 4-0
1935 World Series Detroit Tigers Lost, 4-2
1932 World Series New York Yankees Lost, 4-0
1929 World Series Philadelphia Athletics Lost, 4-1
1918 World Series Boston Red Sox Lost, 4-1
1910 World Series Philadelphia Athletics Lost, 4-1
1908 World Series Detroit Tigers Won, 4-1
1907 World Series Detroit Tigers Won, 4-0
1906 World Series Chicago White Sox Lost, 4-2

That is an awful lot of futility and times not even making the playoffs. I tried to explain to my wife why clinching the division was a big deal and that table solidified it for me. As I listed to Pat and Ron last night, they gave a shoutout to a Cub fan having his 100th birthday and everything in me hoped so hard that he would live to see it happen this year. I really believe it is going to happen and I want that guy to see it.

I was bummed to not see a celebration on the field last night. I know the Cubs will “celebrate” with the fans this afternoon, but it’s not the same. One of my favorite moments as a fan is watching the 1989 team, the first year I watched baseball as an 11 year old, clinch the division. I thought it just happened every year. Not so much.

Now we wait for the next couple weeks and stay healthy. Personally, I’m pulling for a three way tie for the wild card spot so we can have those teams burn the crap out of their rotation.

 

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Yesterday’s News – The Clinch Will Have to Wait

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Since last post-season, I’ve had an ongoing discussion on Twitter with a Cardinals fan that liked to debate with me. We even went as far as to make a wager. I bet him that the Cubs would win the division by 15+ games. As things have gotten closer to the end of the season, I find him to be more irritating. As his team struggles and finds them on the outside looking in at the postseason, he doesn’t seem as cordial to speak to and you can tell that he’s irritated that it’s the Cubs that are winning. It is what it is, and I hope enjoys watching the playoffs and having no team to cheer for.

  • ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Cubs 2 @ Cardinals 4 (Box Score / Condensed Game– I sat down to watch this one, but then I remembered that it was Jason Hammel pitching and I decided to half pay attention and instead read a book. I made the right decision. It was fun to watch early and see Dexter Fowler hit a leadoff home run. I tweeted out that he’s done that 21 times in his career and seven of those have come this season. That amazes me. He is a free agent at the end of the year and I used to be worried about the Cubs offering him a qualifying offer in order to get draft pick compensation if he leaves to free agency for fear that he would accept it, but now I’m not worried. He’s going to get paid this off-season by someone. I’m not sure who, but someone.I don’t like September rules for baseball. Because the Cardinals are still fighting for a playoff spot, Mike Matheny went to the bullpen early after Jaime Garcia did not have it together to start the game. Because of the expanded rosters, he could make that move without fear that he would burn his pen. Why have the time of the year that is most crucial, with playoff races going full force, be one in which teams start the game with different rules than they have played the whole season with? You have teams playing with different amounts of players. It’s absurd and I’d like to see it altered in this upcoming CBA negotiations.
  • THOUGHTS ON AN UMP SHOW – Sherm took the posting duties yesterday, but I wanted to weigh in on my thoughts from the Joe Maddon ejection. If you missed it, some of the Cubs players went out to talk with Kyle Hendricks on the mound after he had lost the no hitter in an effort to “calm” him down, but also to stall a little for Aroldis Chapman. While it’s not illegal, I see both sides to it. Ultimately, Joe West tossed Maddon. If it was any other umpire, I wouldn’t mention it, but West is a notorious ump show offender and he routinely makes it all about him. There was no reason the whole thing should have even taken place. If you missed it, here is the video:
  • RAISE THE BANNER – The Eugene Emeralds won the Northwest League championship last night. Mad props go out to those guys. They have had a great season all year and we crushing people all year long. This was the first time in 41 years that they have won the title. It’s the Cubs turn next.
  • SO LONG TO A MEMBER OF THE FRONT OFFICE? – The Cubs have given the Twins permission to interview Jason McLeod. I don’t know if he will leave, but you know it has to happen sometime. My biggest fear is that Theo and Jed are still not signed for next season. In the back of my mind, there is a slight amount of panic over that.
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