Archive for the ‘General’ Category

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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Another Day, Another Win

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

ABOUT LAST NIGHT – REDS 2 @ CUBS 9 (BOX SCORE / CONDENSED GAME) – On bobblehead night for Cubs’ organist Gary Pressy, the Cubs beat the sad sack Cincinnati Reds 9 to 2 behind a very solid John Lackey. Lackey was the star, notching his 10th win this season. Winning at least 10 games is something that Lackey has done about a hundred times in his career. But there were other notables tonight too. So let’s do a quick run down.

Ben Zobrist was impressive at the plate. As Joe Maddon mentioned in his post-game comments on Tuesday, Zobrist right now is playing with “an organized strike zone” and is working the count and putting the ball in play. He reached base his first four times at bat tonight. Nice. On the other hand, he had a few wobbly moments defensively at second base. He botched a relay throw in the top of the first to miss doubling off a runner who had advanced too far on a fly out to Derrick Fowler in centerfield. In the middle innings, he let a ground ball scoot under his glove for a hit that should have been an out. In the late innings, he delivered a weak throw to Javy Baez, who was at shortstop tonight, making it impossible for Javy to throw to Anthony Rizzo to complete a likely double play. I have no doubt that Zobrist will be valuable in the post-season, but he may play more outfield than second base when the pressure is on.

It is not a mirage. Jason Heyward really is hitting the ball harder. He made consistently good contact tonight and was productive in his at bats.

You can say the same for Miguel Montero. He caught a nice game and hit the ball hard tonight. He had three RBIs. He is making a case to be on the post-season roster.

Though folks have been loathe to say it, Kris Bryant has been in a mini-slump recently. After a monster August, he was hitting under .200 in September. That is, until Tuesday night when he had three hits. Tonight, he started out as though Tuesday’s performance was just a tease. In his first three at bats tonight, he made poor swings at balls out of the strike zone with predictable results. But in the bottom of the 7th, he finally worked the count and crushed a 3 -1 fastball 411 feet to the back row of the left field bleachers driving in Dexter Fowler for the final two runs of the game. Bryant now has 38 home runs and 99 RBIs.

Dexter Fowler had a typical Dexter Fowler night. He finished with a homer and 3 runs scored.

Interestingly, Maddon used Hector Rondon, Mike Montgomery and Joe Smith to wrap up tonight. Each pitched well and none hurt his chances to make the post-season roster.

As for the aforementioned Gary Pressy bobblehead, apparently, it also plays some audio of baseball organ music. It seemed that JD kept fiddling with it during the game and we could hear the doll play its music off and on during the broadcast. You know what? It was better than having a celebrity in the booth.

Finally, if you are wondering what will happen if the Mets, Giants and Cardinals tie for the wildcard, then you should read Jason Stark’s piece posted earlier today on espn.com.

A three way tie has never happened before, but Stark dissects the scenario nicely.

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Yesterday’s News: Got Momentum?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

ABOUT LAST NIGHT – Reds 1 @ Cubs 6 (Box Score / Condensed Game) – I watched the game last night – but not with both eyes. I was working on some stuff, watching the game, listening to Thomm Brennnammannn and Chris Welch…you know, multi-tasking. (By the way, studies show that multi-tasking is a great way to do more things less effectively. If something matters? Do that. Only that. Productivity tip for the day. Brought to you by Sherm. Now back to your regularly scheduled program)

Brennaman and Welsh were really good — surprisingly so, in fact, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Brennaman as the Cub announcer. He referenced his time there, and how much he enjoyed working for the team. He was talking about Bryant wearing #17 and how great #17 was in his time there (Mark Grace) and then told the story about how Ryne Sandberg insisted on batting second. It’s where he wanted to bat and he refused to bat anyplace else in the order, even though Grace would have been the ideal 2 hitter and Sandberg, with the greater power was more suited for 3. This came during the conversation about how this Cub team will play anywhere and hit anywhere that Maddon wants them to…without question, complaint, or comment – and how THAT is what it takes to be a TEAM. Good commentary. Nothing about the Foo Fighters.

Other #17’s on the Cubs through the years: Joey Amalfitano, Don Zimmer, Felix Pie……(screeching halt. Never mind. It was fun while it lasted.)

What I liked best about the broadcast? They praised good play and criticized mistakes. Period. Honesty. When the pitcher (Peralta) walked Lester with two outs (prior to the Cubs jumping on him for 4 runs) Brennaman said “That can’t happen.” Welsh added “Price can’t be happy with that” and Brennaman said “I know I’m not.” Very refreshing to hear that everything isn’t about being a corporate shill. Good is good and bad is bad, and I believe that broadcasters have an obligation to tell it like it is and not just how they think it should be.

One other topic they discussed – and which is a good topic, was regarding momentum going into the post-season. They talked about how the NL wild card is a shootout, and whoever gets to the series with the Cubs will have been battle tested by the time they get there. (Remember the Marlins in 2003? I do.) Will the Cubs be ready? They talked about how that is Joe Maddon’s job right now – to make sure that everyone on the roster – whoever it is that will be on the post-season roster, is sharp when the time comes. There is no margin for error when that series starts. Good points – all points I’m sure the Cubs know and assume are also considering. This is why we KNOW that Heyward is on the post-season roster. Someone else would be “breaking in” right field, otherwise. I think the “straddogy” (Maddon strategy) is going to be to go heavy with pitching and light on position players because of the team versatility. I’m starting to think that Soler might not be on the NLDS roster, either. If we don’t see him get a lot of at-bats between now and then…I think he’s done for the season.

Oh, yes – they also played a ballgame last night. Cubs win. Cubs win. Lester again does his thing and in my opinion, has locked up the Cy Young unless he loses badly between now and the season’s end. The Reds are pretty bad, and did their best to prove it. In between the first pitch and last pitch, there were many hits and catches and other stuff. Not an exciting game other than David Ross’s first to home “sprint” on Lester’s second inning double. If you missed it, find it. Good stuff.

What does that little “x” next to the Cubs in the standings mean? (I know the answer…I just like hearing it!)

The real excitement in baseball is in the wild card races. The NL has a three way tie right now and the AL still has 6 teams with a shot (although 3 would be long-shots at this point.) The Cardinals are getting hot at the right time – something I never like to see, but they have 3 games left with the Cubs and it would be awesome to derail their playoff hopes. When I said I didn’t care who we played, I meant that, but I really would like to see St. Louis miss the playoffs altogether, strictly on principle. Whatever happens, these last two weeks of the season will be exciting for baseball fans in general…and oddly relaxing for Cub fans as we wait to see which team will show up in Chicago on October 7 to kick off the real post-season.

11 games to go. Enjoy them all…and let’s home our team finishes with some momentum, too!

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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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