Saturday, August 5, 2017

Let us look back to the Harbaugh years in San Francisco and we see the beginning of the down fall of Colin Kaepernick. There were good years and bad years with the 'niners including a Superbowl appearance. But there are those who wondered whether Kaepernick was as good as his hype and that started long before Harbaugh left. Fast forward to today and he remains unsigned most believe because of his political stance. A lot of fans say how can you take the attitude of not saluting the flag of the country that made you rich beyond your wildest dreams?

Enter Jay Cutler. He is a white Quarterback who also does not have a job this season. He was injury prone and also prone to mishandle snaps and throwing the ball to the other team. Jay made no statements regarding race relations in this country but he has another thing in common with Kaepernick: they were both on losing teams the last few seasons.

Sports is a what have you done for me lately thing. Regardless of what sport you play. If 'Kap" had gone 10-6 last year and maybe made the playoffs. Had some of the numbers he had when Harbaugh was still head coach then he would have a job right now. He wasn't the only one protesting but he is the most prominent athlete doing so and the lack of  a job, even a backup job shines the light on him even brighter. One thing about journalism is they tend to stick to one side of a story and beat it into the ground. It is like law enforcement when they get on a trail and they don't let go even if they convict the wrong man. Colin Kaepernick was overrated when he was winning and flexing for the camera after every touchdown he scored. I'm not a fan of show boating because the fall is painful and inevitable.

People in Chicago got tired of Jay's brooding and the dropped snaps and the interceptions. The man is talented but probably more so in his own head. He is an NFL level Quarterback but at this point no better than Kaepernick. Considering both teams are coming off of losing seasons which the 3-13 Bears beat the 4-12 Forty Niners it's time to put the whole saga to rest. Colin does deserve a chance to prove himself. There are teams who could use a good back up. And who knows "Kap" could work his way into a starting job.
I hate to bring up Michael Vick though he served his time for his crime and did deserve a second chance. Kaepernick has done nothing criminal. He just picked the wrong time to pick up a cause. Many would say there is no good time when people of color are being slaughtered by the police. No one can contradict that when Philando Castile is shot by a police officer and people are able to watch him die live on social media after telling the officer he had a gun and made no move to use it. On top of that the officer as in too many other cases is acquitted. How do you blame a man for protesting that or a man choked to death over the sale of a few illegal cigarettes in New York?

You have players coming into the NFL as known women abusers drafted in the first round saying they are repentant over their behavior and at times repeat such behavior. Violent men who know better but teams want to win so they have these men on their teams. Even the Cubs are not without blame with the troubles Aroldis Champan had before coming to Chicago but he's got a nice fat contract back in New York and a World Series ring  to go with it. No one is talking about them while Ray Rice sits because no one will take him on. Strangely enough he might have more support than Kaepernick at this point. Once again he has committed no crime. The shame of it is the beleaguered Commissioner has not come out and said a word to defend Colin or shame them he knows is doing this young man wrong is a reason he should be removed from his post considering there hasn't been much hes done right in his tenure.

Americans have a reputation for speaking out when they are not made whole. When their legislature let them down.When something important as life is taken away in the worst ways. That a man would use his right to protest when any American is being hurt by those who should serve and protect would get punished for doing so by not being allowed to earn a living with what he is good at is wholly UN-American.

If this is truly the reason for keeping a man from making a living it is shameful and the owners who are perpetrating this injustice should be regarded in the same way as former L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Until one of them comes out and says so this will go on unresolved through the season. And every time a Quarterback is injured and Kaepernick's name isn't mentioned as a possible replacement it says a lot about this country and its regard for the lives of their fellow Americans. This isn't a platform to get all high and mighty about the police treatment of people of color. We're talking two different things. But it still has to be said we wouldn't be having this conversation if The Forty Niners were a winning team the last couple of years.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A hot start second half usual like since Maddon took the helm. The Cubs have beaten the teams they should have. No matter that their competition is around .500 and falling. Momentum is a rush. Late inning add on is this team’s M.O. witnessed by the Jason Heyward home run to beat Milwaukee. This is different from last year’s team which struggled to drive in runners in scoring position.
I said it all along the Brewers were never trying to win the division. It just took this long for the Cubs to finally get their heads together. So far second half pitching is on point. The bull pen is as leaky as any Cubs potential playoff team like the 2003 Cubs. Maybe the 2007 and 2008 Cubs under Lou Piniella.
With the team doing as well as they are I still wouldn’t bet against the Dodgers in a possible NLCS matchup. The Cubs have been active, adding Quintana to the staring staff and trading for a second catcher and left handed help in the bull pen. All of these moves are warranted for the future and a dramatic playoff run. With barely five games separating the teams in the division (sans the Cincinnati Reds) it is still anyone’s to win. The National League wild card is most likely coming out of the National League West.
While in Theo we trust we know dynasty’s come and go. I’d be selling the store to go back to back. A reliever or two can still be had after the trade deadline. Not worth trading away the future to upgrade what may still be a leaky bullpen. Another starting pitcher would’ve been my focus even if it means having a 6 man rotation going forward. A hunger games type of thing to see who makes the post season roster.
This is not a team that is used to losing which the reason for doing what they are. But they seem to be building for a run at the 2017 title. They’ve got their work cut out for them considering their just 8 eight games over .500 and is not running away with things like the other division leaders. Once the Cubs reach 10 and 20 games over .500 one can tell how much they’ve turned things around and how much of a run the Cubs have in them and how hard are they going to have to work to show that the World Series once again goes through Chicago.
No one can deny a team when they get hot at the right time going into the playoffs which is why I suggest sending Ian Happ back to the minors until the September call up so he can get solid playing time rather than sitting on the bench or throw him in a deal for a pitcher where some expect a number of our current staff to walk at the end of the season. There should be an acceleration on the development of pitching in the minors. It’s time to see one or two of them grace the mound as soon as possible. If even they start in the bullpen.
One problem with trading away your future stars is that other teams get better fast. Once again there will be talk about the Cub factor as one way or the other a former Cub prospect is gracing a baseball roster somewhere and be the one to strike a big blow for their club. The sky is the limit with this team. Until the last pitch has been thrown and the final score announced, the Cubs are the defending World Series Champions.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

This is a letter to the people of Wrigleyville, Chicago, Illinois: The sky isn’t falling. We are not looking at another one hundred plus years. We are not a championship starved city. But we are quick to forget . It takes a lot of luck, time and circumstance to beat out thirty plus clubs. This isn’t the time to go back into lovable loser mode.
Good pitching is hard to come by and even harder to cultivate. The Cubs have all the position stars in the world but there is no one raving about pitchers in the cubs minor leagues that would ready to be called up to the big league club. Meantime the current rotation is having a problem throwing pitches with their World Series rings on. Does the trade for Jose Quintana change any of this?
Consider the boys are tired. Maybe even sick of baseball a little bit. I know what it is like to panic about your team but this is not the time. Perhaps I’ve slipped back my World Series coma. I’m at peace with the boys as they are. Let’s cease with the psychobabble and deal with the reality of things the way they are. The wild card isn’t an option with the NL West as good as they are. The answer is to win the division as Milwaukee isn’t trying to win it. Trades need to be made to upgrade pitching. The starting rotation and the bullpen. Putting Kyle Schwarber behind the plate would be a good idea as well. John Jay would solve all of our lead off problems unless you want to trade for Curtis Granderson to at least address the problem of veteran leadership David Ross seemed to bring to the young group these last few years. Hendricks certainly cannot carry the load coming off of the DL as it is. The bullpen is worse than leaky even when the team has the lead.
Again the sky isn’t falling. There is no need for another time machine for some great future another century from now. The Chicago Cubs are still the Defending World Series Champion until 2018 when they are either repeat champs or another champion has been crowned. Think for a second fans: when was the last time we talked about this team as perennial? There have been many perennial s in my lifetime in all sports. Some of them in Chicago.
Teams rise and fall. Looking for the next dynasty. The rest of us look for players who enjoy playing for our clubs and contributing to our cities. Wrigley Field being a neighborhood park and the Cubs being the tenant of such makes for these opportunities.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — A Cubs fan approached Joe Maddon as he posed for photos during an appearance Friday night at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center.
“You almost killed me when you put Chapman in the game,” the fan said, referring to the closer’s entrance in the seventh inning of Game 6 of the World Series with the Cubs leading, 7-2.
Without missing a beat, Maddon replied, “I promise you, you’re happy I did.”
Another fan told Maddon, “You guys killed us. It was so scary.”
Again, Maddon didn’t flinch.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to happen,” he said.
Later, during the formal part of the program, I sat down with Maddon and conducted a lengthy question-and-answer session for those attending the event.
Maddon answered every question I had about his strategic choices in Games 6 and 7, choices that remain a topic of conversation even in the afterglow of the Cubs’ first World Series triumph since 1908.
Audience members also asked questions, and Maddon’s answers to two of them provided greater insight into his thinking; I included them in this story.
We started with a softball, then got into the good stuff.
Q: What have the last few weeks been like since winning the World Series?
A: Pretty simple, actually. I’ve been hiding.
First of all, the parade. You all saw the parade. OK, we’re going to have a parade. Of course, that was necessary. They wanted to do it on Monday. We said, “No, no, no, it’s got to be Friday. We’ve got to get it out of town.”
They set it up on Friday — two days after we won. You go out to Wrigley, and our buses are lined up. Then the buses pull out, and they make that turn off of Clark onto Addison, and it was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I’ve never seen so many people in my life.
We go down Addison, then get on Lake Shore to head downtown and eventually end up in Grant Park. I’m up on stage talking and out on the horizon there were people. I called it, “Cub-stock 2016.” I really thought before I got up there that that’s what Richie Havens saw at Woodstock back in the day. It was wall-to-wall people.
That was the first salvo. That’s when it hit you that these people are exactly what they had said. They were thirsty for this moment. You go down Michigan, and even the perpendicular streets, Chestnut or whatever, people were lined up way back on those streets just to catch a quick glance.
It began with that. We didn’t go out in Chicago after that. We just stayed in our apartment. President Obama gave me a phone call, talked about wanting us to go the White House. We (Maddon and his wife Jaye) got in our RV, drove all the way back to Tampa. We’ve been hiding out.
We went to the Lafayette-Lehigh football game about 10 days ago (Maddon is a 1976 graduate of Lafayette). We had a great time up there. That was pretty much our first exposure to people responding to the championship. And now we’re here. This is actually the second event we’ve done since the end of the season.
We’ve been hiding a bit. It was a pretty crazy year. We had very little down time. I don’t need to be fed by going to talk shows or giving speeches. I prefer trying to re-gather my momentum. This is just one year. For me, for us, it’s about next year and the years after that. I know if I take care of myself this offseason I’ll have a much better chance of doing a better job next year.
Q: Let’s talk about Games 6 and 7. Let’s start with Chapman, Game 6, 7-2 lead, seventh inning. Why did you bring him in?
A: They had two guys on and I did not like who was coming up to hit. I just wanted to make sure that we got through that with that same kind of lead. If you don’t – if I had brought someone else in and the lead diminished at all — I thought the number of pitches he would have had to throw later in the game would have been even more impactful against him.
There was no Game 8. There was no Game 7 at that point. It’s different, just a different situation compared to anything you would do in the regular season. We couldn’t afford to lose any more games.
And in the bullpen, some of our guys had been hurt at the end of the year, Stropey (Pedro Strop) with the bad knee and (Hector) Rondon with a bad triceps. Of course, there was C.J. (Edwards) and (Mike) Montgomery to utilize also. But we could not lose any more games. I thought by keeping the game in tow right there, if we were to add on, I could get (Chapman) out on the backside, try to do a reverse kind of thing.
I thought the moment was right. It was a meaty part of their batting order. (No. 3 hitter Francisco) Lindor hit the groundball to first base (to end the inning). And the next inning, I think the guy who really bothered me was (Jose) Ramirez. Ramirez, to me, is a really good player.
It was really a bad part of the batting order right there. I didn’t know and trust anybody else. I thought if we could at least hold serve there and move the needle in our favor that I would be more comfortable going with the other guys in the latter part of the game.
As it turned out, that’s how it’s played. But it was one of those moments, I thought to myself to tell ‘Bos’ (pitching coach Chris Bosio) to get somebody ready in case we were to score a couple of runs. All of a sudden, Rizz (Anthony Rizzo) hits the (two-out, two-run) homer (in the ninth) and we’re scrambling to get Stropey ready. It was one hitter too late for me.
But otherwise, honestly, I really believe, and I think everybody who is a Cubs fan should be very happy that I brought Aroldis in at that moment and not save him.
Q: That was a question I was going to ask, too. With a 9-2 lead in the ninth, what happened there? It was just a scramble? You guys just weren’t prepared?
A: It happened so quickly. If it was a five-point lead, I was still considering leaving him in the game right there … The negligent part there was not having someone warm up in case we did add on. We did. And then we got him out after four pitches.
Q: OK, you win Game 6. Now it’s Game 7. What was the pitching plan going in?
A: Hendricks to Jonny (Lester) to Aroldis. That was it. I didn’t want to use anybody but those three guys. That was it. I talked to everyone before the game. I told (catcher) David Ross actually the day before. I called him into the office and told David, “Listen, this is what I’m going to do tomorrow. I want you to be aware of it in advance. And I want you to be the guy who goes down and warms Jonny up in the bullpen and brings him right into the game.”
Kyle had kind of a tough third inning, kind of an awkward third inning (facing six hitters, allowing one run). I didn’t know where he was quite frankly in that game that night. Kyle was so valuable for us. But he’s the kind of guy, it goes very quickly. You have to be prepared. Again, there is no Game 8. It’s just a different set of circumstances.
If the game is played in May or June, you can let it fly a little bit more. If it gets away and you lose that game, that’s OK. But you can’t lose this game. Because he had a tough third, we started Jonny’s clock. I didn’t want to get it going that early, but we did. Then Kyle has a nice fourth, and we get into the fifth. I know that I can’t keep Lester on the shelf too much longer. Otherwise, we would lose his ability to pitch in that game.
When a guy is coming out of the bullpen, you just can’t keep warming him up, warming him up, warming him up and then expect him to be good out there. I talked to David and said, “How does he look?” David said, “He looks fabulous. He’s really sharp.” That was his comment to me.
I was looking for Kyle to get out of the fifth. He had Santana up (with two outs, none out). He gets him to two strikes and all of a sudden it’s ball four.
Q: Bad call . . . (Hendricks had appeared to strike out Santana with a well-placed pitch in the lower third of the strike zone, but plate umpire Sam Holbrook called the pitch a ball).
A: I heard about that. I didn’t know that from the side. But then here comes (Jason) Kipnis, which I did not like at all. All of a sudden, it can go from 5-1 to 5-3, which it eventually did do, anyway. But I wanted Lester on Kipnis. And I wanted Lindor (a switch-hitter) hitting right-handed. If you watch Lindor play, you would much prefer him hitting right-handed over left-handed.
So, why wait? There’s no reason to wait. Jonny is ready. He’s very sharp. Here comes Kipnis. He had already done so much against Jake Arrieta (double, two-run homer) the day before. So to me, it was just the right time to do it. He gets the dribbler in front of the plate — that was beautiful (Ross made a throwing error, advancing the runners to second and third). And the wild pitch was unbelievable. It hits David in the mask. There is nothing you can do about that.
But for me, it was all about timing. It all worked out really well – until the point when (Rajai) Davis hit the home run.
Q: Before the game, you had said at the press conference that Jonny was only coming in at the start of an inning. You reportedly had told Theo (Epstein), “Don’t worry about it, start of an inning.” Obviously, the game starts, things happen …
A: I said I didn’t want to bring him into a dirty inning. What happened was, we had a four-run lead and Santana was on first base. To me, that’s as clean as it gets. There is no threat for him to run. He’s not going to run right there. When Jonny came in, I said, “That guy does not even exist. Just work on the hitter.”
With two outs and him on first and a four-point lead, I thought there was no issue. I felt really comfortable about Jonny coming in.
Q: Chapman in the eighth. One on, two outs, 6-3 lead. (Brandon) Guyer hits the (RBI) double, Davis the home run, ties the game. When that ball left the yard, were you thinking, “Uh-oh?”
A: Yeah. Of course. Whenever you’re working a game as a manager, you always have these preconceived thoughts of how it’s going to work. When it doesn’t, it kind of blows up for a minute. You’re anticipating a positive result. I felt really good about it. Then all of a sudden it goes the other way.
The first thing I asked (bench coach) Davey Martinez was, “Who do we have coming up?” I had to focus on the next inning immediately. It’s definitely a shot to the chin, man. It staggers you a bit, no question. Anybody who says otherwise is not telling the truth.
It definitely is a blow. But you gather yourself as quickly as you can. For me, that was, “What are we doing next offensively?” It was awkward. It was unusual. It was one of those things you did not expect to see. But it happened. It just put us back a little bit.
I hate team meetings. I think it’s a regurgitation of the same bullcrap … But I had three meetings during the course of the season – a meeting before the season, a meeting after the All-Star break, a meeting before the first playoff game. Going into the first playoff game, the one thing I wanted them to understand and know was that something bad is going to happen. And when something bad happens, we have to keep our wits about us.
My experience has been that in playoff games, when you’re in the dugout, watching the other team, you can see it in their eyes when you’ve got ‘em. You can see it in their eyes. You can see how they look at the dirt, how they’re not focusing, how they’ve lost the energy. I didn’t want us to ever be that group. I wanted them to understand that. Before the playoffs began, I said, “We cannot be that group of people. You have to expect something bad is going to happen. And how we react to that is going to set us apart.”
We talked about all that. And eventually Jason Heyward calls a team meeting after the home run. I wasn’t even involved, which I absolutely love. Jason gets them together after that awful moment. I guess it was probably the most (important) 15-minute rain delay in the history of baseball.
(Crew chief) Joe West told me it shouldn’t be long. I’m thinking to myself, that’s fine. But you just see how it permitted us to regroup, not only individually, but as a group. To have an opportunity to have one of your guys call a meeting and re-focus them in that particular moment – that’s really unusual. It probably never happened, I would imagine.
That was the perfect storm, I guess.
Q: Chapman, in an underrated part of the game, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth. He ends up throwing 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7. Do you think he wore down?
A: Honestly, I don’t. In Game 5, he threw (42), then he had his day off. And then it was 20 in Game 6. We really tried to limit the number of pitches he threw prior to that.
At the end of the season, you remember we played it like spring training the last 15 days. He did not throw that much. We tried to keep him on an every-third-day schedule to throw. And even before that, I didn’t use him one-plus. I tried it early on, but it didn’t work out really well, so I got away from that, kept him at one inning, did a lot of 15-to-20 pitch gigs. And at the end he was on a really structured program.
In the playoffs, he wasn’t overwhelmed, either. We thought by the time we got to the end, that’s what he was there for, man. He was there to be that horse. He’d come in and have conversations all the time in my office. We’d talk through this before every game. What are you capable of? What can you do? What can you not do? The conversation was pretty much going on throughout the entire playoffs.
Q (from the audience): Why was Aroldis throwing fastballs to Rajai Davis?
A: Here’s part of that whole deal, too. The game started with Willson Contreras catching. One of my concerns with the whole setup was that once I brought David (Ross) in, Willie was out. Then when Aroldis came in, it was going to be David.
I like catching Willson with Aroldis. David Ross is fabulous. But I think a lot of it was the fact that David had not caught Aroldis as much as Willson had, or even Miggy. You saw when Aroldis went out to pitch the ninth inning (after Montero replaced Ross), he threw a lot more sliders that inning. It wasn’t because he wasn’t feeling his fastball. It was just a different philosophy with the catcher.
It’s just the way it works. When everything is going on, and everything is spinning very quickly, sometimes the pitcher is just going to go solely with what the catcher says and not shake him off to do something else. If Willy was catching, you would have seen more sliders right there.
Q (from the audience): Do you call Chapman’s pitches for him?
A: No. I’m just saying before the game began, we did talk a lot about throwing sliders and more breaking pitches, not just right there, but in general. I think he threw 14 or 15 straight fastballs with David back there in that moment. If he had just thrown one or two sliders, it’s different.
I go back to that two-week period when we had clinched and Aroldis was pitching every third day just to get ready for the playoffs, he threw tons of sliders really well, and effectively. You’re right. It’s pitch selection and location, not just pounding fastballs. A slider might have been a better pitch right there. But when you switch catchers up like that, that can be part of the issue.
Q: The Baez bunt. 3-2 pitch, one out, Heyward on third with the score tied in the ninth. What was your thinking there? (Baez struck out after fouling off the bunt attempt).
A: Javy strikes out over 80 percent of the time on a full count. He’s going to chase. (Bryan Shaw) could have thrown him anything. Jason Heyward is one of our best base-runners. If Javy puts that ball down anywhere … there were two things I thought he had a chance of doing. Making contact on a bunt and getting a ball he might actually take.
He normally swings on a full count. That’s just his M.O. The ball has to practically almost him for him not to swing. When he hit that home run off (Johnny) Cueto (in Game 1 of the Division Series), it was a full count. But for the most part when he gets to a full count, it’s not normally good. And Cleveland’s good at scouting. They know all this stuff. They’re very bright. And Javy is probably our best bunter in that situation.
Those were the reasons. I thought there was a better chance of him moving the baseball right there (with a bunt), as opposed to swing away.
(Baez actually struck out 18 times in 41 at-bats on 3-2 counts during the regular season, 43.9 percent. He had not struck out in his five previous postseason at-bats on 3-2, going 3-for-5 with the home run off Cueto).
Q: You mentioned the meeting with Heyward. When it was going on, were you aware of it?
A: Yes. All the guys were peeling off into the weight room. Davey said the guys were having a meeting. I said, “Good. Go for it.” They go down there, have their meeting. I go upstairs, I’m talking to (GM) Jed (Hoyer). The umpires had called, telling us how long it was going to take.
I’m up there, looking at my iPad, checking out the weather map. And that’s when I grabbed my dad’s hat. My dad passed away in 2002. He wore an Angels hat, the one with the big wing on it – I think it was the 1999 version. I have that hat with me everywhere I go. I took the hat out of my backpack, put it in the back of my pants. I had my hoodie on.
The rain delay permitted me to get my dad’s hat. I went back in the dugout, it was kind of a comforting, reassuring feeling knowing he was back there. I had my dad behind me there when Schwarber gets the knock (leading off the 10th), tags up, Zorilla (Ben Zobrist) with the ball down the line (for the go-ahead double). And who even talks about Miggy? (Miguel Montero). That was a big knock there by Miggy (to make it 8-6), a huge knock.
Q: None of us knows exactly what was said in the meeting, other than the players themselves.
A: I didn’t even know myself.
Q: Do you think they were upset with you?
A: I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
Q: Because of all that happened …
A: What happened was that Davis hit a home run. That’s all that happened. For me, it’s kind of interesting. Andrew Miller had (dominated) all the rest of the world, and we beat him up on that particular day.
It’s an easy narrative to say Aroldis was tired, and that’s why he got hit. He got hit because he threw a fastball down and in to Davis where he could get to it. If the fastball is located away or elevated at all, that play could not have happened.
It’s not unlike David (Ross) hitting a home run to dead center against Andrew Miller (in the sixth). It’s so unlikely that would happen also. It wasn’t an issue of velocity for Chapman. It was just where the pitch was thrown.
Q: Last question. Do you have a favorite memory from the whole experience?
A: Game 4 against the Giants (in the Division Series). I really believe if we don’t win that game, we don’t do what we did.
I thought Cueto had a really good chance of shutting us down back at Wrigley. Game 4, all the manipulations that permitted us to win the game, Javy’s knock, (Willson) Contreras’ knock, that’s what stands out to me as being the biggest part of the postseason. Beating San Francisco there in that game. If it goes to Game 5, we might not be celebrating.
That was it for me. I’m sitting in the dugout, all I could think about was Cueto the whole game. Cueto against us at home, we beat him 1-0 on a homer. But if you look at our numbers against him … it’s awful. We just don’t hit this guy. I know we had Jonny Lester to pitch, absolutely that’s cool. But coming back at home with Cueto pitching, I don’t know if we could have advanced.