Cubs

5 Questions with...Tribune's Dan Pompei

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5 Questions with...Tribune's Dan Pompei

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guestoften referred to as the nations top pro football writer, this guy has been a mainstay at the Chicago Tribune (not to mention his solid work in the National Football Post and insightful updates on WSCR AM 670 The Score), for over a quarter-century providing both Bears & NFL fans with his deep passion and insight for the gamedoes he think the Bears have a legit shot this year? Lets find outhere are 5 Questions withDAN POMPEI!

BIO: Dan Pompei has covered more than 500 National Football League games over a quarter of a century. He currently writes about the NFL and Bears for the Chicago Tribune. His opinions and analysis also can be heard on WSCR-AM. He previously authored the NFL Insider column for The Sporting News and worked for the Chicago Sun-Times. He is one of 44 members on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors board and also is one of nine members on the seniors committee. He has covered 25 Super Bowls and served as a pool reporter at five Super Bowls.

1) CSNChicago.com: Dan, the Bears are off to a flying start at 5-1 with many fans in the Chicago area becoming true believers that this could indeed be a very special NFL season. Outside of the fact that their schedule does get a little tougher as we move forward, do you think they have ALL the right tools in place to get to the NFC title game and -- more importantly -- make a return trip to the Super Bowl?

Pompei: The Bears are a pretty complete team. If they stay healthy, play defense the way they have played and make some improvements on offense and special teams, they can make it to the Super Bowl. They were a very good team last year and might have been a Super Bowl representative if they had stayed healthy and peaked at the right time. They are a better team this year with the additions of players such as Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Michael Bush and Shea McClellin. That isnt to say the Bears have nothing to worry about, however.

The offensive line still is suspect, though I think its headed in the right direction. Jay Cutler needs to prove he can avoid meltdowns in critical situations. They need to show they can beat the Packers. Ill be very interested to see how they stack up against some of the other elite opponents on their schedule like the Texans and 49ers, who they play back to back. There isnt a team in the league that has no potential weaknesses. At this point, you would have to say the Bears have as good a chance as any team in the NFC to make it to New Orleans.

2) CSNChicago.com: Jay Cutler has obviously been the primary target of fan (and even media) scrutiny with every move he makes both on and off the field since he arrived here in 09. In your opinion, do you feel that kind of pressure really does have an adverse effect on his (or any player for the matter) on-field performance?

Pompei: It depends on the individual. Some people are able to let criticism roll off their backs better than others. But nobody can completely tune it out. Cutler seems pretty impervious to what people say about him, and I dont think his performance is affected by it. The impression he gives is he has no concern about what anyone thinks about him. Thats usually not a bad thing, but in his case, he might benefit if he did care a little more about how he is perceived. He needs to understand the position he is in and what he represents as the quarterback of the Chicago Bears.

3) CSNChicago.com: As a father with children involved in youth football, what are your parental concerns on how youth leagues in general are handling the growing and troublesome problem of childhood concussions in the sport?

Pompei: Id be lying if I said I had no concerns. Its been a frequent topic of discussion between my wife and me. But what I tell her, and how I justify my son playing football is that I believe the game never has been safer than it is today. Helmet technology has advanced. Rules have changed so that many high risk collisions have been outlawed. And most important of all, how concussions are treated has changed. Research has shown that the most severe damage is done when a second concussion occurs before the first has healed. Thats why players are forced to sit out now after symptoms. That never was the case in the past. So this is not the same game that Dave Duerson or Andre Waters played. My hope is that 30 years from now, were not going to have anywhere near the number of former players battling the effects of old head injuries that we have today.

Back in the old days, nobody knew anything about brain science. No one was concerned about concussions. They were treated like scratches or bruises. Some of that ignorance still is out there. Brian Urlacher spoke for a lot of players recently when he said if he thought he had a concussion, he would try to conceal it so he could keep playing. His commitment and toughness is admirable in an old school way. But that mentality has to stop, and I think it is stopping with young players. I know I have told my son that if he feels any potential symptomsdizziness, fogginess, headache, ringing ears or nauseahe needs to come out of the game and be treated. Players of Urlachers generation never were told that when they were kids. Hopefully coaches get this now too. If I thought my son had a meathead for a coach who wouldnt treat concussion symptoms properly, I wouldnt allow him to play for him.

4) CSNChicago.com: The sports media world lost a giant recently with the passing of Chicago Tribune & Sports Writers on TV legend Bill Jauss. As someone who has known Jauss for so many years, what is your fondest personal memory of this brilliant mediapublic-savvy sports journalist?

Pompei: I only knew Bill as a competitor and never worked with him as a teammate. Back in the early 1980s, we both were covering college basketball. I was a kid on the beat and he already was an icon. I remember a couple of times I thought I had outhustled him and beat him on stories. When I read the paper the next day both times, I found out I not only didnt beat him, but he had better stories than I did. What I figured out is people really liked, respected and trusted Jauss because of who he was and how he did his business. He had a great ability to connect with people, and it was all natural. None of it was affected. Subsequently, a lot of people had his back. I remember thinking that one day, I hoped that people would think of me like they thought of him.

5) CSNChicago.com: Youve covered the game for many years now Dancovering thousands of practices, hundreds of games and interviewing countless players, coaches and front office execs. Tell us the one thing that you most love about your joband the one thing you just loathe to no end.

Pompei: First, I would tell you that it has been a privilege to be around the greatest game in the world for all these years. To be in my position truly has been a blessing. The thing that Ive enjoyed most and have taken the most pride in is being able to tell people things they dont know. Football is such a complicated game that there is no way someone can understand everything that happened just by observing from afar. Being in my position has enabled me to help readers peek behind the curtain and explain the whys and hows. Sometimes that involves why a game played out the way it did. Sometimes its about a coaching decision or philosophy. Sometimes that is explaining a front office move.

The other thing I have come to enjoy more and more as I have gotten older is story telling. I dont get to do it often enough, but I do enjoy the opportunity to dig into a subject and give an in-depth account of something. I had a chance to do this recently with a story about Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, a fascinating man.

The thing I dislike most about my job is the time away from my family--working weekends, holidays, and long hours. Sometimes, I know even when Im around, Im not really around mentally, if you know what I mean. The travel gets old.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything youd like to promote Dan? Tell usCSNChicago.com readers want to hear about it.

Pompei: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and it is a cause the NFL has supported. Readers can see for themselves at http:www.nfl.compink. Having lost my mother to the disease 15 years ago, its a special charity for me. I also hope people get behind the CHUCKSTRONG movement for leukemia research. Chuck Pagano, the new head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, was recently diagnosed with leukemia. Hes a special man. Anyone who wants to know more can go to http:www.colts.comfanzonechuckstrong.html.

Pompei LINKS:

Chicago TribuneDan Pompei section

Chicago TribuneDan Pompei Mail Bag

National Football PostDan Pompei section

Dan Pompei on Twitter

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.