White Sox

5 Questions with...Tribune's David Haugh

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5 Questions with...Tribune's David Haugh

Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

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 weekly 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 guestone of the top sports columnists in the city whose passion for Chicago sports and no-holds-barred opinions have made him a must read in the Chicago Tribunehes a mainstay panelist on Comcast SportsNets Chicago Tribune Live whos still waiting for the Jay Cutler era to beginhere are 5 Questions withDAVID HAUGH!

BIO: David Haugh came to the Chicago Tribune in February 2003 after spending 10 years as sports columnist at the South Bend Tribune. David spent his first two years in Chicago as the Bears beat writer before branching off into an enterprise role and then back as the Bears columnist from 2006-08. Before the 2009 season, Haugh became the Tribunes 17th In the Wake of the News, columnist. He grew up in North Judson, Ind., a one-stoplight town barely bigger than the fictional Hickory in Hoosiers. But Haugh played football, not hoops, in college at Ball State University where he was an All-Mid-American Conference safety. After receiving his Masters degree at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, Haugh took his first job at the South Bend Tribune where he was when the Chicago Tribune came calling. He and his wife, Allison, have a son, Blair and two dogs.

1) CSNChicago.com: David, its been an interesting 2010 baseball season on both sides of town so far. The White Sox JuneJuly surge surprised many fans with their unbelievable 25-5 run, while the Cubs have had a rough one to say the least, which even includes manager Lou Piniella calling it a career after the season. With the July 31 trade deadline now past us, give us a grade for both teams on the moves they made and how those moves will affect them in the short and long term.

Haugh: The Cubs flunked 2010 overall, so the Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot deal wasnt enough to change that. I get that the Cubs wanted something for Lilly, but trying to re-sign him for a two-year deal to give the 2011 staff an ace would have been a better strategy. Dont talk to me about Lilly re-signing as a free-agent; that sounds like Cubbie fantasy. Theriots future may have been sealed after he took the Cubs to arbitration last spring. Blake DeWitt is a nice player, but not sure that warrants a celebration. A 135 million payroll resulting in a fifth-place team, so far, makes the Cubs one of the National Leagues biggest disappointments.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for a grade, the Sox came in with a solid B-plus in the Daniel Hudson for Edwin Jackson deal. Jackson represents an upgrade with experience down the stretch and Don Coopers track record makes me think he can help Jackson regain the form that helped him win 27 games the past two years. Hudson will be a good starter for years, but the Sox are in a pennant race for which Jackson is better-suited. And, no, Im not going to whine about missing out on Adam Dunn or Prince Fielder. I like the way the Sox play according to Ozzies aggressive style.

2) CSNChicago.com: Speaking of changes, the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks had to make some very difficult decisions this off-season by letting some key players leave due to the NHLs hard salary cap. However, the core of this team is still there and they should hopefully pick up right where they left off. What are your thoughts on the moves they made and do you think this re-tooled roster can bring the city another championship?

Haugh: I didnt like it at first when they fired Denis Savard in 2008. I wasnt sold on letting Martin Havlat go in 2009. I wondered about elevating Stan Bowman to GM that summer too. So skepticism is natural, but the Hawks have proven in the past two years they deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to personnel decisions. After having spent an hour hearing Stan Bowman detail all the various factors out of his control that forced his hand due to the salary cap, I think I have a better understanding and appreciation what he did. The core remains in tact with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, among others, and the new players whose names we dont know how to spell yet may one day make us wonder who Ben Eager or Brent Sopel were. I think the Hawks will miss Byfuglien more than any of the nine players that left, and wish they could have found a way to keep him. But Im not exactly sure how theyd have done that or who else could have gone. Admittedly, my first reactions to many of these moves were emotional and knee-jerk I didnt like them. After a little time and examination, its a little easier to see. I think they still will contend with the best teams in the Western Conference, depending on health.

3) CSNChicago.com: Its hard to believe the Bears regular season starts up in just a few weeks. From what youve witnessed so far in training camp, do you like what youve seen from an offensive standpoint under new offensive coordinator Mike Martz and do you think the mere presence of Martz will have a positive performance impact for Jay Cutler this season?

Haugh: Cutler cant be worse than he was his first season in Chicago.right? I expect his efficiency to improve, his numbers to impress and his comfort level to increase. Hes still in my book a top 15 quarterback in the NFL, with the raw ability to slide into the top 10. The talent needs harnessing and perhaps Martz can do that. But the offensive line must protect Cutler, and thats something I am less certain about this season. Under pressure, how will Cutler react? If the line can improve the key to this season then Cutler will flourish and Matt Forte will resemble the guy we saw in 2009. Fortes burst and quickness in training camp has been one of the most positive developments. I also believe the wide receivers are better, as a group, than what many critics think. The key starts with the five guys up front.

4) CSNChicago.com: Name your favorite sports book (fiction and non-fiction) youve ever read and tell us why youre such a big fan of each one.

Haugh: The best sports fiction book I have ever read, without question, was North Dallas Forty, by Pete Gent. It was based on Gents experiences as a Dallas Cowboy and later made into a movie, but the book did a tremendous, vivid job of story-telling and was written in a way that grabbed the attention of any aspiring writer which I was when I read it as a teen-ager.

As for non-fiction, I think the books that have the biggest impact on writers are ones they read when theyre young. Im not young anymore and nothing ever topped The Bronx Zoo, by Peter Golenbock as far as a sports non-fiction book for me. It was a behind-the-scenes look at the 1978 Yankees World Series team and I remember sneaking it into my bedroom because I wasnt yet a teen-ager and knew my parents probably didnt appreciate me reading a book they thought was my older brothers. But the reporting, the humor, the storytelling, the description was really outstanding and the book probably was one of the first things I remember sparking my interest in sports writing.

5) CSNChicago.com: Its been about a year since you were given the prestigious In the Wake of the News sports column in the Tribune, following in the footsteps of a number of journalistic giants including Ring Lardner, David Condon, Bob Verdi, Bernie Lincicome and Mike Downey among others. What did that honor mean to you personally and, a follow-up question, how often do you directly respond to e-mails and letters from readers that are absolutely livid about something you wrote?

Haugh: The day I left the South Bend Tribune after a decade of working at a newspaper I really loved, a good friend gave me Ring Lardners biography. Lardner also began his career at the South Bend Tribune and eventually worked his way to do the same job Im doing today. Thats still very hard for me to comprehend so I dont think about it that much. I only know of David Condon what Ive read in the archives and his prose has withstood the test of time. I used to walk across the Ball State campus on Mondays just to go to the one spot in Muncie I knew got the Chicago Tribune just to read what Bernie Lincicome and Bob Verdi wrote after Bears games. Working six years with Mike Downey, one of the most generous, thoughtful guys I know who wrote with an even better sense of humor, was one of my highlights in Chicago. Thats a long way of saying that I am very familiar with the guys you mentioned who held this role, and the ones you didnt, and consider it a true privilege to represent the Chicago Tribune. Every day I feel responsibility to meet a standard set by writers whose work and talent I always have respected and admired. Its motivation. Theres not a single day that passes when I take this job for granted. Since I was old enough to set goals, this is the job I always wanted. Its what I wanted to be when I grew up. So I guess contrary to some of the e-mail I receive, Im all grown up now.

Nice segue, huh?

I respond to most e-mail. I thank the readers, viewers or listeners who have kind things to say and the ones who disagree or criticize, if they do it in a professional, civil way, Ill respond to them too. The essence of sports -- and sports journalism -- is rigorous debate. I respect peoples right to disagree with me as much as I respect my right to express my opinion in print or on the air. Its when the tenor of the response changes that I dismiss or ignore feedback. The Internet has empowered many people who use the Send, button or public forums as means to release whatever pent-up frustration may be building in their troubled lives. I get it. Those letters are pretty transparent and arent worth the time. Readers can offer helpful story ideas and feedback and I have built some nice rapports with those folks who do. The negative stuff goes with the territory and you learn pretty quickly how to handle it and if you dont, this is the wrong business for you.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything you want to promote David? Lets hear about it

Haugh: I have a good time filling in on ESPN1000 whenever needed and enjoy the regular Tuesday and Friday hits with "The Afternoon Saloon," at 3:25pm. And Chicago Tribune Live is as spirited as ever with David Kaplan as host because, let's face it, it's fun to see someone on TV be that wrong that often. As far as charities, my wife and I belong to As Good as Gold (Golden Retriever rescue) and support the Humane Society and the Huntington's Disease Society of America.

Haugh LINKS:

Haughs In the Wake of the News Tribune sports columns

Haugh on Facebook

Haugh on Twitter

The youngest coach in baseball manages some of the White Sox top minor leaguers

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MiLB.com

The youngest coach in baseball manages some of the White Sox top minor leaguers

Most minor league managers have graying sideburns, wrinkled skin and a birth date well before 1980.

They’ve been through the battles of baseball and life, placed in rural dugouts across the country to teach the younger generation how to play the game.

But in a town outside Charlotte, North Carolina, the White Sox are bucking this trend with a fresh-faced millennial who one day could be sitting in a major league manager’s office with his name on it.

Justin Jirschele is the manager of the Kannapolis Intimidators, the White Sox Class-A affiliate.  At 27 years old, he is the youngest manager in all of professional baseball.  

Jirschele (pronounced JIRSH-ah-lee) goes by “Jirsh” to those who know him and who play for him, which last season included top prospects like Jake Burger, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease.

When Jirschele played the game, he was a guy every team would have wanted.

Not for his speed: He never stole more than four bases in a season during his minor league career. Not for his power: He didn't hit a single home run in 622 career at-bats.

But because he treated every game like it could be his last.

“I never took a play off. I never took an at-bat off,” he said.

This was his mindset even in his very last minor league at-bat for the Birmingham Barons in 2015.

“I remember walking up and I said out loud to myself, ‘This is it. Do something.’ I’m getting the chills right now thinking about it.”

Jirschele knew his playing days were over. So did the White Sox. They signed him out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. Nobody else wanted him. Over the next four seasons, he played for five White Sox minor league teams. The results on the field were overwhelmingly average.

Then one day, Nick Capra, then the White Sox Director of Player Development, came to Jirschele with an idea and an offer that would change his life.

“He asked, ‘Are you ready to start coaching yet?’ Jirschele recalled. ‘And I looked at him and went, ‘What do you mean?’”

The White Sox offered Jirschele a job to be the hitting coach for the Grand Falls Voyagers, the team’s rookie league affiliate.

“I was in shock. It was the end of May, the season was still young. I was at three different levels. I started at Winston-Salem, went to Charlotte and came back to Birmingham. It was a whirlwind. When he first said it, my first feeling was excitement. That kind of told me right there that it was the right time to do it.”

So Jirschele took the job.

He was 25 years old.

Then he went out and took that final minor league at-bat for Birmingham, which turned out to be a fitting conclusion to his playing career.  

“I think it was the second pitch, right down the middle and I was tardy, hit it off my fist, a dribbler to the shortstop and I bet you I ran as hard as I had in my entire life. It wasn’t that I was fast, but I was running as hard as I possibly could to first and I don’t think there even was a throw I hit it so soft, perfectly past the pitcher.  I just said to myself, that’s it right there.”

An infield dribbler for a base hit to close his playing career.

Coaching made sense for Jirschele. His father, Mike, is the third base coach for the Kansas City Royals. He won a World Series in 2015. His older brother, Jeremy, is the head baseball coach back at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Pretty soon, the younger Jirschele would be leading a team of his own.  

In 2017, the White Sox gave him the managerial job with Kannapolis. Sure, some of his players would be around the same age, but the White Sox looked past the birth date on his driver’s license and recognized a person who was wise beyond his years.

“It was identified early on that he has the leadership qualities we look for in a manager regardless of his age,” said Chris Getz, White Sox Director of Player Development. “He has good baseball knowledge, good communication skills, a willingness to learn and adapt, and carries out a consistent message. We feel lucky to have him and think he has a bright future ahead.”

Although the ages of the Intimidators players ranged from 19 to 25 years old, it didn’t matter that their manager was slighty older than them.

“Never once had an issue with the age thing,” Jirschele said about his players. “I think from Day 1 when I showed them the respect like I’m not going to be the guy that’s two years older than you hammering things down your throat, I’m going to have that respect and you’re going to show it back.”  

While the White Sox prospects spent the season developing their playing skills, Jirschele was honing his managing skills, which go beyond what happens on the field. A big part of the job is handling issues that arise off of it.  

“It’s a long grind season and there are so many things that are going to come up non-baseball related to where you might be in that clubhouse and you might feel alone,” Jirschele explained. “You might feel like you’re on an island all by yourself even if you’ve got three best friends that are going to stand up in your wedding one day, you might not feel comfortable talking to those guys about that.  Come on in, we’ll talk about it at 12:30 in the afternoon or 7:30 at night or midnight. I tell the guys you’ve got my phone number.  Call or text no matter what time if you need to talk.”

Following his thirst for managing knowledge, Jirschele often reaches out to his dad for late-night phone calls, rehashing the game that night. He’ll even text an opposing manager, like Patrick Anderson, a friend who has managed the Hagerstown Suns, the Nationals Class-A affiliate for the last four seasons.

“He’s a guy I could pick his brain about things," he said. "Once the series was over I’d send him a text and ask, ‘Why did you do this?’ At the end of the day we’re all in it together and first and foremost it’s all for these players and making them better each and every day and doing whatever we can to get them to the top. But at the same time we’re developing ourselves as well along the way.

“I’m sure I annoy a lot of people of asking questions but that’s how you learn. I was brought up that way.”

Jirschele’s impressions of some White Sox top prospects he managed last season:

Alec Hansen: “When he takes the ball, you feel like you have one of the best chances in the country to get a win that night in minor league baseball.  His stuff is just off the charts.”

Dane Dunning: “It would be the 8th inning, he wanted that complete game and he wouldn’t be too pleased with me coming out there to take him out, but you want that.  You want that out of a competitor on the mound every 5 days. He’s definitely a guy you want in the foxhole with you, no doubt.”

Micker Adolfo: “He has a special, special arm.  I don’t know if there’s a better one right now.”

Jake Burger: “Looking forward, the ceiling is unbelievably high for him. 100 percent no doubt in my mind, someday he will be a captain in the big leagues.”

Like many of his players, Jirschele left an impression with the White Sox in his first season as manager. He helped lead the Intimidators to their first playoff berth since 2009 and their first trip to the South Atlantic League championship since 2005.

Earlier this month, the White Sox named him their Minor League Coach of the Year.

“First and foremost, it means we had good players this year. It’s those guys between the lines,” he said. “As coaches, we can’t go out there and pitch. We were fortunate to have a great group of guys. We came up a little short (winning the championship), but we got there and it was fun.”

Once upon a time, Jirschele’s dream was to make it to the majors. That dream still exists.  Just now instead of having his own baseball card, he wants to get to the big leagues holding a lineup card.

“I think I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a goal, but at the same time I don’t worry about it. I know I’m 27 years old," he said. "I’m just fortunate to have the job I do right now with the White Sox. I go out and do my job every single day and the rest will just take care of itself.”

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast Tracey Myers and Jamal Mayers join Pat Boyle to discuss the teams wins over the Rangers and Penguins.  Have they figured some things out and what is the identity of this team after 20 games?

Jammer weighs in on Artem Anisimov’s big week and are there enough Hawks committed to net front presence?  They also discuss the surging play of the blue liners and did the Hawks fail to send a message to Evgeni Malkin, after he kneed Corey Crawford in the head?