Cubs

5 Questions with...Tribune's Phil Rosenthal

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5 Questions with...Tribune's Phil Rosenthal

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of Communications
CSNChicago.com ContributorWant to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the city's most popular personalities on the spot with everyone's favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled "5 Questions with..."Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, it's 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 week ... one of the most respected media writers in the nation whose columns and blogs for the Chicago Tribune are a must-read for anyone wanting to know the very latest in the continuously evolving media landscape ... he's a Chicago-area native, a devoted husband and father, plus, he's one of those guys who is usually the smartest person in the room ... here are "5 Questions with...PHIL ROSENTHAL!"BIO: Phil Rosenthal, the Chicago Tribune's media columnist, has been a working journalist since 17, when he talked his way into a regular freelance gig with the Waukegan News-Sun while still in high school.As he earned his journalism degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rosenthal covered sports, spot news and media for The Capital Times in Madison, Wis. He spent 11 years at the Los Angeles Daily News, first as a sports writer, then a television critic and ultimately as a columnist whose work was nationally distributed by the New York Times News Service. He returned to his hometown and joined the Chicago Sun-Times in 1996, serving as deputy sports editor, sports columnist and television critic. He moved to the Chicago Tribune in 2005.Highlights of his career include modeling swimsuits for Sports Illustrated supermodel Vendela, getting a manicure from Lorena Bobbitt, smoking cigars with Jack Paar and introducing his mother to Johnny Carson.Rosenthal is virtually certain no one actually reads biographies all the way through, and would congratulate you for making it this far.An award-winning journalist, he once saved the life of one of his three brothers and was kicked off his high school newspaper. He was an extra in the Oscar-winning movie "Ordinary People" and, although it appears he wound up on the cutting-room floor, he did get paid and fed and can claim to be just two degrees from Kevin Bacon. Rosenthal is married and has two young children, who don't yet read his column but recognize his picture in the paper. They are not yet embarrassed to be related to him.Rosenthal Field in north suburban Lake Bluff is named for Rosenthal's late father, a former youth baseball coach and elementary school board member, not him.Phil Rosenthal's media column appears Wednesday and Sunday in the Chicago Tribune, and as events warrant. His "Tower Ticker" blog provides media updates 247 at chicagotribune.comphil. Well, it's available 247. He does sleep, although not as much as he would like.
1) CSNChicago.com: Phil, with the ongoing expansion of the digital media world, especially with social media outlets, there has certainly been a big change in recent years on how consumers gather their information. When it comes to true local journalism mainstays such as the Tribune and Sun-Times in our town, do you feel that younger readers are still relying on these publications for their news and -- a follow-up question -- do you think that all major newspapers across the country will one day will band together and truly figure out a way to monetize their news and information on the Web?
Rosenthal: I don't know if banding together is the answer. I'm not even sure it's legal. But monetizing content is the great unsolved mystery for traditional media, and obviously the clock is running on that. My own sense is there are two kinds of news, regardless of whether we're talking print, digital or any other media platform, even those that may not exist yet. One kind of news is the sort everyone and anyone can provide and it will be fast and free or very cheap to the consumer as a result. This would be breaking news, press conferences and other public happenings. The other is proprietary, unique because of what it says or the way it's said. It gives the consumer a deeper, more nuanced understanding of what has happened andor what will happen, so people value it enough to pay a premium to get it or at the very least will come to it in consistently large numbers. That's easier described than produced, obviously. As for where people get their news, I think everyone relies on the Tribune and the Sun-Times for at least some of their local news, even if they never pick up a copy of either paper or visit their Web sites. That's because the two organizations play such a huge role in informing not only their readers, but other sources for local news in this market.

2) CSNChicago.com: With Oprah leaving broadcast television to start up her OWN network and a new talk show, not to mention Conan O'Brien heading to TBS later this year, do you think these are smart career decisions by these two media giants and do you think their following will remain at a high level with their move away from broadcast TV?Rosenthal: As you know, most cable channels not only get ad money, they get money for every single household they reach from the cable and satellite providers that carry them whether anyone actually watches or not. Obviously, a big audience or a resolutely loyal audience that would perhaps leave a provider if it were to drop a favorite channel can get more money per household out of that provider. That's part of the calculation in TBS signing Conan and Oprah partnering with Discovery Networks on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Not everyone has cable, so it's harder to get as big an audience. But they also don't need to reach as big an audience to be a financial success. Cable channels still reach enough viewers for them to remain part of a national conversation. For Conan, it means the freedom to do what he wants the way he wants, which should serve him well. As for Oprah, she will profit even from shows she has little to do with. And if any of those other shows break out as hits on OWN, there's always the option of moving them to broadcast TV later.
3) CSNChicago.com: You spent 11 years away from Chicago during your time in L.A. and covered the sports scene there for a while. Is it true what they say that no one really cares about sports in that city (especially being the No. 2 market without an NFL franchise)?Rosenthal: No. They do care about sports in L.A. A lot. First off, they've had enough success that they don't need to tolerate losing, and often don't. What they have that Chicago doesn't -- and often gets lost in discussions about L.A. sports -- is two major universities with major sports programs in USC and UCLA. Take football, for example. I looked this up. Both teams had off years last season, but on a single afternoon last September when they each played at home, UCLA drew almost 56,000 against San Diego State and USC drew more than 84,000 against San Jose State. And that night, the Dodgers drew more than 53,000 against the visiting Padres. So clearly there are plenty of sports fans and not everyone was at the beach or the mall. When it comes to the NFL, for a while when I lived there, the league had two teams in the market. I was a Rams beat writer for a season. But the Raiders returned to Oakland and the Rams went to St. Louis and now it's been 15 years without a team. I'm not sure it's missed that much at this point. Even in Chicago, most NFL fans watch games on TV, not in person. Plus, without a team in town, they have more and better viewing options. The weird thing there is that the early games all kick off at 10 a.m. That takes getting a bit of used to.
4) CSNChicago.com: When you came back to Chicago in the mid-90s, you covered the Bulls during the second three-peat run (1996-98). What "non-game" Bulls memory stands out to you most during that frenzied time period in our city?Rosenthal: I was just talking about this with somebody. One non-game memory that stands out is of walking along with Michael Jordan as he played in a celebrity golf tournament near Lake Tahoe on the day in 1996 he accepted a one-year, 25 million deal to stay with the Bulls. Outside the ropes there was this mob of people following him, as they always did. But here you also had people on nearby hotel balconies with binoculars. You had people anchoring their jet-skis on the lake, craning their necks. Dozens of kids in Jordan jerseys jockeyed for position in the crowd. One family I met said they drove four hours just to get a glimpse. He was playing in a threesome that day with the Denver Broncos' John Elway and Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux, who was the NHL's MVP at the time, and they might as well have been invisible. Nobody cared about them, just Michael. During that Bulls run, we all talked about how it was like covering a rock star. But it's all a little surreal looking back.
5) CSNChicago.com: As someone who handled TV critic duties for many years in both L.A. and Chicago, what would you say is the most "under-appreciated" show in TV history and why?Rosenthal: There are so many that immediately come to mind, but I'd have to go with ABC's "Police Squad." It was canceled in 1982 after only four of its six half-hour episodes aired and then went on to spawn three movies. The common belief as to why it failed is viewers didn't pay close enough attention to get or even notice the jokes. Isn't that the definition of "under-appreciated?" "The Richard Pryor Show" lasted just four episodes in 1977 because NBC didn't appreciate what Pryor and his staff wanted to say and do.A show I'm sure deserved to be a hit was 1995-99's "NewsRadio." NBC boss Warren Littlefield and I used to go round and round over whether the network was giving the show enough support. He kept renewing it despite the fact it didn't draw much of a crowd, but it didn't have the benefit of one of those hammock slots between Thursday-night hits that propped up shows such as "Caroline in the City," "Suddenly Susan," "Veronica's Closet" and "The Single Guy."
BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: You're a proud father with two kids ... what's the best parental advice you have for any "dads-to-be" out there?Rosenthal: When in doubt, ask your wife. Chances are, she knows. We're big believers in Dr. Marc Weissbluth's books on the importance of establishing good sleep habits for your kids. It's not always easy or convenient to follow the guidelines, but you would be stunned how effective they are. I mean, our kids never went through the terrible twos. Oh, and you might want to encourage your sons and daughters to become White Sox fans, even if you're not. It's easier to get tickets and there's a lot more for the kids to do at the ballpark.
Rosenthal LINKS: Chicago TribunePhil Rosenthal columnsChicago TribunePhil Rosenthal's "Tower Ticker" blogPhil Rosenthal on FacebookPhil Rosenthal on Twitter

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

The armchair psychology went like this: Force the Los Angeles Dodgers onto the plane, let them think about it during the long flight to the West Coast, get in their heads during Friday’s day off and feel all the momentum and pressure shift in this National League Championship Series.

At least that’s what the Cubs told themselves and the media, whether or not they actually believed it, playing the kind of mind games designed for lesser teams. From Theo Epstein and the top of baseball operations down, the Cubs had enough connections to the 2004 Boston Red Sox to hope they could become only the second team to overcome an 0-3 LCS deficit.

That dream officially ended at 10:15 p.m. on Thursday when Willson Contreras lined Kenley Jansen’s 93.3-mph cutter at backup shortstop Charlie Culberson, another symbol of Dodger Way game-planning and the overall depth to withstand the loss of All-Star Corey Seager as he recovered from a back injury. The mosh pit formed in the middle of Wrigley Field, where it got very quiet except for a few sections of Dodger fans cheering and Gary Pressy playing the organ.

The Cubs are no longer the defending World Series champs after an 11-1 loss that had no drama or suspense and felt more like a getaway day. There will be no Game 6 or Game 7 this weekend at Dodger Stadium.

“I only experienced winning,” said Albert Almora Jr., a rookie outfielder on last year’s forever team. “Jon Jay told me: ‘Look at the expressions on their face when they’re celebrating on your field and let that sink in and learn from that and build from that.’”

You believed Almora, a baseball gym rat, when he stood at his locker and said: “It hurts.” But when the clubhouse doors opened to the media roughly 30 minutes after the final out, you didn’t really feel any tension in the room, more like a collective exhale, a time to sit around and drink a few Presidente beers and realize that the Dodgers deserved to go to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

“They just flat-out beat us,” said Kris Bryant, who got the first hit off Clayton Kershaw, a garbage-time homer in the fourth inning when the Cubs were already down 9-0.

Bryant is everything you could ever want in a franchise player – diligent on the field, polished off the field, even more productive in many ways after his MVP campaign, someone who doesn’t even drink during clinch celebrations – but even he admitted he still felt the World Series hangover that bugged the Cubs.

“I was just looking back at last year,” Bryant said. “I didn’t get home until like November 10 last year with all the festivities after winning and stuff. I think that really caught up to some of us this year. So I don’t know, maybe the extra time to recoup, maybe train a little harder. I am getting older, so I got to watch that.”

The reporters chuckled along with Bryant in a room where the sound system played classic rock like Dire Straits and Tom Petty. The Cubs know they should be good again in 2018 – and for years after that – and didn’t exactly sound devastated.

To be honest, Wednesday’s thrilling Game 4 win felt like the Super Bowl for this team, Jake Arrieta getting a standing ovation and tipping his cap before signing his free-agent megadeal somewhere else, Wade Davis having the guts to finish off a 48-pitch, two-inning save and the Cubs feeling the adrenaline rush of staving off elimination for another night.

When Jon Lester saw the media gathering by his locker, he joked: “What? I didn’t do s---. Why the f--- do you want to talk to me?”

“Obviously, nobody likes to lose, but we’ve been in the NLCS for three years in a row,” said Lester, who raised the bar for expectations when he signed a $155 million contract with a last-place team after the 2014 season. “You know how special that is. I know everybody kind of goes back to the first half of the season and they like to nitpick. But we won the division, made the playoffs and made it to the NLCS.

“Sometimes, you’re not always going to be in the World Series. The Dodgers are a really good team. They’re playing really good baseball right now. This series showed it. Sometimes, it is what it is, and you just kind of move on.”

The Cubs had Lester, a three-time World Series champion, lined up for a Game 6 that is no longer necessary. Jose Quintana – who shined against the Washington Nationals in the last round and battled Kershaw to a draw in Game 1 – didn’t give his team a chance this time.

Quintana, a signature trade-deadline move made with multiple playoff runs in mind, allowed runs in the first and second innings and left the bases loaded in the third for Hector Rondon, who watched Kike Hernandez drive the second of his three home runs into the right-center field basket for a grand slam.

The Cubs were desperate enough that John Lackey, five days before his 39th birthday, pitched two innings in what was likely his last game in a big-league uniform. Lackey kept walking out of the clubhouse and declined to speak with reporters: “No, I’m good, man.”

“It’s not easy to be the best,” outfielder Jason Heyward said, “but that’s what you want. You don’t want easy. You don’t want to expect to be going home every year. You want to be in October. You want to have a chance to win the World Series. And you want to be one of the teams that expects to be there.”

That’s what the Cubs will be next year, when the last day of the season won’t have the same big-picture perspective. It will be either a stinging loss or spraying champagne.

“Seems like a hundred years ago, right?” Lester said about his decision to sign with the Cubs. “It’s one of those Catch-22s. You look at it as it’s a disappointing season for the simple fact that we didn’t make it to the World Series. But you got to look at the positives, too, in that moment whenever you get on a plane to go home.

“We gave ourselves a chance. It just didn’t happen this year. We got beat by a better team. We beat them last year (in the NLCS), and they beat us this year, so you got to tip your hat sometimes, and you move on. We’ll be ready to go in spring training.”

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Your National League Championship Series final: Cubs 8, Enrique Hernandez 7.

When the Cubs look back at why they struggled in the NLCS and what they’ll need moving forward, many questions are likely to involve fixing an offense that was dormant for almost all of the postseason.

Thursday night’s 11-1 loss in Game 5 of the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers put an exclamation point on a lopsided series, one in which the Cubs were outscored 28-8. Hernandez nearly matched the Cubs’ entire output in the clincher with three home runs and seven RBIs. While the pitching shares much of the blame, a Cubs offense that produced a .168/.240/.289 slash line and scored 25 runs this postseason is perhaps an even bigger culprit.

“(The Dodgers) pitched very, very well from start to finish,” said utility man Ben Zobrist. “It was tough to overcome that. We are going to get our homers. But as a whole, I felt like they kept us off-balance and they kept us from having good quality at-bats consistently. When we did get something going it wasn’t much. It was one run here or there or a couple runs here or there. But they pitched a great series, kept us from really exploding like they can as an offense.”

The Cubs’ bats have been ice cold for the entire postseason. Aside from a nine-run showing in their Oct. 12 NLDS-clincher over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs never appeared to be as formidable a bunch as they were in 2016.

Their scores by game entering Thursday’s loss were: 3, 3, 2, 0, 9, 2, 1, 1 and 3.

By the time the Dodgers plated two early runs off Jose Quintana, the Cubs looked to be in for an uphill battle against three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. That condition was upgraded to next-to-impossible by the time Hernandez blasted a grand slam off Hector Rodon in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 7-0.

As it were, the Cubs finished with four hits and didn’t score until Kris Bryant homered to make it 9-1 in the fourth inning. It was Bryant’s first round-tripper of the postseason.

The struggles of Bryant and teammate Anthony Rizzo were well-documented. The pair produced a combined .169/.210/.206 slash line with two home runs, nine RBIs, three walks and 28 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances. Bryant thought it had to do with a team that was worn down running into outstanding pitching.

“It’s a little of both,” Bryant said. “It took a lot out of us that first series, some really good pitching with the Nationals. Obviously with the Dodgers, too. I think they had a group of players that really turned it on at the right time and were clicking whereas we didn’t. That was the difference. But a ton of credit to them, they just flat out beat us.”

Bryant and Rizzo weren’t alone in their struggles.

The leadoff position alone went from a force of life in 2016 with Dexter Fowler to virtually no production this postseason. Jon Jay, Albert Almora and Zobrist went a combined 4-for-36 with three hit by pitches from the leadoff spot.

Catcher Willson Contreras (.748) was the only Cubs regular to finish with an OPS above .700. Javier Baez produced a .451 OPS, Zobrist registered a .416 and Jason Heyward finished at .403.

By comparison, the Dodgers have six players with at least 20 plate appearances this postseason with an .800 or better OPS. That doesn’t of course count Hernandez, who made only his fourth start of the postseason and went nuts. He homered off Jose Quintana in the second inning to give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead. His grand slam in the third after Quintana exited put the game out of reach. And Hernandez’s ninth-inning blast off Mike Montgomery to center was icing on the Dodgers’ cake.

Figuring out how to remedy their offensive issues figures to be one of the Cubs’ top priorities this offseason. One way the team could help jumpstart Bryant and Rizzo is by acquiring a better leadoff hitter, something they lost when Fowler departed via free agency last winter. The team saw its production from the leadoff spot drop from an .815 OPS in 2016 to .745 in 2017.

“We did enough to beat Washington and that’s all you need in the postseason,” Rizzo said. “We didn’t do enough to beat the Dodgers. They pitched better than we hit. End of story.

“They’re good. There’s no excuses. You’ve got to play better. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s baseball. You hit the ball at the guy or you don’t.”