Cubs

Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

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AP

Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

Two of the Cubs' greatest starting pitchers are among the 33 names on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.

Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano, both longtime fixtures in the North Side starting rotation, landed on the ballot for the first time. Legendary Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa is on the ballot for the sixth year.

Wood accomplished one of baseball's all-time most impressive feats, striking out 20 Houston Astros on May 6, 1998, in just his fifth start in the big leagues. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1998 and was a two-time All Star in his 12 seasons with the Cubs.

Wood was a member of that stellar starting rotation in 2003, helping the Cubs to their first-ever NL Central title with a 3.20 ERA and a baseball-leading 266 strikeouts in 32 starts. Injuries, however, plagued Wood throughout his career with the Cubs, and after making those 32 starts in 2003 and 22 more in 2004, he started just 14 games for the remainder of his career.

Still, Wood is one of the most recognizable and celebrated pitchers in franchise history, No. 3 on the team's all-time strikeout list. Only 13 pitchers have appeared in more games with the Cubs than Wood.

Zambrano was also a part of that 2003 team in his third season in the majors. He spent all but one season of his 12-season big league career with the Cubs, making 282 starts and three All-Star teams. He finished in the top five in NL Cy Young voting three times: in 2004, 2006 and 2007. The 2004 campaign was Zambrano's finest, as he posted a 2.75 ERA in 31 starts for a Cubs team that nearly made a repeat trip to the postseason.

Zambrano had a famously hot temper and earned as many cheers for his on-field antics as he did for his pitching prowess. While some of those memorable blow-ups might resonate with fans a little more in the long run, he's one of the franchise's greatest pitchers ever, No. 2 on the team's all-time strikeout list, behind only Fergie Jenkins, and No. 15 on the wins list. Only seven pitchers have started more games in a Cubs uniform than Zambrano.

Statistically, Sosa seems like a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame, No. 9 on baseball's all-time home runs list with 609 dingers and the only player ever to have three 60-homer seasons. But it has been difficult for him to get votes from the writers. He received just 8.6 percent of votes last season. To be elected to the Hall of Fame, a player needs to appear on 75 percent of ballots.

Two other ex-Cubs, Fred McGriff and Jamie Moyer, are also on this year's ballot.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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KELLY CRULL

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”