White Sox

Gordon Tech's Winiecki is a hall of famer

Gordon Tech's Winiecki is a hall of famer

Monday, Sept. 19, 2011
Posted: 11:16 a.m.
By Taylor Bell
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Tom Winiecki didn't want to be a football coach. So who would have dreamed that he would coach for 31 years?

Oh, he loved to play the game. A Leo graduate of 1958, he started on the Lions' 1956 Prep Bowl Championship team, then went on to be a two-time letter-man at Michigan State. But that's when the 5-foot-10, 215-pound tackle figured his football career was over. He had other plans.

"I had planned to be one of three things; a union representative, a government representative or work with the unions in some capacity," said Winiecki, who was completing his degree in economics. "Chicago is a big union town and my father was a steelworker. I knew one thing for sure, I didn't want to coach."

But Larry Bielat, a Michigan State teammate and a Gordon Tech graduate, got a job at Gordon Tech on the recommendation of Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty. When Daugherty asked Winiecki what he wanted to do, he agreed to join Bielat as an assistant in 1963. Three years later, he became head coach.

"I figured coaching would be like the Peace Corps, that I'd get out after a few years. But I really enjoyed it," Winiecki said. "I respected what coach Jim Arneberg had done for me at Leo. We had a lot of good times. I loved my relationship with the coaches and the kids."

So much so that Winiecki turned down an offer from former Mount Carmel coach Frank Maloney to join Maloney's staff at Syracuse. He had other offers, including Illinois.

"But it came down to the fact that I'd rather have Frank's friendship than having to protect his back," Winiecki said. "I always enjoyed the relationship that I had with coaches in the Catholic League and at Gordon Tech in particular."

From 1966 to 1996, Winiecki posted a 192-112-2 record and won a state championship in 1980. He is most proud of the players he helped to send to college and the 13 present and past coaches who developed under his leadership, including his son Steve, now head coach at Deerfield.

It all adds up to a distinguished career that has earned a spot in the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame's class of 2011. Winiecki and 19 other honorees will be recognized on Wednesday at Hawthorne Race Course, 3501 S. Laramie in Cicero.

Winiecki will feel at home. The class includes four other Chicago Catholic Leaguers--former Big 10 official Frank Strocchia, Loyola football coach John Holecek, basketball coach Tom O'Malley and the late Mike Rabold.

Winiecki served as president of the Catholic League's athletic directors for 13 years and Strocchia was a longtime commissioner of the Catholic League. Strocchia was also a well-known football official and spent many Sundays arguing with Winiecki on the sideline.

"He worked in the Big 10 with Bo (Schembechler) and Woody (Hayes) on Saturdays, then worked Catholic League games at Gately Stadium on Sundays," Winiecki said. "I told my kids: 'Don't give him any lip.' He gave so much to the league. He brings back old memories. It's ironic to see us going into the Hall of Fame together."

Others who will be inducted at the 15th annual event are former Proviso East and Marquette basketball star Glenn "Doc" Rivers, now coach of the Boston Celtics, former Julian, Illinois and Denver Broncos' football star Howard Griffith, and former Robeson, Colorado and Dallas Cowboys football star Mickey Pruitt, now football coordinator for the Chicago Public League.

Also former NFL players Dave Casper and Paul Flatley, volleyball coach Therese Boyle-Niego of Loyola University, former Chicago Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas, former Chicago Blackhawks star Pierre Pilote, sports agent Steve Zucker, and former DePaul track and field star Mabel Landry Staton.

Special award recipients are NFL star Barry Sanders, Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun, former Chicago Blackhawks star Bobby Hull, former Notre Dame and NFL star Rocky Bleier and former WGN sports editor Jack Rosenberg.

So much has changed since the Catholic League was dominated by such iconic figures as Winiecki, Fenwick's Tony Lawless, St. George's Max Burnell, St. Rita's Pat Cronin, St. Laurence's Tom Kavanagh, Loyola's Bob Spoo and John Hoerster, Mendel's Lou Guida, Brother Rice's Tom Mitchell and Mount Carmel's Frank Lenti.

Two issues that helped drive Winiecki into retirement were communication with parents and college recruiting.

"I coached football and worried about the kids on the field and in the classroom. I didn't have to worry about parents -- not until the end," he said. "Maybe that's why coaches get out, why they don't coach for 20 or 30 years anymore, too much pressure from parents.

"The Internet and scouting services and scholarship organizations and sports talk radio and exposure camps have changed attitudes. Parents begin to think they now as much or more than the coach. If I listened to them, I'd be changing plays and lineups every day. The school administration has to support the coaching staff."

Winiecki pointed out that parents used to trust the coach to handle their son's recruiting and college coaches accepted a high school coach's evaluation of a prospect. Recruiters came to the school to view eight and 16-mm film for hours at a time, no longer.

"College coaches started bypassing you. Instead, they would go directly to the kid or a recruiting analyst. It got to the point where they didn't need a high school coach anymore," Winiecki said. "I used to tell them who could play for them. In those days, your word was good. I sent kids to Illinois, Michigan, Purdue and Northern Illinois. They respected your opinion. But then everything changed.

"Today, you have to coach 13 months out of the year. You have to promise kids that they will get better exposure with your offense. Kids used to take summers off, now there is pressure to attend summer camps and 7-on-7 camps or weightlifting workouts. If you don't attend, you're told that you will be overlooked by the college coaches.

"For me, coaching wasn't fun anymore. I didn't enjoy it. That's why I gave it up. I loved the hunt, the game itself. The thrill of the hunt was still there but I didn't enjoy the process. In my view, kids were burning out. They weren't allowed to be kids."

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries


White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

PHOENIX, Ariz. — One of the White Sox prized prospects will be on the shelf for a little while.

Outfielder Micker Adolfo has a sprained UCL in his right elbow and a strained flexor tendon that could require surgery. He could avoid surgery, though he could be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Though he hasn’t received the same high rankings and media attention as fellow outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, Adolfo is considered a part of the White Sox promising future. He’s said to have the best outfield arm in the White Sox system.

Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .264/.331/.453 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Kannapolis.

Adolfo, along with Jimenez and Robert, has been generating buzz at White Sox camp in Glendale, with a crowd forming whenever the trio takes batting practice. Earlier this week, the three described their conversation dreaming about playing together in the same outfield for a contending White Sox team in the future.

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?


Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

MESA, Ariz. — You don’t need to spend long searching the highlight reels to figure out why Javy Baez goes by “El Mago.”

Spanish for “The Magician,” that moniker is a fitting one considering what Baez can do with his glove and his arm up the middle of the infield. The king of tags, Baez also dazzles with his throwing arm and his range. He looks like a Gold Glove kind of player when you watch him do these amazing things. And it’s no surprise that in his first media session of the spring, he was talking about winning that award.

“Just to play hard and see what I can do. Obviously, try to be healthy the whole year again. And try to get that Gold Glove that I want because a lot of people know me for my defense,” he said Friday at Cubs camp. “Just try to get a Gold Glove and stay healthy the whole year.”

Those high expectations — in this case, being the best defensive second baseman in the National League — fall in line with everything the rest of the team is saying about their own high expectations. It’s been “World Series or bust” from pretty much everyone over the past couple weeks in Mesa.

Baez might not be all the way there just yet. Joe Maddon talked earlier this week about his reminders that Baez needs to keep focusing on making the easy plays while staying a master of the magnificent.

“What I talked to him about was, when he had to play shortstop, please make the routine play routinely and permit your athleticism to play. Because when the play requires crazinesss, you’re there, you can do that,” Maddon said. “But this straight up ground ball three-hopper to shortstop, come get the ball, play it through and make an accurate throw in a routine manner. Apparently that stuck. Because he told me once he thought in those terms, it really did slow it down for him. And he did do a better job at doing that.”

But the biggest question for Cubs fans when it comes to Baez is when the offense will catch up to his defense. Baez hit a game-winning homer run in his first major league game and smacked 23 of them last season, good for fifth on a team full of power bats. But arguably just as famous as Baez’s defensive magic is his tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He had 144 strikeouts last season and reached base at a .317 clip. Seven Cubs — including notable struggling hitters Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — had higher on-base percentages in 2017.

Baez, for one, is staying focused on what he does best, saying he doesn’t really have any specific offensive goals for the upcoming season.

“I’m not worrying about too much about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to play defense, and just let the offense — see what happens.”

Maddon, unsurprisingly, talked much more about what Baez needs to do to become a better all-around player, and unsurprisingly that included being more selective at the plate.

“One of the best base runners in the game, one of the finest arms, most acrobatic, greatest range on defense, power. The biggest thing for me for him is to organize the strike zone,” Maddon said. “Once he does that, heads up. He’s at that point now, at-bat wise, if you want to get those 500, 600 plate appearances, part of that is to organize your zone, accept your walks, utilize the whole field, that kind of stuff. So that would be the level that I think’s the next level for him.”

Will Baez have a season’s worth of at-bats to get that done? The versatile Cubs roster includes a couple guys who split time between the infield and outfield in Zobrist and Ian Happ. Getting their more consistent bats in the lineup might mean sacrificing Baez’s defense on certain days. Baez, of course, also has the ability to slide over to shortstop to spell Addison Russell, like he did when Russell was on the disabled list last season.

Until Baez learns how to navigate that strike zone a bit better, it might make Maddon more likely to mix and match other options, rather than considering him an everyday lock like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But like Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, Baez is one of the young players who despite key roles on a championship contender the last few years still have big league growth to come. And Maddon thinks that growth is right around the corner.

“I want to believe you’re going to see that this year,” Maddon said. “They’ve had enough major league at-bats now, they should start making some significant improvements that are easy to recognize. The biggest thing normally is pitch selection, I think that’s where it really shows up. When you have talented players like that, that are very strong, quick, all that other stuff, if they’re swinging at strikes and taking balls, they’re going to do really well. And so it’s no secret with Javy. It’s no secret with Addy. Addy’s been more swing mode as opposed to accepting his walks. That’s part of the maturation process with those two guys. Albert I thought did a great job the last month, two months of getting better against righties. I thought Jason looked really good in the cage today. And Willson’s Willson.

“The natural assumption is these guys have played enough major league at-bats that you should see something different this year in a positive way.”