Cubs

Harry made me do it!

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Harry made me do it!

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com
As usual for me this time of year, I find myself reflective about the namesake of the world-famous eatery for which Im employed. Not that his influence is ever far away, but with the 14th Annual Worldwide Toast to Harry Caray yesterday, its even more so. Hard to believe that hes been gone for fourteen years. Fitting is our tribute in raising a glass in his honor on the anniversary of his birth. This year would have been number 98.

Many people loved Harry and for many reasons. The Harry conversations never get old for me, night after night at the bar, and thats because the conversation usually ends with a laugh and smiles all around. The connection, I feel, was due to his genuine nature, not to mention the fact that he was rolling-on-the-floor funny.

My favorite part was that he was able to do this while offering his opinions on just about everything, filter be dammed. Its in this spirit that I tend bar. Anyone can put a drink in front of you, I think Harry would have expected a little more. So, why wouldnt the flagship of his restaurant empire be inhabited by someone who wants to keep the conversation, and the fun, going? In fact, when it gets really animated I blame my inner Harry every time!

Who would have thought that the process in which a specimen sample is handled would be the hot topic this week? There have been many rumors flying around as to why Ryan Braun failed his drug test taken after a playoff game last season. Exceedingly high levels of a synthetic testosterone dont just magically appear in a urine sample. Or do they? I remember when Floyd Landis proclaimed his innocence of the same transgression for 4 years before he finally came clean. That I think is in the back of everyones mind in this case. How did it get there? I dont think that anyone is buying the smear campaign that Braun and his lawyers have started against the test collector Dino Laurenzie Jr. What would be his motive? He is a highly respected veteran of his field. That is why he was chosen to perform his function during a playoff game. Was he going to reap millions by blackmail? Or did he go to elaborate means because he did not like Braun, when it appears they had never met before that fateful night? I understand that because Laurenzie was in the possession for longer than the allotted time, but what was he supposed to do? Leave it at a FedEx office where its treatment would be unmonitored for 2 days before it shipped? Brauns defense reminds me of Lloyd Christmas response in Dumb and Dumber when he was asking Lauren Hollys character of the odds of their getting together: One in a million? So youre saying theres a chance! Its really hard to believe Braun at this point. Thats sad, since he appeared to be one of the good guys.

Something that got me a little hot while I was driving into work the other day was listening to the discussion about the diss of Derrick Rose that was made by ESPNs Skip Bayless. Now, usually what Bayless says really doesnt affect me one way or another, I mean, consider the source. Hes the high and mighty type. Didnt he used to write for a paper here in Chicago before he was asked to leave? More to the point, it seems that since Jay Marriotti is gone, that he wants the man who everybody hates crown. He can wear it to parties with all of his friends, then talk about them behind their backs. D-Rose is a fraud MVP? Does he watch basketball? Last years Bulls team wins 41 games last year without him. They won 62 and had the best record in basketball. End of story! I know that there has to be someone that wears the black hat. Were never going to avoid negative attention seekers, but get your facts straight. Still hold some Chicago grudges Skip? You and LeBron deserve each other. Ill take D-Rose anytime!

Speaking of my boy, why is his not playing the fool a story? Hes not a dancer or show-boater. I get it that the introductions are the only interesting part of the NBA All-Star Game to watch, because the basketball is awful, but that type of look at me thing is not in his makeup. Honestly, who does look good dancing? The number is a lot less than those who think they do, trust me. Personally I learned there are much easier ways for me to embarrass myself in public. Red-bow-tie boys dancing was put away a long time ago. D-Rose is a quiet, humble, focused, no-nonsense, leave-it-on-the-floor, win-at-all-cost, put-me-back-in-the-game, cold-blooded assassin on the court. Thats all I need. Leave him be! Man I love that kid!

Time for the baseball purists to lose their minds again, thats right, Buds at it again. Sorry, but this is one time when I agree that we all win. There is no dispute that wild-card playoff teams were added so MLB could make more money. But so what? I love playoff baseball! And more of anything I love is a good thing! And, dont forget, the more teams that are in means, the more teams that might get in. Pete Rozzelles model of brilliance is at work once again: If everyone thinks their team has a chance, the more people who will care and watch. The other, not as apparent benefit, is that this might actually help the teams with the best records since in the one-game playoff for the wild card, teams will have to use their aces before entering a 5-game series against a division winner. At least thats what Im telling myself. It sure seems like my Phillies are destined to lose the first NL game, so as to continue their incremental playoff decline since winning the World Series in 2008. Damn you, Cliff Lee! 4-0! At home! What can I say? Im a bitter man!

When I say Wilt Chamberlain at the bar, 2 numbers come to mind and you can only imagine the conversation that ensues, and youre going to have to, since I can only talk about one of those numbers here. Today is the 50th anniversary of The Big Dippers 100 point game. Still today that number boggles my mind. 714, 56 and 100 were the numerical holy grails for any fan of my age. They wereare mythical. Wilts 100 even more so since because there was no TV there to document what he did. If you can, read every account about it that you can find. I have already done that and have learned things that I have never heard before, such as about the radio broadcast and final assist, and Ive heard about this game my most of my life. I just went over Wilts career stats and was amazed once again. In the 61-62 season, he averaged 50.4 points a game! Now that is ridiculous! For his career he averaged 30.1 with 22.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists a game. All this while averaging 45.8 minutes played a game. (What? Was Thibs his coach?!!) The only other career stats that caused me such awe were those of Babe Ruth. The thing is, Wilt did this while having a major flaw: he shot free-throws like Shaq, averaging an appalling 51.1 from the line for his career. Ouch! In fact, the key to his 100 pointer was that, on this day, he went 28-32 from the line. Bet you didnt know that. Maybe after you peruse the Dippers accomplishments, you can come into the bar and well have the best-player-ever conversation again. Good clean fun. That is, as long as you dont give me 20,000 reasons why someone else was better.

Since spring is almost here, I cant wait for baseball to get started. For one thing I can end the hiatus and get along with my fantasy sports addiction again. Im almost done my draft prep! And the other is that we can talk about results rather than expectations. This must be the year of Frankie O since I have, forever, used as one of my go-to lines at the bar, sarcastically, the saying that the key to life is lower expectations. Who knew that both baseball teams here in Chicago would take my joke to heart? There is an obvious culture change happening on both sides of town. After last season, especially, we can all agree it was very much needed. But besides the promise to play the right way the message we fans are getting is to take it down a notch. Now as much as I understand that there is nuance to be appreciated, I also want to feel like time watching baseball is well spent. (Dont ask the wife about that one!) A lot of this space in the 8 months is going to be about baseball and I dont want to sound like a Bayless when I write about it. (We wont even get into the economic side of paying to watch growth, at least at this time.) The operative word for both sides of town is: If. We will spend our whole summers starting every sentence of every conversation about the teams here with that word. Im going to be Mr. Positive here and say that doesnt mean that the summer has to be a long one. For one, stranger things have happened and the competiveness on the Southside might surprise. For the Northside, it might hurt a little more. At the very least though, this should get my blue-clad brethren a few games added to their total in their Cubs-Sox wagers. But this team is only about the future. So there, Im all-in and I have one vision. If I can have a discussion at the bar about Sale, Beckham, Jackson and Rizzo and its in a good way, this year will be a success indeed. I told you it was the key!

And finally, (Youre welcome!) there have been rumors for longer than I have worked there that the building at 33 W. Kinzie Street is haunted. There are people who work there right know who will swear to it. And you know what? I believe them. Im sure there are those from another dimension that are around us. But instead of saying haunted, I prefer to use the word alive. Alive with the spirit of Harry and hes there every day. Just come in to see for yourself and, of course, raise a glass!

Ben Zobrist knows reality of Cubs' crowded lineup: 'There are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench'

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USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist knows reality of Cubs' crowded lineup: 'There are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench'

MESA, Ariz. — Ben Zobrist has long been known for his versatility on the field. But it might take a new kind of versatility to get through what’s facing him for the 2018 season, being versatile when it comes to simply being on the field.

Zobrist was among several notable Cubs hitters who had a rough go of things at the plate in the follow-up campaign to 2016’s World Series run. He dealt with injuries, including a particularly bothersome one to his wrist, and finished with a career-worst .232/.318/.375 slash line.

And so, with younger guys like Javy Baez, Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr. forcing their way into Joe Maddon’s lineup, it’s a perfectly valid question to ask: Has the 36-year-old Zobrist — just 15 months removed from being named the World Series MVP — been relegated to part-time status for this championship-contending club?

Obviously that remains to be seen. Joe Maddon has a way of mixing and matching players so often that it makes it seem like this team has at least 12 different “starting” position players. But Zobrist, ever the picture of versatility, seems ready for whatever is coming his way.

“I’m prepared for that, if that’s what it comes to. I told him, whatever they need me to do,” Zobrist said Sunday, asked if he’d be OK with being in a platoon situation. “You’ll see me at some different positions. As far as at-bats, though, I’ve got to be healthy. That was the biggest thing last year that kept me from getting at-bats and being productive. So if I can be healthy, I think I can play the way that I’m capable of, and the discussion then at that point will be, ‘How much can you play before we push you too far?’

“We’ve got a lot of great players, and there are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench on our team at times. But no one ever rusts because you know how Joe uses everybody. You’re still going to play. Even if you don’t start, you’re probably going to play later in the game. It’s just part of the National League and the way Joe Maddon manages.”

It’s no secret, of course, that when Zobrist is on, he’s the kind of player you want in the lineup as much as possible. It was just two seasons ago that he posted a .386 on-base percentage, banged out 31 doubles, smacked 18 home runs and was a starter for the team that won the World Series.

But he also admitted that last year’s injury fights were extremely tough: “Last year was one of the most difficult seasons I’ve ever had as a player.” Zobrist said that while he’s feeling good and ready to go in 2018, with his recent physical ailments and his advancing age, he’s in a different stage in his career.

“At this point in my career, I’m not going to play 158 games or whatever. I’m going to have to manage and figure out how to play great for 130,” he said. “And I think that would be a good thing to shoot for, if I was healthy, is playing 130 games of nine innings would be great. And then you’re talking about postseason, too, when you add the games on top of that, and well, you need to play for the team in the postseason, you’ve got to be ready for that, too.

“From my standpoint, from their standpoint, it’s about managing, managing my performance and my physical body and making sure I can do all that at the highest level, keep it at the highest level I can.”

Maddon’s managerial style means that Zobrist, even if he’s not technically a part of the everyday starting eight, will still get the opportunity to hit on a regular basis, get a chance to play on a regular basis. Baez figures to be locked in as the team’s No. 1 second baseman, but he’ll need days off. Maddon mentioned Sunday that Zobrist, along with Happ, have been practicing at first base in an effort to be able to spell Anthony Rizzo. It’s the crowded outfield where Zobrist could potentially see the most time. He’ll be a piece of that tricky daily puzzle along with Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and the aforementioned Almora and Happ.

Unsurprisingly, in the end that versatility, combined with how Zobrist has recovered physically and whether he can get back to how he’s produced in the past, will determine how much he will play, according to the guy writing out the lineups.

“I think he’s going to dictate that to us based on how he feels,” Maddon said. “Listen, you’re always better off when Ben Zobrist is in your lineup. He’s a little bit older than he had been, obviously, like we all are. I’ve got to be mindful of that, but he’s in great shape. Let’s just see what it looks like. Go out there and play, and we’ll try to figure it out as the season begins to unwind because who knows, he might have an epiphany and turn back the clock a little bit, he looks that good. I want to keep an open mind.

“I want to make sure that he understands we’re going to need him to play a variety of different positions. He’s ready to do it, he’s eager, he’s really ready. He was not pleased with his year last year, took time to reflect upon it and now he’s really been refreshed. So I think you’re going to see the best form of Ben Zobrist right now.”

Two years ago, Zobrist played a big enough role to go to the All-Star Game and get named the MVP of the World Series. In the present, that role might be much, much smaller. But Zobrist said he’s OK with anything, admitting it’s about the number of rings on the fingers and not the number of days in the starting lineup.

“I’m 36 as a player, so I’m just trying to win championships at this point. It’s not really about what I’m trying to accomplish as an individual,” Zobrist said. “Everybody wants to have great seasons, but I’ve told (Maddon), ‘Wherever you need me, I’m ready.’ Just going to prepare to fill the spots that need to be filled and be a great complement to what’s going on.”

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

As the White Sox have added young Cuban stars in the making in Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, Jose Abreu's long-term role on the team has shifted.

The 31-year-old first baseman has been looked at as something of a mentor for the two young Cubans. He seems to be delivering on that so far.

Abreu picked up Moncada from the airport when he first was called up to the White Sox last July. Now he's helping Robert in the batting cage.

The Cuban trio is expected to play a big part of the White Sox future in the coming years. 

Robert has already stated his goal of making it to the majors this year to join Abreu and Moncada, but that may be an overly ambitious goal. Either way, plenty of eyes will be on him throughout 2018 as he marches towards the White Sox roster and his Cuban teammates.