David Kaplan

Throwback Thursday: Remembering the greatest offensive game ever played

Throwback Thursday: Remembering the greatest offensive game ever played

Every time we attend a sporting event, we enter the stadium or arena not knowing if we may witness history that day.

I have been privileged to attend many events that made history and are easily remembered. I was in Cleveland in 2016 when the Cubs won their first World Series title in 108 years and did it in dramatic fashion. I was there when the Blackhawks won Stanley Cup titles in 2013 and 2015, the second of which came at the United Center and was the first championship won in Chicago in 20 years. But, those were championship contests that needed no build-up and they were games that had the fans in attendance knowing they might see history that night. 

But what about those regular season games featuring a Chicago team that was lousy? The teams that the Chicago Cubs trotted out in the late 1970's were at best mediocre and in some seasons, downright awful.

However, I attended hundreds of those because I love sports — especially baseball — and the Cubs were my team of choice. My brother picked the White Sox as a child, so the rivalry for us was awesome. We went to games on both the North and South side of our city regularly.

So when I decided to go see the Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies on May 17, 1979, I was excited to watch the game and to see the great Mike Schmidt play. Little did I know I was walking into one of the wildest games in baseball history.

When the Phillies jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the top of the first inning I was beyond disappointed. So I decided to enjoy the rest of what looked to be a blowout by having a hot dog eating contest with a few friends that had accompanied me to Wrigley Field on that Thursday afternoon.

As I wolfed down two hot dogs while the Cubs came to bat in the first inning, I laughed at how bad the game looked like it would turn out. When the Cubs scored six runs in their half of the inning, I realized something bizarre was taking place.

But the Phillies with their loaded lineup quickly responded and while we kept eating hot dogs, they kept scoring, eventually expanding their lead to 17-6 after 4 innings of play. After 4 1/2 innings it was 21-9. 

We discussed whether to leave over and over as the Phillies kept piling on the runs. But, what were we running home for? To do homework? No shot.

So we stayed and we ate more hot dogs and we watched a scene unfold before our eyes that baseball may never see again. The Cubs suddenly found their stride and they scored 13 runs to tie the game up at 22 after 8 innings of play. Of course, the Phillies won the game 23-22 on a Mike Schmidt home run off of Cubs Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter in the 10th inning, sending us home stuffed with hot dogs and saddled with another Cubs loss.

But, that day cemented my love for attending sporting events in my mind because you never know what could happen whenever you walk into a game. It still remains one of the best sporting events I have ever attended.

Kaplan: My conversation with Sammy Sosa

Kaplan: My conversation with Sammy Sosa

When the name Sammy Sosa is mentioned to a Cubs fan the range of emotions he evokes is staggering. While every fan remembers Sosa’s three 60+ home run seasons and tape measure blasts that thrilled crowds for many seasons at Wrigley Field, they also remember the corked bat incident in 2003, Sosa leaving the team on the season’s final day in 2004 before the game ended and the rampant speculation about alleged PED use.

I have covered Sosa since the 1993 season and got to know him very well when I joined WGN Radio in 1995 where I hosted the Chicago Cubs pre-game and post-game shows on radio for his final 10 seasons with the Cubs. Sammy is a complex individual but there is no denying that every time he took the field he gave 110 percent. He was always working on his swing and his approach and his work ethic was off the charts.

Along with a film crew of four, I traveled to Miami Beach, FL last week and spent four hours with Sammy at his waterfront penthouse condominium. It is the 20 year anniversary of Sosa’s epic 1998 MVP winning season when he produced an offensive outburst rarely seen in Major League Baseball and we decided to produce a tribute titled the Summer of Sammy.

While we had the highlights of each and every one of his 66 home runs from that season we needed to talk with Sammy himself. We needed to get his reflections on that amazing summer that saw him surpass the 60-home run mark while driving in 158.

"To have that great year that I have in '98, changed everything," Sosa told me.  "I mean Mark (McGwire) and I shocked the world."

Most of all, we needed to hear from him on why he is a stranger in a town and to a franchise that once adored him.

I was raised by parents that told me that your boss makes the rules and that if you don’t like the rules then find somewhere else to work. With that mindset I believed if Sosa wanted to reunite with the Cubs and work for the franchise in some capacity he had to follow the rules that Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has clearly spelled out over the past several years. 

Ricketts wants Sosa to apologize for some of the mistakes that he made while he was a Cub. That includes leaving the team early on the season’s final day in 2004 and a perception that Sosa used performance enhancing drugs during his time with the Cubs. 

However, Sosa made it clear to me that despite some people’s perception that he wants a job from the Cubs, he wants nothing from the organization other than to be welcomed back. 

"I was playing for a company many years ago, it was the Tribune Company, so after I retire I formed my own company, so I'm not looking for a job," Sosa said. "When I call somebody the first thing that I say is, 'I'm not looking for a job. Just called you to say hello.' So I have my own company, I'm comfortable."

Sammy Sosa remains a popular topic among Chicago Cubs fans with many longing for his return. However, there are also large numbers of fans that side with Ricketts and want Sosa to apologize for some of the mistakes that he made. As we talked it became obvious that Sammy Sosa is in a good place in his life. He seems happy and he is a successful businessman in the real estate world. 

He also made it clear he holds no ill will towards the Cubs. While he would like to return to Wrigley Field and the place he calls “my house,” he is at peace if it doesn’t happen. 

Sosa has received a lot of attention for the changes to his appearance. His skin is noticeably lighter, but he is still in outstanding physical condition and as he approaches his 50th birthday this November and still looks like he could play. His appearance is nowhere near what people have perceived it to be after seeing a handful of photos online over the past few years. 

So after much thought and after spending several hours with Sosa I was left to ponder how the Cubs should handle his situation. As I said earlier, I had always believed that if Sammy wanted a job with the Cubs whether it was as a coach, front office executive or as a team ambassador then he needed to play by the rules that Tom Ricketts has made clear.

"The ownership they have to understand that I’m a humble man, I’m not a man to have ego, when I was playing I was a little bit because I was focused on what I was trying to do," Sosa said. "But right now I’m gonna be 50 years old. I’m a granddaddy, I'm a grandparent, so things change. So if I made a mistake, I don’t have to say that but if I made a mistake, I didn't want to offend any body I don’t have a problem with that, I’m sorry because you know, I was in my zone."

However, Sammy Sosa wants nothing more than to be welcome in a stadium that he helped to fill for many seasons on a daily basis. He played hard everyday and helped to turn many baseball fans into Chicago Cubs fans. Sammy wants to feel the love he felt when he was thrilling Cubs fans with his play. He wants to hear the cheers of the crowd once again. 

"If one day I come back to Chicago, I'd come back for the fans," Sosa said. "I owe those people something."

No matter the reasons for the estrangement, I believe the time has come to end it. Sammy Sosa played a large and important role in the history of the Chicago Cubs organization and that is undeniable. 

Many years have passed since Sosa last wore the uniform of the Chicago Cubs. He has no interest in a job. He simply wants to feel connected to an organization and a fan base that he played such a vital role for. The fact that he hasn’t set foot in Chicago since 2007 seems unbelievable. It’s time both sides extended an olive branch and moved past their issues. It’s time for Sammy Sosa to come home.

"If they invited me, I would be more than happy to be there," Sosa said.

Albert Almora, Cubs won't settle for anything less than another World Series title

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USA Today

Albert Almora, Cubs won't settle for anything less than another World Series title

With Major League Baseball players getting ready for the 2018 season in Arizona and Florida, this is the time that predictions start to grab the headlines. While the defending world champion Houston Astros are everybody's choice as the clear favorite, the 2016 world champion Cubs are acting like Ricky Bobby from the movie Talladega Nights, living by the motto "If you ain't first you're last." 

The 2016 season took so much out of the team that the 2017 season began in the throes of a World Series hangover. The Cubs struggled out of the gate and spent the first half of the season trying to stay in the National League Central race. Despite a sub-.500 record at the All Star break and a 5 1/2 game deficit to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs steadied themselves and won the division to advance to the National League Championship Series for the third consecutive season. However, 2017 never felt like a championship run was in the cards. When the Cubs were eliminated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games, no one was surprised and it almost felt like a sense of relief to those around the team.

After a very active offseason that saw the Cubs overhaul their pitching staff both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen, expectations are sky high. Las Vegas oddsmakers set the Cubs expected win total at 93 1/2 and multiple prognosticators see the Cubs as one of the favorites to win the World Series.

But do the players feel that way? Or are they simply embracing the mantra "One Batter, One Pitch, One Out at a Time?" Despite the one day at a time approach that most professional athletes employ, Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. exercises no such caution.

In fact, he believes that only one result is acceptable. 

"The expectation for this group is to win the World Series," Almora said. "We know the group in here can do it and we expect nothing but that. No matter how old or young we are, we have a great mix of players and we can do it. We've done it and our mindset is to do it again." 

So while so many in professional sports repeat the standard line that "we just play them one day at a time and let the chips fall where they may" one of the youngest members of the 2018 Cubs is all in on what he believes can be accomplished.

Chicago Cubs, 2018 World Series Champions. Almora likes how that sounds and he expects it to happen.