David Kaplan

Kaplan: Chet Coppock's impact on my career

Kaplan: Chet Coppock's impact on my career

The death of legendary Chicago sportscaster Chet Coppock has stoked many memories for me because of the lengthy history he and I had, particularly the huge role he played in my life. I would not be writing this nor would I be broadcasting on radio and TV without him taking me under his wing and giving an inexperienced kid from Skokie a chance to be on the air in Chicago.

Prior to entering the broadcasting profession I was a college basketball coach at Northern Illinois University from 1982-86. Like so many in the coaching profession, I lost my job when my head coach lost his job and I wondered aloud what the heck I was going to do with my life. I knew I had to be in the sports world and I knew deep down that I wanted to be on air. I started a college basketball recruiting newsletter that coaches and fans subscribed to and as I tried to market it I sent a letter to the biggest name in Chicago sports broadcasting that I could think of, Chet Coppock. He was a fixture on radio five nights a week in CHicago.

I distinctly remember walking into my house and seeing the message light blinking on my recorder. "Hey David, okay kid I'll give ya a shot! Tonight, let's talk college basketball. Bring your 'A' game! This is Chet Coppock from Coppock on Sports. Call me back!"

Wow! I was actually going to be on with the one and only Chet Coppock? The Big Rock Candy Mountain himself? I knew it was a big opportunity but I had no idea at that time that that phone call would change my life forever. Chet Coppock gave me a shot and he would become the single biggest professional influence in my career. Regularly he would have me on to talk about college basketball and the recruiting world. DePaul and Illinois basketball were hot topics.

It was always a huge thing to be on his show.

Fast forward to March of 1989. It is a Tuesday night, two days before the start of the NCAA Tournament, and I get a call from then-University of Arizona assistant basketball coach Kevin O'Neill, who was then and remains one of my closest friends in the world. K-O, as he is known, calls me in the early evening to tell me he has a great source telling him then-Michigan head basketball coach Bill Frieder is going to be named the new head coach at Arizona State the next day.

After I make a handful of phone calls to confirm the story, I call Chet.

He is on the air hosting the Doug Collins show, the head coach of the Chicago Bulls at the time. Chet comes to the phone during a commercial break and I tell him my scoop.

"I'll put you right on but if you're wrong I will bury you in this town and you will never get a broadcasting gig," Chet said. "Do you still want to come on? Do you feel confident enough in your story?"

Yes, I told him.

I go on the air, reveal the news and Collins tells me no way that is going to happen. He is a former assistant coach at Arizona State and he, like many others, did not believe the story was accurate. 

The next day the story breaks and the USA Today credits "Coppock on Sports in Chicago."

From that day forward Chet was a huge influence on my broadcasting career and he opened doors for me that I would never have been able to open myself.  Without him I would never be doing what I am doing today.

Rest in peace my friend. You will always be remembered as a legend.

Why the Cubs are on the brink

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USA TODAY

Why the Cubs are on the brink

With wide scale panic now fully embracing the Cubs massive fan base as their once firm grip on the NL Central division race has dwindled to a mere 0.5 game we need to look at why this may be happening.

Is their roster not as talented as we all thought? No, that would be an inaccurate assessment because the roster put together by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer is deep and talented and boasts star power that should carry the club through any rough patch.

Have they been overly affected by injuries? Not enough that it should knock them from their perch atop the division. Yes, they lost pitcher Yu Darvish and closer Brandon Morrow which would sap any pitching staff when robbed of two of its best arms. However, Darvish has been sidelined since May with an arm injury that eventually required surgery. And the Cubs starting rotation over the past 6 weeks has been among the best in baseball.

The bullpen has certainly been affected by the loss of Morrow as well as his replacement in the closer's role, Pedro Strop but that is not why this team is watching their lead melt down in the season's final days. There are enough quality arms in the Cubs bullpen to get the job done to get to the postseason.

The reason this team is struggling is because their offense has been wildly inconsistent all season long and there doesn't seem to be a sure fire remedy to cure them. The change in hitting coaches from John Mallee to Chili Davis will get a lot of scrutiny from fans and media but these are professional hitters with several years of experience who should know how to fix their swing themselves. Chili Davis isn't walking up and taking the at bats for the players. Can his philosophy be discussed in the off season? Certainly. But, when players such as Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber perform far below expectations it hamstrings an offense that should be light years better than it has shown. 

Contreras was in the MVP discussions before the season started but his output this season has be incredibly mediocre. Where has his power gone? Contreras is hitting .205 since the All Star break with an abysmal .298 on base percentage and he is hitting just .213 this season with runners in scoring position. And Schwarber is not much better. The player that stole the show in the 2016 World Series is hitting .224 since the All Star break and he is hitting just .200 with men in scoring position for the season.

However, at this critical juncture the only way the Cubs are going to pull this team up out of their nose dive is for someone to step up and put this team on their back and do it themselves. Is that person accomplished slugger Anthony Rizzo? How about MVP candidate Javier Baez? Veteran hitter Daniel Murphy? He is hitting .250 over the last 30 days but his on base percentage is a woeful .298. 

It is probably a safe bet to say that it won't be 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant who has been beset by injuries most of the season and has missed more than 70 games with a combination of a shoulder injury (that could require some type of cleanup procedure in the offseason), the effects of getting hit in the head with a fastball early in the season and a wrist injury suffered last night when he was hit by a pitch.

So, with five games left to play the questions are few and the answers are unknown. Who will step up and play the role of savior for the struggling Cubs offense? Will the starting pitching answer the bell and pitch the Cubs to a division title? And does the talent filled roster have enough left in the tank to hold off the Milwaukee Brewers?

When the Cubs were down 3-1 in the 2016 World Series I knew deep down that team was coming back to battle and that they had a great shot to win the World Series. They did just that with dominant starting pitching and some clutch offense.

However, I'm not sure I have that same feeling right now with this 2018 team. I don't see someone locked in offensively and ready to have one of those nights that carries a team to a much needed victory. So, is someone ready to step up and provide a team and a fan base the shot in the arm they so desperately need? Jose Quintana gets the ball on Wednesday. He has a chance to dominate and lead his team. This is why he was acquired at a very high price. For moments like these. Can he pitch like a Ferrari? His team is counting on it as a fan base panics.

Kyle Hendricks embracing change as he looks to regain top form

Kyle Hendricks embracing change as he looks to regain top form

Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks has had an up-and-down 2018 season due to some mechanical struggles in repeating his delivery, to maximize the movement on his four-pitch mix that he uses to compensate for a lack of overpowering velocity. However, over the past eight starts, Hendricks has worked extremely hard at fixing the mechanical flaws that he and pitching coach Jim Hickey identified. With several hours of intensive film study, the results are very encouraging.

Over those eight starts Hendricks has gone 4-1 and the Cubs have seen a much more similar version of the pitcher who dominated opposing hitters during the 2016 season.
 
In fact, a closer look at a handful of statistical categories shows Hendricks trending upward as the season moves into its final 40 games. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has gone from 72 K's against 30 BB's to 51 K's against just 6 BB's. His strikeouts per inning have gone from 72 in 97 innings of work to 51 in just 47 2/3 innings since July 9th. His home runs allowed have plummeted from 16 allowed in 97 innings to only 4 in his last 47 2/3 innings. His swing and miss rate has also increased as he has worked through his mechanical struggles. Finally, while there has been an uptick in hits allowed, it appears as if Hendricks has pitched to some bad luck, compiling a .346 BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play), which is unsustainable based on his career average of .278 entering 2018. 
 
Add all of these factors together, along with a video study of Hendricks performances from 2016, 2017 and 2018—which indicated some stark differences—and the recent fix indicates that the best of Kyle Hendricks in 2018 is right around the corner. When Hendricks is at his best, he is standing tall on the mound and pitching downhill with outstanding rotation of his body, which contributes to the excellent downward movement that he gets on his variety of pitches. From his fastball to his change up and curveball, Hendricks relies on downward action to fool hitters. However, in 2018 he was seeing most of his pitch movement from side to side rather than up and down. A lack of body rotation and a lack of height on his back leg during his follow through—which is different from his 2016 mechanical approach—contributed to a flattening out of his pitches and dramatically increased hard contact. 
 
"I just got out of sync and it is not easy to fix pitching mechanics overnight but Hick and Borzy (pitching coaches Jim Hickey and Mike Borzello) and I watched a lot of tape and we saw that I wasn't standing tall on the mound plus I wasn't getting enough rotation in my body and that contributed to my pitches flattening out and not getting that downward action that I was used to," Hendricks told me. In speaking with a major league advance scout who studied Hendricks over the course of several starts, he saw his arm much farther behind his body in 2016 and 2017, but his arm not as far back in the first half of 2018. This contributed to a lack of movement on his change up and he believes it also affected his ability to get hitters out on his fastball at the top of the zone, which he was able to do successfully in 2016 and 2017. 

"I see a pitcher who looks markedly better and I would expect him to have a very strong finish to this season. I love the way he competes and as long as he stays in sync with his mechanics he should be the pitcher the Cubs expected to see whenever he takes the ball for them," the scout told me.