Cubs

Cubs welcome Deshaies to TV booth

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Cubs welcome Deshaies to TV booth

Not two minutes after stepping in front of the microphone, where hell replace Bob Brenly next season as the Cubs television color commentator, Jim Deshaies started to tell a story.

It was about the last start of his major-league pitching career, which took place at Wrigley Field in July of 1995. The summer was particularly hot, and he remembered being able to see the heat radiating off the towers at the Hyatt on Wacker, where his team, the Phillies, were staying. He knew his playing days were numbered I was on life support pretty close to flat-lining and with the wind blowing out and the temperature something like 105 degrees, the fly-ball pitcher was worried.

My career is going to end today, Deshaies thought. I knew it.

The room laughed. Deshaies joked that at least he acted as a good scout in predicting his own downfall. More laughs.

The Cubs officially introduced Deshaies on Wednesday as their new TV analyst with a press conference at Wrigley Field during which Deshaies featured the quick wit and honesty that prompted the Cubs to pull him away from the Houston Astros, where he left a 16-year partnership with play-by-play man Bill Brown that had been regarded as one of the best in baseball.

To a certain extent, I feel like Im breaking up the band there, said Deshaies, a former left-handed pitcher who went 84-95 with a 4.14 ERA in 12 seasons, seven with Houston.

But he was drawn to a city where baseball is relevant regardless of the year the team is having. The Astro guy had a hard time leaving Houston, but the baseball guy says this is the place to be.

Deshaies said Houstons upcoming move to the American League didnt affect his decision to leave. But the Astros havent had a winning season since 2008 and lost 106 games last year, five more than the Cubs.

Deshaies, 52, signed a four-year contract that will pair him with Len Kasper for Cubs games broadcast on WGN, Comcast SportsNet and WCIU. Other reported candidates were former Cubs Eric Karros, Dan Plesac and Rick Sutcliffe, but for a second straight time, the Cubs hired someone with no connection to the organization.

Deshaies quickly showed he gets the significance of the booth hell step into, which has been filled by Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray.

Im not going to pronounce any names backward, he joked.

Kaspers former partner, Brenly, left the Cubs after eight seasons for the same job in Arizona, where he won the 2001 World Series as the Diamondbacks manager.

Kasper and Brenly had also developed into a popular pair, but Deshaies personality seems to complement the usually straight-laced Kasper. While talking about his new partner, Kasper said that Deshaies humor will come in handy. Kasper didnt say this, but that might be most true next season as the Cubs continue to re-shape a team that lost 101 games in 2012.

You have to tell the truth and you have to have fun, said Deshaies, who wore a black blazer over a white shirt and a purple polka dot tie.

More of his self-assessment:

-- He said he points out players mistakes but is reluctant to bury guys because he thinks baseball is a difficult game and there is always context for any situation, which he learned when he once criticized an opposing player for not running hard to first base only to be told by one of the teams broadcasters that the player had a hamstring injury.

-- He prefers saying I dont know instead of bluffing and being wrong.

-- Hes a believer in sabermetrics, the statistics-based computer analysis that has swept over the game in recent years, but he understands that not all listeners want to hear about them all the time.

-- He likes to feel out players individually to get a sense of what theyre willing to share, and he makes it a point to be available to players before games in case they want to talk about a certain play he commented on.

Deshaies family wife Lori and daughters Libby, Molly and Kelly will move to Chicago after Kelly, the youngest, graduates high school next year. Libby is a second-year law student at the University of Illinois in Champaign, and Molly is a teacher.

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.