Cubs

Does Cubs president Theo Epstein have a future in politics?

Does Cubs president Theo Epstein have a future in politics?

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has a job for Theo Epstein whenever the Cubs executive gets bored or starts to feel restless and wants to think about life beyond baseball.  

After building up the Boston Red Sox and turning around the Cubs, how about Epstein using his leadership skills, analytical personality, sense of conviction and Ivy League education to save the Democratic Party?    

"His job is to quench droughts – 86 years in Boston, 108 in Chicago," Obama said during Monday's White House ceremony honoring the World Series champs. "He takes the reins of an organization that's wandering in the wilderness and delivers them to the promised land. I talked to him about being DNC chair."

Epstein stood behind the president doing a cut-it gesture and that became one of many laugh lines during an entertaining Obama speech that lasted more than 20 minutes and took place against the backdrop of Donald Trump's looming administration. Epstein – who headlined a Lincoln Park fundraiser during the 2012 reelection campaign and attended the president's farewell address last week at McCormick Place – doesn't see his future in politics.

At least "not as a candidate or an elected official," Epstein said during a media scrum afterward. "But I think there are a lot of ways that we can all impact our communities without necessarily running for office."

Epstein – a private person who would never want to subject his young family to that kind of scrutiny – looked like official Washington in a navy blue suit and a striped silver-and-blue tie. He delivered his own speech in the East Room, beginning it by saying "what a tough act to follow."

"We know you may have certain allegiances to another team on the other side of town," Epstein said to the world's most famous White Sox fan. "But we know you're a very proud Chicagoan. And we know your better, wiser half – the first lady – has been a lifelong and very loyal Cub fan, which we appreciate very much.

"Of course, we have great faith in your intelligence, your common sense, your pragmatism, your ability to recognize a good thing when you see one.

"So Mr. President, with only a few days remaining in your tremendous presidency, we have taken the liberty here today of offering you a midnight pardon.

"And so we welcome you with open arms."

This formal ceremony sounded personal for Epstein, who led the presentation giving Obama white and gray No. 44 jerseys, a 44 Wrigley Field scoreboard panel, a lifetime pass to the iconic stadium and an autographed W flag to someday fly at his presidential library on the South Side.  

"Everyone – no matter where you fall politically – can appreciate the dignity with which he served the country," Epstein said. "He did an unbelievable job handling the office and raising his family while here. I think, across the board, folks would agree that he's very dignified and brought a lot of integrity to the office. It was our pleasure to thank him for that today."

[RELATED: 'Among Sox fans, I'm the Cubs' No. 1 fan']

The DNC – or whatever Epstein does for his next act – will have to wait. Before that epic playoff run began, the Cubs locked up Epstein with a five-year deal believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $50 million, putting the future Hall of Fame executive in position to make another trip to the White House with a championship team.          

"Good thing I signed a contract with (chairman) Tom Ricketts," Epstein said. "He was kicking me, saying I can’t leave. It was a kind offer, though."

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."