Cubs

How Jon Jay morphed into Joe Maddon's sidekick

How Jon Jay morphed into Joe Maddon's sidekick

Imagine Joe Maddon and Jon Jay remodeling with bunk beds to create more room for activities and calling each other by nicknames like "Dragon" and "Nighthawk."

The two are not staring in "Step Brothers 2" anytime soon, but Maddon has said he would adopt the Cubs veteran outfielder as a sidekick.

Or a son.

"If I needed a son or a sidekick, I'd go for Jon Jay," Maddon said.

When asked where that came from, he laughed and admitted he has "no idea."

Maddon even joked he'd look into getting the paperwork filled out.

"That'd be cool," Jay said, laughing at the matter. 

Jay received a third straight start Monday night against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies. He only started seven of the Cubs' first 22 games of 2017, ceding playing time to Albert Almora Jr. and Ben Zobrist in an outfield that already features everyday players in Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward.

Schwarber served as the designated hitter over the weekend in Boston, leaving the door open for Jay to play and reach base five times in nine trips to the plate, bumping his season average to .385 and on-base percentage to .478.

"His batting average and stuff is high, but the way he's playing does not surprise," Maddon said. "He always works a good at-bat. He's never in trouble. He gets to two strikes and the at-bat is not over. Sometimes, he does his best work with two strikes.

"You saw the baserunning [Sunday to score from second on a wild pitch]; he played the wall well in Fenway, too. But there's all the ancillary stuff. You watch him on the bench and how he interacts and I watch the conversations, even when he talks to me. There's all this stuff, too.

"He brings a lot. He knows what it's like to be on a championship-caliber team and he's just wonderful to be around."

The Cubs handed the 32-year-old Jay a one-year, $8 million deal this winter in part to help fill some of the veteran leadership void left by David Ross' journey from backup catcher to professional dancer.

Maddon also admitted that Jay is an "acquired taste" given that the outfielder's stat line typically does not jump out at people. He boasts a .289 career average and has hit .300 or better three times while working the count and sporting a .354 career OBP. 

But Jay has not flashed much power (31 homers) or speed (46 stolen bases) in his eight big-league seasons and has only topped 500 at-bats in a season one time.

"I didn't get him when I first saw him," Maddon admitted. "When you watch him from a scout's perspective — there's certain guys where if you walk in a ballpark and you see him once or twice, you don't quite understand where the benefit is.

"He's the guy where you watch for a week straight, you totally get it. Especially last year with the Padres — a team that wasn't that good — just really watching how he went about his business really convinced me how good he is. Love having him here, man."

After six years in a Cardinals uniform, Jay hasn't had a ton of time to endear himself to Cubs fans, but he's played all three outfield positions already and has shown his ability off the bench with five pinch-hits in the first month.

"I take pride in that — doing extra work or whatever it takes to be ready," Jay said. "There's no excuses. Your name gets called — you wanna be able to go up there and deliver and help the team, so I just try to stay ready as much as I can."

Jay understands his role on the team isn't to be an everyday player and he didn't take the bait when a reporter asked him if his hot start to the season should equal more playing time.

"I'm at the point in my career where I can still contribute and that's all I ask for," Jay said. "This is a great team here, a great chance to win and that's why I wanted to come here. I'm just staying ready."

Pete Ricketts and Omaha pastor reconcile, audio of contentious meeting surfaces

Pete Ricketts and Omaha pastor reconcile, audio of contentious meeting surfaces

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Omaha pastor Jarrod Parker met Wednesday, after a disagreement earlier in the week sparked public conversation about the relationship between the local government and the black community.

“We embraced, and we shook hands,” Parker, the pastor of St. Mark Baptist Church in Omaha, said in a live video on Facebook. “We met and vowed to work together in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.”

It was Parker’s second video this week about Ricketts, who is also part of the Cubs family ownership, but who stepped down from the Board of Directors when he took office. On Monday, after a meeting with local government officials and black community members, Parker posted an impassioned video in which he said Ricketts called black leaders “you people.”

In a statement, Ricketts said, “I chose my words poorly, and apologized when it became apparent that I had caused offense.”

Audio reportedly of a portion of Monday's meeting surfaced and circulated online Wednesday. NBC Sports Chicago obtained a copy of that audio.

After a break in the audio, Ricketts can be heard saying, “Where the hell were all you guys when I was trying to—”

Another man cuts him off saying, “Excuse me, what did you just say?”

Several other voices chime in, drowning each other out.

Parker addressed the audio, and the criticism he's received since it surfaced, in his Facebook video.

Posted by St Mark Baptist Church on Wednesday, June 3, 2020

“There’s sound that is kind of washing out what was being said after ‘you guys.’  Let me say this, as a pastor, as a man, … I was sitting right next to him. I stand by what I said, and the governor apologized for it. I thanked him as a man for doing that.”

On Tuesday Morning, Ricketts said on a local radio station, 96.7 The Boss, that he planned to speak with Parker.

“I’m absolutely open,” Ricketts said. “I think what we want to do is let everybody’s emotions kind of cool down here a little bit, but I will follow up with the pastor and apologize to him directly and certainly I apologized to all the folks in the room yesterday as well, while we were still there.”

Parker said he’s uninterested in the argument over the meeting audio.

“I hope that this is a message that as much as we disagree and as much as we can hurt each other and be intensive,” Parker said, “we have to come back to the table. Black people, white people, young people, old people, Christian people, non-Christian, people of all faiths, all colors … we’ve got to come back together now.”

How MLB’s ‘wonderful opportunity’ might turn into a ‘catastrophic result’

How MLB’s ‘wonderful opportunity’ might turn into a ‘catastrophic result’

When Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts or any other baseball owner claims publicly they’d be better off financially by not playing a 2020 season at all rather than accept some of the players’ terms, don’t fall for it.

That’s because whatever the short-term hit — and for teams such as the Cubs it might well be substantial — the long-term damage to the sport from skipping a season over financial negotiations during a global pandemic could be “catastrophic,” according to at least one sports economist.

In fact, baseball might face more dire consequences in recouping fan interest and financial losses than its major-league sports counterparts for several reasons.

Baseball, like many industries, faces a potentially weak economy in general for the next couple of years because the impact of the COVID-19 crisis as it tries to rebound after a year of losses, regardless, noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist said.

And sports could be further impacted by coronavirus fallout related to how many fans are allowed to gather in stadiums even by next year, and how many will be willing to do so.

But even beyond that, baseball could face a unique challenge compared to the other sports, Zimbalist said, if a season isn’t played because decades-long animus between owners and players cause these negotiations to break down.

“Especially during a time when most of America is suffering and baseball players have an average salary of almost $5 million, and owners of course are sitting on assets that are generally worth $1 billion and more, people don’t want to hear about squabbles between those two groups,” said Zimbalist, the longtime economics professor at Smith College who has published more than a dozen books on the economics of baseball and other sports.

Look no further than what happened after the 1994-95 strike and lockout, he said, when the full-season attendance equivalent in the 1995 return season represented more than a 20 percent decline from 1993.

“I would expect a similar impact now but the impact compounded for two reasons,” he said. “The economic situation [at large] is not as auspicious, and, two, all of this is happening during a pandemic when really everybody is suffering. It’s harder to understand or accept the owners and the players battling this out during a period of generalized depression and anxiety.”

Common sense? Sure. Most of us recognize the risk owners and players take anytime the millionaire-vs.-billionaire fight is waged publicly, especially at a time of such health, economic and social gravity, including the protests and unrest since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on Memorial Day.

RELATED: Cubs' Jason Heyward on racial injustice: 'It feels like a broken record'

But if baseball expects to rebound from a season missed because of money matters following a decade of record revenues and enormous gains in franchise values, then it might want to consider long and hard what the means for doing that will be.

Ricketts told ESPN on Tuesday that “the scale of losses across the league is biblical.”

Nobody disputes teams are dealing with almost zero revenue during the pandemic shutdown or the likelihood of a season of any length resulting in steep losses, especially without fans allowed in stadiums. The Cubs have been hit especially hard by the timing of the shutdown because it coincides with costs associated with the launch of their new TV network.

Ricketts told ESPN the teams and league don’t have “a pile” of cash from recent seasons of record industry revenues, because, he said, teams put that money back into their teams, including payrolls.

“No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past,” Ricketts said. "Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”

That would seem to make an offer by the union to defer a percentage of salaries a viable solution in negotiations. But Zimbalist said that while some teams might have a cash-flow problem, he doesn’t believe the league or teams generally face that issue — rendering deferrals with interest of “minimal value.”

Whatever it takes to close the gap in negotiations, that ticking baseball is hearing could start sounding a lot more like a detonation device than a clock before long.

If they cancel the season and try to dig out later, there’s no Cal Ripken Jr. consecutive-games streak just waiting to resume and provide a made-for-TV, record-setting moment.

Not only are there no Sammy Sosas and Mark McGwires on the visible horizon, but even that boost of interest to the game in 1998 turned a few years later into one if its biggest scandals.

And this, perhaps most of all: The average baseball fan is a white guy in his 50s — the game’s core consumer is aging out fast with the generations behind him too often showing indifference to an increasingly slow-paced game with decreasing action and more strikeouts than hits.

“A greater sensitivity of fan response in part because of shifting culture across the generations? I think that’s true,” said Zimbalist, who includes in that the increasing choices and popularity of video games.

“Baseball’s status as a national pastime is certainly being challenged,” he said. “Those elements will certainly complicate baseball’s effort to rejuvenate their fan base if they don’t come back.

“The other side of the coin,” he added, “is if they do come back and play baseball this summer, when people are basically starving for sports, there’s potentially an opportunity to extend its allure to more and more people and generate a level of passion and avidity that baseball hasn’t seen in a while.

"There’s a wonderful opportunity awaiting them if they can get their act together, and there’s an almost catastrophic result if they can’t. … I think both sides are fully aware of that.”

RELATED: Major League Baseball swinging and missing on big opportunity

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