Cubs

Jason Heyward: Nothing shocking about Adam Jones hearing racist taunts at Fenway Park

Jason Heyward: Nothing shocking about Adam Jones hearing racist taunts at Fenway Park

Jason Heyward understands what it’s like to be Adam Jones, standing alone in the outfield, trying to concentrate on your job and hearing the racist taunts from the Fenway Park stands.

“Nothing really shocks me,” Heyward said. “I’m not saying that you expect it to happen, but you’re not surprised, I guess, just growing up African-American, growing up playing baseball.”

Heyward didn’t say this in anger or with any hesitation. The media crowded around his locker on Tuesday inside Wrigley Field’s clubhouse wanted a reaction to the Boston Red Sox apologizing to Jones, an All-Star center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles who represents so many of Major League Baseball’s best qualities.      

The night before, USA Today quoted Jones saying that “I was called the N-word a handful of times” and a fan threw a bag of peanuts at him in the dugout, dredging up bad memories from Boston’s divisive past. 

The Cubs had just enjoyed their weekend at Fenway Park, playing in front of sellout crowds and a national TV audience in a potential World Series preview. Heyward – the Gold Glove outfielder respected throughout the game for his sense of professionalism – didn’t have an edge to his low voice and spoke in a matter-of-face tone. 

“It’s not the only park I’ve been in where I’ve heard it,” Heyward said. “So that’s why I would say I’m not too surprised. And, again, when I say ‘not too surprised,’ I don’t mean it like ‘of course there.’

“It happens. I’ve heard it my whole life, so it is what it is.”

Joe Maddon – who made regular trips to Fenway Park with the Tampa Bay Rays – remembered the searing experiences as a minor-league manager in the mid-1980s in places like Little Rock, Arkansas, and Beaumont, Texas. 

“I’m coaching third base and there was some stuff coming out of the stands that I couldn’t believe,” Maddon said. “I went to the GM and I complained about it loudly and I wanted more security behind our dugout and he told me: ‘That’s just the boys having a little fun.’

“Then one time we had a situation in Beaumont where a fellow went out to the parking lot to get a gun and come back in (for) one of my black players, the right fielder. So you lived it – that’s 30 years ago – it’s even worse before that. 

“At some point, you’d like to believe it’s going to change, but who knows when?”

Jones is a Gold Glove/Silver Slugger performer, a leader for Team USA during its World Baseball Classic championship run, someone willing to speak his mind and engage in social issues. The players’ union recognized Jones as the 2015 Marvin Miller Man of the Year, an award that combines on-field excellence and community service.

In targeting Jones, Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber said, “It’s a shame that happened on a baseball field. It’s a shame that happens anywhere. It kind of leaves a pit in the stomach that we’re still at that point.”

“It’s just awful,” Maddon said. “But then again, what is the percentage? It is a small percentage of idiots that are going to let that come out of their mouths. And then it permeates an entire fan base in a negative way, (even though) you really know that (perception’s) not true, but that’s how we operate.”           

Red Sox owner John Henry and president Sam Kennedy met with Jones, who received a standing ovation before his first at-bat on Tuesday night at Fenway Park. The Red Sox are considering a lifetime ban for fans caught yelling racial slurs. But this isn’t only a Red Sox issue or a Boston problem. 

“It’s a part of sports,” Heyward said. “People are going to say whatever they think is going to help their team win and try and get under somebody’s skin. And then they’ll start drawing a line somewhere.

“It’s something I feel like a lot of people would just like to not hear anymore ever, but it’s part of life.”

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season. 

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Much has been made about Wednesday night's brawl between the Marlins and Braves, which started when Braves young star Ronald Acuna was nailed in the elbow with a 99 mph fastball from Jose Urena. The strangest part of the whole situation was that it seemed like Urena was unprovoked by Acuna or any of the Braves players prior to plunking the former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.  

The ever wise Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was asked about the incident prior to Thursday's game, making it clear he felt plays like these needed to leave the game entirely. 

It was announced Thursday afternoon that Urena would be suspended just 6 games for intentionally throwing Acuna, which means the Marlins starter will likely only miss one game for trying to hurt Acuna. The good news is that Acuna did not sustain any serious injuries, but Joe Maddon is right there is no reason for people to be hurling nearly triple-digit fastballs at players. Whether provoked or not, intentionally throwing at players is something that needs to be phased out of the game, and its safe to assume Maddon would agree.