Cubs

Mooney: Sandbergs imprint wont disappear

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Mooney: Sandbergs imprint wont disappear

Friday, Oct. 22, 2010
7:45 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

There are days where Wrigley Field can just sell itself.

Thats why it will cost as much to see the Marlins, Astros and Reds on three Saturday afternoons next summer when schools out, weathers ideal, and tourism spikes as it will to watch the White Sox, Yankees and Cardinals.

The Cubs understood the demand after analyzing five million pieces of data from the past five years and revealed their new and most expensive marquee pricing tier before they finally decided on their manager for 2011.

Ryne Sandbergs name might have meant something at the box office. When Sandberg brought his Class-A Peoria team to Wrigley Field in July 2008, the Cubs sold 32,103 tickets, or 23,109 more than they did two years later when the Hall of Famer wasnt managing the Chiefs.

But fans today are also more sophisticated than theyve ever been before. In high definition they can watch virtually any game across the country. Online they can reference box scores from shortly after World War I, or look up the terms for Carlos Zambranos 2013 vesting option.

They play fantasy baseball and quote new-wave statistics like VORP and UZR. It was never going to be as simple as installing Sandberg in the dugout and waiting to pass the three-million mark in attendance.

At the same time that information overload the obsession with organizational rankings and prospect lists will probably yield a greater appreciation for the work Sandberg has done the past four years.

Especially if in the future you regularly hear Go Cubs Go walking out of the stadium after James Russell and Andrew Cashner jog in from the bullpen. And you notice more people wearing Tyler Colvin jerseys in Wrigleyville. And you see Casey Coleman throwing to Welington Castillo every fifth day.

There is an entire generation of players signed and developed by the Cubs who were born after Sandbergs MVP season in 1984. They played for him at Peoria, Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.

It was an awesome experience for all of us. He shows a lot of confidence in you and lets you play, Coleman said. Just because he didnt get the job here, I think he set himself up for other jobs all over the place.

Jim Hendry has said that Sandberg will absolutely be welcomed back into the organization if he doesnt find a major-league coaching job.

Hendry admits that he is more visible in the clubhouse than most general managers. He doesnt have the Ivy League pedigree of some of other executives in the game who are more comfortable in a boardroom with a spreadsheet. His background is in coaching and scouting, so he listened when the Cubs supported Mike Quade.

Managing is handling people, communicating with people, being upfront (and) having your convictions, which Mike does, Hendry said. You cant fool players. You cant be one way (one) day or (another way) the next. (Quade) set the rules and regulations. They followed them.

Some have wondered why we should even pay attention to the player endorsements. After all, they looked like a 100-loss team before Quade took over. Well, it mattered to Hendry.

Ryan Dempster the first player to publicly lobby for Quade to return is the company man. He deferred part of his 2010 salary so Hendry would have more flexibility to pursue a free agent last winter. Ownership has supported Dempsters charitable foundation and the young pitchers look up to him.

Given Dempsters stature within the organization he was the only player spotted at Quades introductory press conference this week it was impossible for the media to ignore his support.

Aramis Ramirez who said no one could have done a better job than Quade with this roster could have instead just cut-and-pasted one of his standard responses: I get paid to play third base. You got to ask Jim Hendry that question.

Ramirez didnt answer that way and you have to put this all in context. Of course the players brought up from Triple-A would never rip Sandberg when asked about the manager in Des Moines. But there were specific, telling moments.

Darwin Barney a natural shortstop blocked by Starlin Castro recalled how Sandberg went over every situation that could come up at second base and explained in detail how to turn the double play when they knew a promotion was coming soon.

Micah Hoffpauir was lost when he didnt make the Cubs out of spring training and hit .196 during his first two months in Iowa. Sandberg encouraged Hoffpauir, telling him to relax and reassuring him that he would carry the team. Hoffpauir finished at .283 with 22 homers and 95 RBI in 118 games.

Throughout the system, Sandberg played a part in their educations. The past three years Coleman pitched for Sandberg at three different affiliates and then went 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in his eight starts with the Cubs.

Colemans father and grandfather pitched in the majors and its impossible to answer the nature versus nurture question but he appreciated how Sandberg understands what it takes to make it there and excel.

You see eye to eye with him and a lot of players love that, Coleman said. Everyone thought this was supposed to be Rynos job, but (with such a strong finish under Quade), its really hard to change that.

Sandberg wont be standing on the top step of the dugout at Wrigley Field next year, but he wont be forgotten, and not just because his numbers retired there.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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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