Cubs

Palmeiro, Sosa & next wave crashing Cooperstown

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Palmeiro, Sosa & next wave crashing Cooperstown

Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011
8:33 PM

By Patrick MooneyCSNChicago.com

Nearly six years ago, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire sat inside a hearing room at the Rayburn House Office Building. They would not be viewed the same again after that St. Patricks Day in Washington.

Palmeiro pointed his finger at lawmakers and insisted: I have never used steroids. Period. Less than five months later, he would be suspended for failing a drug test, and claim that he didnt knowingly take steroids.

Sosa leaned on his interpreter and suddenly his English wasnt so good. McGwire said he wasnt there to talk about the past, but he would eventually, confessing his steroid use last year so that he could rejoin baseball society.

Those enduring images from 2005 will not fade away.

That much was clear Wednesday after the Baseball Writers Association of America skipped over Palmeiro and McGwire on the ballot, and sent a message for when Sosa becomes eligible in 2013.

Right around the same time the 112th Congress gathered for the first time, the National Baseball Hall of Fame revealed that Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven had been elected to Cooperstown.

At its best, this process elevates barstool arguments into a philosophical debate about the essential nature of the game. Baseball needs it to stay in the headlines, months after the season ended and weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

At its worst, it spirals into a witch hunt. To be sure, this remains political.

Alomar, a 12-time All-Star who won 10 Gold Gloves, received 90 percent of the vote. Despite being the finest second baseman of his generation, he had to wait an extra year before induction, perhaps because some voters still remember him spitting at umpire John Hirschbeck.

It took 14 years and an extensive Internet lobbying campaign before Blyleven was recognized for his 287 wins and 3,701 strikeouts. The right-hander with the nasty curveball earned only 17.5 percent of the vote when he first appeared on the ballot in 1998, and less than half as recently as 2007.

With that in mind, perceptions can absolutely change. But McGwires support bottomed out at 19.8 percent this time, and Palmeiro will have to make up a huge amount after getting 11 percent in his first year of eligibility.

The writers are saying that this was the Steroids Era, like they have done Mark McGwire, Blyleven said on a teleconference, as quoted by The Associated Press. They've kind of made their point. It doesnt surprise me.

Guys cheated. They cheated themselves and their teammates. The game of baseball is to be played clean. I think we went through a Steroid Era and I think its up to the writers to decide when and who should go in through that era.

A record 581 ballots, including five blanks, were cast by BBWAA members. The only other players to gain more than 50 percent of the vote were shortstop Barry Larkin (62.1) and pitcher Jack Morris (53.5). Jeff Bagwell (41.7) stayed in the picture, and this could have been the first of 15 times he will have to defend his record.

It wont necessarily get any easier. Besides Sosa, here are some of the candidates coming in 2013 and 2014: Barry Bonds; Roger Clemens; Mike Piazza; Frank Thomas; Greg Maddux; Tom Glavine; and Curt Schilling.

Whatever happens, it wont be an injustice. The game already made them absurdly wealthy and famous, all without the physical risks of, say, playing in the NFL.

This isnt a court of law, but you also shouldnt get immunity to publish any random suspicion or string together piece after piece of circumstantial evidence as absolute fact.

There is still much to learn about what steroids did to baseball. Maybe someone more credible than Jose Canseco will be willing to talk about what happened inside those clubhouses. Perhaps well see another whistleblower on 60 Minutes or read another book as enlightening as Game of Shadows.

In the meantime, all those tortured explanations from the BBWAA will still come down to a simple yes or no.

I wasn't expecting to be going in this year with the feedback I have gotten throughout the last few weeks or so, Palmeiro told The Baltimore Sun. But I thought more voters would look at my overall career and put more emphasis or weight on what I have done and not just on a positive (drug) test at the end of my career. There was a message there to be sent, and it was received."

Five hundred home runs and 3,000 hits dont mean what it used to.

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

How will Cubs players respond to David Ross as manager?

How will Cubs players respond to David Ross as manager?

David Ross is officially moving from "Grandpa Rossy" to "Manager Rossy."

The affable former backup catcher is not only a fan favorite, but he's immensely popular inside the Cubs clubhouse among the core group of players. 

However, that popularity has always come in a different form, as he now enters into a new dynamic as Cubs manager. Ross was first a teammate, then transitioned into a front office role with the organization, which included a vital role in recruiting Craig Kimbrel to Chicago.

Now that Ross has been tabbed as Joe Maddon's heir, how will his relationship with the players change?

The Cubs announced Maddon's departure on the final day of the regular season and in turn, immediately stoked the fires of the Ross-as-manager rumors. Players were asked how they'd feel if their former teammate became their boss, including Jon Lester, who was instrumental in bringing Ross to Chicago before 2015 as his personal catcher.

"I think that's something that you'd just have to learn as you go," Lester said. "I would like to think that [former Red Sox manager Tito Francona] was a good friend of mine, but still my manager when it came down to it. 

"Obviously the dynamic's different — I didn't play with Tito and that sort of thing, but when it came down to it, that's my boss. If he makes a decision, he makes a decision and you have to respect that."

Anthony Rizzo and Ross formed an immediate bond in 2015 and have grown very close over the last five years.

"If it's Rossy, we would obviously sit down," Rizzo said on the final day of the season. "I've talked to him about it before. He's in a really good place right now at home with his family and what he's doing and he's happy. He's my biggest mentor in the game player-wise, really, behind Joe [Maddon] and [former Cubs coach Eric] Hinske. Can it work? Yes."

Back in August, on the five-year anniversary of his MLB debut, Javy Baez crushed two homers in a Cubs win and after the game, shouted out Ross unprompted. Baez credited his former teammate for helping him understand how to keep things simple and just his natural abilities take over while allowing the game to teach him.

So it's no surprise Baez said in September he would be stoked if Ross were named manager.

"We all love David and he knows the team and the organization," Baez said.

In reality, it will be difficult to transition from teammate and mentor to boss. Maddon found a way to be both mentor and friend to this group of Cubs players, but he obviously never played with any of them and he came to Chicago with an already impressive resume as a manager and coach.

Ross doesn't have that same experience to fall back on, but the Cubs are confident he's up to the challenge because when it boils down it, so much of the job is based off communication. 

What Ross has working in his favor that the other managerial candidates like Joe Espada lacked was an immediate rapport with the front office and the core guys in the clubhouse. There's already a built-in level of trust between him and Rizzo, Baez, Lester, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and a host of others — including Kimbrel (the two were teammates in Atlanta). The guys he hasn't played with have at least seen him around Wrigley Field or the spring training complex in his front office role the last three years.

That preexisting relationship will be a huge advantage immediately, as it eliminates the time another candidate would've needed to earn the trust of the players on the roster. Plus, the relationship between Ross and Epstein's front office is already so far advanced for a first-year manager that there's an instant level of understanding and rapport before he's even officially introduced into the role.

During his time in the clubhouse, Ross was known to be direct and honest, holding his teammates accountable and helping the young players realize their potential without crushing their spirits. That's not an easy task for a backup catcher in the twilight of his career to accomplish.

Still, the Cubs' choice to go with Ross seemed at least somewhat contradictory when presented against the backdrop of change Theo Epstein emphasized in his end-of-season press conference. The Cubs president talked at length about the organization's need to stop looking back at 2016 and avoiding the "winner's trap" of sticking with things that worked years ago but might not be the best avenues to success today.

In that same presser, Epstein also insisted Ross' connection to the players left over from the World Series championship team was not the main reason they were considering the former catcher as manager. 

"His connection to the players on this team and especially his connection to the 2016 team are not necessarily things that are going to be important to us," Epstein said. "...It's not necessarily a detriment, either, as long as you trust the person to handle it the right way and trust the players to handle it the right way. It's something you have to consider.

"I'm just saying, what we're looking for is someone who's a great manager for the Cubs moving forward. Certainly not looking backwards and not with undue emphasis on a couple players there might be a personal [connection]. That's not a major factor for us."

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

According to David Kaplan, the Cubs have made their decision on a new manager. And to no surprise, they've landed on David Ross.

Ross was widely speculated as the heir apparent to Joe Maddon and that's exactly how the situation has played out. The team also interviewed incumbent bench coach Mark Loretta, first-base coach Will Venable, Astros bench coach Joe Espada, and former Cubs player and Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

The Cubs had whittled down their options to Ross and Espada, with both candidates coming in earlier this week for a second interview:

Ross retired after the 2016 season and has spent the last three seasons working in a special assistant role in Theo Epstein's front office while also serving as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN. He has not coached or managed at any level. 

During his two years as a player with the Cubs, Ross was an integral part of changing the culture inside the clubhouse and is revered as a legendary leader to all the young players that came up and helped end the 108-year championship drought. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant affectionately dubbed him "Grandpa Rossy" and he rode that popularity on the shoulders of his teammates in a Rudy-esque celebration after Game 7 and then a stint on "Dancing with the Stars." Every time he has been shown on the video board at Wrigley Field, it elicits a deafening cheer from Cubs fans.

Even three years since he last donned the uniform, Ross' impact remains and the Cubs have been searching for the type of clubhouse leadership he provided. Earlier this season, Javy Baez brought up Ross unprompted, mentioning how Ross told him that this game teaches you something new on a daily basis.

The question was never really if and more about when Ross was going to get a chance to manage the Cubs in the future. Just last fall, he was brought up as a potential option to replace Brandon Hyde as Maddon's bench coach, but Ross still wanted to spend time with family in retirement and wasn't yet ready to commit to the grind of a long season.

Still, Epstein mentioned at the GM Meetings last November that he and the front office were pushing Ross to be around the team more in 2019. GM Jed Hoyer followed that up at the Winter Meetings in December talking about how much of an impact Ross has on these players and the level of trust that's already inherent within this group.

Apparently, Ross is now willing and able to put in the 7-to-8 month time commitment to step in as the Cubs' new manager. When it was officially announced Maddon would not be returning, Ross was on ESPN's Baseball Tonight and expressed interest in the job and Epstein confirmed the next day Ross was on the team's list of managerial candidates.

Epstein mentioned he would prefer hiring a manager with big-league experience and the main theme of his end-of-season press conference was all about change, not hanging their hats on 2016 and climbing out of the "winner's trap." But they still opted for Ross as the organization's new field general.

"I always have greater comfort level hiring for roles in which the person has done the role before, especially with manager," Epstein said on the final day of September. "I think there are ways for that to be overcome. There’s a lot of different ways to get experience in this game. Beliefs, skills, personal attributes, those can outweigh a lack of experience, but experience certainly helps.

“David Ross has a lot of great things going for him, I would say. His connection to the players on this team, and especially his connection to the 2016 team, are not necessarily things that are gonna be important to us.

“I think Rossy is a really attractive candidate, and he’s gonna be evaluated on the merits, what he can bring to the table as a major league manager given his skills, given his experiences, given his world-view, given what he knows about winning, all those things.”

We now know how that evaluation process has played out.

The question now becomes — how would the Cubs players handle Ross as a manager, moving from friend and teammate to boss? 

We'll find out in the coming months.