Cubs

Racist taunts or not, Cardinals fans won't bother Jason Heyward

Racist taunts or not, Cardinals fans won't bother Jason Heyward

ST. LOUIS — “Welcome to Baseball Heaven,” the public-address announcer told the crowd before Tuesday night’s game at Busch Stadium.

Jason Heyward didn’t want to stay here — not for more guaranteed money or full no-trade protection or whatever opt-out clauses the St. Louis Cardinals could build into the megadeal. But Heyward said switching sides in a heated rivalry and signing an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs wasn’t connected to how he was once treated in St. Louis.

That question became relevant after the New York Daily News posted a thin story on its website, picking up a few tweets and claiming Cardinals fans had yelled racial slurs at Heyward during his return to Busch Stadium.

That created a storm on social media. ESPN reviewed its audio feed from Monday’s national broadcast and didn’t find any damning evidence. No incriminating videos have so far surfaced from WGN and Fox Sports Midwest, which showed the game within those local markets.

That also doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen. Heyward got booed throughout a 5-0 victory and still showed the poise, focus and skills that convinced the Cubs to give him the biggest contract in franchise history.

“No,” Heyward said, he didn’t hear any racist taunts. “But honestly I wasn’t really listening. Have (I) heard it before? Yes, but it’s not something that you pay a lot of attention to. Just play the game.”

Dexter Fowler — who plays center field next to the Gold Glove defender in right — didn’t hear any specific racial slurs yelled in Heyward’s direction on Monday night.

“If it happened, it happened,” Heyward said. “If it didn’t, it didn’t. I’m not surprised one way or the other. But it doesn’t really matter. Some people are going to say what they’re going to say. There are people saying other things. There are people cussing, swearing around women and children and drinking and all that stuff. To point out one thing to me is whatever.”

The Cardinals have 11 World Series titles and The Best Fans in Baseball. That carefully projected image created a sense of schadenfreude beyond the Gateway Arch once the FBI’s investigation into the Ground Control data breach went public last year, implicating the Cardinals in a cyberattack against the Houston Astros.

But Wrigley Field doesn’t exactly have a pristine reputation either. Cubs fans feeling smug should remember that the Department of Justice is investigating the Chicago Police Department. A task force appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel just released a report blasting the systemic racism built into the city’s police work.

“It’s nothing unique to a baseball stadium,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who idealized St. Louis as “The Mecca of Baseball” while growing up as a Cardinals fan in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining region. “It’s nothing unique to a particular city.

“It’s every city. We’ve come a long way, but then again, we haven’t. So none of it surprises if in fact it was true. That’s something we have to continually attempt to fight against.

“But there’s small-minded people everywhere, man. There are stupid people everywhere. It’s not unique to one spot and one ballpark.”

Heyward said his off-the-field experience in St. Louis didn’t tilt his decision to move to Chicago as a free agent.

“I didn’t have any issues,” Heyward said. “When I started slow last year, there was some boos a little bit, but I’ve done that before. It’s kind of part of the game. Fans are going to let you know when they’re not happy with how you’re performing.”

This comes after last week’s Jackie Robinson Day celebration, when players across Major League Baseball wore No. 42 jerseys to remember the breaking of the color barrier in 1947.

“You always think we’re past that,” Fowler said, “but obviously we’re not.”

This comes at a time when the industry worries about losing African-American talent to football and basketball, becoming an expensive country-club sport at the youth levels and failing to connect with the next generation of sports fans.

“It’s something I dealt with my whole life,” Heyward said. “This is still the world we live in. It’s part of it. Nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s not moved on. Everybody’s not a certain way. Everybody’s different.

“That’s what makes it a special place as well, because you have the freedom of speech to say what you want to say. And that’s that. Nobody physically harmed me — or my family or (any) of my teammates. So for me, all is well.”

Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox

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USA TODAY

Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox

Joe Girardi won't be the manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 2019, perhaps because he has hopes of landing a gig in Chicago.

According to Fancred's Jon Heyman, Girardi was in the running for the Reds' managerial job (which went to former Cubs third-base coach David Bell this weekend) but pulled himself out, this after interviewing for but not getting the same position with the Texas Rangers. Heyman cites "industry speculation" that Girardi might want to remain a free agent so he can land the job of skipper in Chicago.

Heyman is of course not specific, listing a city with two major league teams, leaving this open for interpretation as either the Cubs or the White Sox.

Obviously Girardi has a history on the North Side. He had two stints there as a player, from 1989 to 1992 and again from 2000 to 2002. Joe Maddon has one year remaining on his contract, and Cubs president Theo Epstein said during his end-of-season press conference that the team has not had discussions with Maddon about an extension. After managing the New York Yankees to their most recent World Series championship in 2009, Girardi might again want a crack at managing a big-market contender.

But if Girardi is simply itching to get back to his home state — he was born in Peoria and graduated from Northwestern — perhaps he has the White Sox on his wish list, too. Rick Renteria has one year remaining on his current contract, as well, and should the rebuilding White Sox see all their young talent turn into the contender they've planned, the manager of such a team would be an attractive position to hold.

But just because folks believe Girardi wants to manage in Chicago doesn't mean there'd be mutual interest. Despite Epstein's comments that there have been no extension talks with Maddon, the president of baseball operations also backed his manager in that same press conference, refusing to blame Maddon for the team's "broken" offense down the stretch last month. And Rick Hahn and the rest of White Sox brass heap frequent praise on the job Renteria has done in his two years, describing him as an important part of player development and of establishing a culture hoped to spread throughout the organization.

Plus, it's worth mentioning that Girardi's decade-long tenure in the Bronx came to an end amid suggestion that he was unable to connect with his young players. It's unknown how much of a realistic concern that would be for any team thinking about hiring him. But the recently fired Chili Davis believed that very issue was part of the reason his time as the Cubs' hitting coach came to an end. And there are few teams out there younger than the White Sox.

Again, it's just speculation for now. But if for some reason one or both Chicago teams don't hand out new contracts to their current managers, perhaps Girardi would be interested in an opening on either side of town.

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the offseason, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute, I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.