Cubs

Will Cubs welcome Tommy La Stella back into the clubhouse?

Will Cubs welcome Tommy La Stella back into the clubhouse?

Tommy La Stella finally ended his timeout, reporting to Double-A Tennessee and hitting a line-drive single in his first at-bat on Wednesday night, while Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer made “no promises” and manager Joe Maddon confidently predicted a Sept. 1 call-up to The Show.  

“Oh, is that…happening?” Kris Bryant said, surrounded by reporters at his locker inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it. I’m not aware of the situation. Obviously, it’s something that I didn’t really want to follow. It’s up to Tommy and the front office.”

Bryant doesn’t do biting sarcasm during group interviews – the All-Star third baseman simply didn’t pay attention to the La Stella saga – and quickly pivoted to talking up a “great player” and a “great teammate to me.”       

It just shows that professional baseball is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind experience, and La Stella hadn’t played since refusing to report to Triple-A Iowa on July 29, when the Cubs activated outfielder Chris Coghlan. Two days later, the Cubs began a run of 11 straight wins. In the middle of that hot streak, La Stella told ESPN that he would consider retiring if he couldn’t play for the big-league Cubs.

The reality is La Stella probably would have been back at Wrigley Field already if he had simply done his time at Triple-A, because the Cubs put Coghlan back on the disabled list with a right rib contusion before Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.   

“Quite possibly,” Hoyer said. “Yeah, I guess that is something that was a factor for him – or a detriment for him – as far as he might have been back up in the big leagues by now had he gone down. 

“But, listen, he probably needed to get away and clear his head. Hopefully, he goes down to Tennessee with a good attitude.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Other than that, Hoyer said, “I don’t think there’s any catalytic event” that convinced the 27-year-old pinch-hitter/reserve infielder to leave his home in suburban New Jersey and go back to work.    

“We’ve just been constantly talking to him,” Maddon said. “A lot of it was with Tommy and Ken Ravizza,” the sports psychologist involved in the organization’s mental-skills program. 

“We want him back. I know he’s going to be very helpful for us down the road. I like him in the clubhouse. I like his personality here. 

“He’s so good to have off the bench, and he’s so good to have in that spot start when the matchup really works in his favor.”    

La Stella – who hit .295 with an .846 OPS in 122 plate appearances for the Cubs before getting squeezed by the 25-man roster crunch and his minor-league option – got hit by a pitch and played four innings during his first game back with the Smokies.

“There’s always a need for left-handed bats that put the ball in play and get on base,” Hoyer said, “but obviously he’s got to earn his way back.”

If that happens, La Stella will have to walk into the clubhouse and look his teammates in the eyes instead of trading text messages with them.

“There’s definitely going to be some guys that might want to talk to him about it,” Maddon said. “Knowing Tommy, he’s going to be very open about speaking about it in return.”

This is a clubhouse where almost anything goes, where the Cubs believe almost any personality can fit in and find a way to contribute, and La Stella does have a specific – if somewhat limited – skill set. 

“Somebody’s got to be at peace with what they’re doing,” said outfielder Jason Heyward, who also played with La Stella on the Atlanta Braves. “Anybody that comes through these doors, we’re happy to have, especially someone like La Stella, who contributes so much, even when he basically wasn’t playing. 

“He’s a guy that spoke up during the game, rooting us on and things like that. Good ball talk, as he would say. Stuff like that is missed more than not missed. So if you see someone like that, who brings that every day, come back into the clubhouse, you welcome that with open arms all the time.”   

Which sounds great in theory.

“That’s between the team and Tommy,” Hoyer said. “If players feel like they need things to be smoothed over, then they do. I’m sure there will be a lot of conversations. It was an unusual situation. Players will probably want to hear it from his mouth (about) what went into it. But that’s for the players to decide.”  

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here:

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Growing up in the Chicago area, we have been fortunate to hear some of the greatest names in sports broadcasting. From Jack Brickhouse to Harry Caray to Pat Foley to Jim Durham to Pat Hughes to Wayne Larrivee, the list is long and illustrious of the best play-by-play men in Chicago sports history.

For me, growing up listening to and watching many of these men on an almost daily basis only served to stoke my interest in pursuing sports broadcasting as my chosen career. All of the greats were obviously well prepared and technically excellent calling their respective sports, but for me one man stood above the rest because of his irreverence and ability to entertain people in a variety of ways. I ran home from Middleton School in Skokie to watch the final innings of many afternoon Cubs games in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, and I loved Jack Brickhouse and the enthusiasm he brought to each and every broadcast.

However, Harry Caray was the one that captured my heart and pulled me toward this great field of radio and TV broadcasting. Harry was one of the best technical baseball announcers in the history of the sport, but many people who only became aware of him as the announcer for the Cubs on WGN-TV only got to experience him in the twilight of his career, when he was best known for singing the Seventh Inning Stretch and his mispronunciations of players' names.

In the main portion of his 50-plus-year career, Harry called some of the game's greatest moments and saw many of the all-time greats. As the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and the White Sox, he became one of the best in the sport with his colorful calls and honesty about the team he was working for. Fans loved his willingness to tell the truth and to openly cheer for the team he was affiliated with. However, when he was hired as the voice of the Cubs on WGN-TV, he became larger than life. With the power of the superstation behind him, he reached another level. A whole new generation of young people became Cubs fans — even if the team wasn't very good — because of the man in the funny glasses who was wildly entertaining.

I fell in love with his style and his entertainment ability. He was must-watch TV even when the games weren't very good. Until the Cubs signed Jon Lester and he became a key member of a World Series champion, Harry Caray was the single best free-agent signing in the history of the Cubs. From 1982 to 1997, he was bigger than almost every player who wore Cubbie Blue. Former All-Star first baseman Mark Grace remembered with a wry smile a story from his days as a Cub that shows just how big Caray was in relation to even the biggest-name players.

"We were playing the Marlins in Miami, and I was signing autographs alongside Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg," Grace said. "There were long lines for each of us, and then Harry poked his head out of the Cubs dugout. The fans spotted him and someone yelled: 'Hey everybody, there's Harry!'

"I'm not kidding, everybody ran over to him, and the three of us were left with no one to sign for. We looked at each other, and Sutcliffe says to us, 'Guys, now you know where we rank on the totem pole.'"

Harry Caray was a legend and for me. He was the most entertaining play-by-play man I ever listened to. I still find myself listening to old tapes of him, and I am still as entertained today as I was then. Harry was simply the best.