White Sox

Crane old-timers recall the good times

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Crane old-timers recall the good times

Eugene Ford, Tim Robinson, Carl Merritt, and James Jackson remember the way it was in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s when Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School was a showplace on the West Side. They are saddened by recent reports that the 121-year-old school is being "phased out" by the Chicago Board of Education.

"Crane was another world back then," said Ford, a 1965 graduate who was the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year in basketball. "America was coming into its own with issues that had to be dealt with. We rode the back of the civil rights movement. Doors opened up. We pursued opportunities."

"To hear that Crane is closing is sad. They talk about (former Chicago Bears owner and coach) George Halas being the most famous alumnus of the school. But there were a million George Halases at Crane. Basketball was king. There were many good teams and players who brought the student body together, that created great school spirit and pride."

Last Wednesday, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced that Crane and Dyett would be slowly phased out of existence and four struggling elementary schools would be closed by summer. Crane will stop enrolling freshmen and the dwindling student body will begin sharing space with Talent Development Charter School.

Crane built its reputation on basketball and its West Side rivalry with Marshall. Ford led Crane to the 1964 city championship. Robinson led Crane to the 1957 Public League title. Jackson was an All-State selection in 1974. For 40 years, Merritt has organized the CraneMarshall reunion that annually attracts 300 to 500 alumni.

The school has produced many outstanding basketball players, some of whom went on to compete in the NBA. The list also includes Tony Allen, Cory Blackwell, Dan Davis, Ken Colliers Norman, Bob Dillard, Anthony Manuel, Joe Daughrity, Jerome Freeman, Nate Williams, Andre Wakefield, Joe Reiff and Sherron Collins.

It is argued in some circles that too much basketball and not enough academics, the same formula that ended King's basketball dynasty, was the reason behind Crane's demise. That and too much violence and the razing of the Henry Horner and Rockwell Gardens housing projects that effectively turned the community from a neighborhood to transient.

"We had a West Side neighborhood then," Ford recalled. "Now the kids are bused in. They are transients. The neighborhood has broken down. The family was more intact then, more structured. You don't have that today."

But, Ford insists, there is always politics. "So many school superintendents come to Chicago. All of them come with new ideas of how to fix the problem of the public schools. But we've never had one superintendent who was a product of city schools, someone who knows what is going on from within the system," he said.

Robinson, a minister, is reminded of the old gym with the running trackbalcony surrounding the playing floor. He recently spoke to players on the 2011-12 squad in the new gym. It is hard for him to believe that his alma mater is being phased out.

"If they are going to phase out the school, I'd be disappointed," he said. "Back then, there was a high spirit of pride in the school. I can't recall any major incidents. The student body was involved. There were a lot of activities, a lot of expectations because of the basketball team.

"Everyone made sure there was an environment where everybody looked forward to going to school. We have competition with Marshall but it was clean. CraneMarshall was the biggest rivalry in the city at that time. The students took great pride in it."

Jackson, who has lived in Australia for the last 30 years, attended Crane because all of his brothers and sisters and most of the kids in his neighborhood went there. Crane also had a tradition for producing good basketball teams and players.

"It was a tough school in a tough area and the thing I remember most even before I went to the school is I always heard stories from my brothers about the basketball teams," Jackson said. "It had a reputation as one of the best schools in the area for basketball."

Jackson attended Medill Primary and was recruited to Crane by coach Dan Davis, a Crane graduate who had played with Ford on the 1964 city championship team.

"To this day, I am in contact with Dan," Jackson said. "On my visit to Chicago last year, he did some personal training with my son. He took us to Crane to watch some games. I was proud to show my son my heritage of high school basketball."

"I can't imagine basketball without Crane on the West Side of Chicago. Crane developed me into the player I was, it kept me off the streets and out of trouble and gave me direction in life. I will certainly be sad to see the school gone, all those memories."

Merritt, a graduate of 1958, recalled that the school was more than basketball. "We had great teachers at the time. If you wanted to learn, you would learn, from music to shops. We also had a great band. Of course, we always had good basketball, great players," he said.

Merritt organized the first CraneMarshall reunion in 1974. He arranged for top-notch singing groups, including the Drifters and the Spaniels. One of the first groups was Merrit's own, the Tomcats, which featured six Crane and Marshall graduates. The event got bigger and bigger. Sit-down dinners attracted crowds from 300 to 400, as many as 500, with alumni coming from New York and California.

He recalls when he attended Crane, there was only one policeman, a man named Peterson, who patrolled the hallways.

Despite reports of repeated violence and declining attendance, Merritt doesn't believe Crane will be phased out as was Austin, another West Side school with a great tradition in football.

"Someone suggested that we should put together a group to save Crane," he said. "But I think we should wait to see what (the board) has planned. Maybe Crane will be better. Nobody wants to send kids there now because of violence. I still live in the same house that I lived in when I went to Crane. I think the neighborhood is getting better. More people are moving in."

Interestingly, George Wilson almost ended up at Crane. He graduated from summer school at Crane, then enrolled at Marshall where he became a three-time All-State basketball player and the leader of Marshall's 1958 and 1960 state championship teams. He also has been involved in the CraneMarshall reunion for 40 years.

"My feelings would be the same if I heard Marshall was closing," Wilson said. "MarshallCrane was the big game on the West Side. It meant the world to me. When I talk about my days at Marshall, I always will mention Crane. I have fond memories of that rivalry. We didn't hate each other. We were very competitive with each other. We were always friends."

If the White Sox are looking for a trade, how about Starling Marte?

If the White Sox are looking for a trade, how about Starling Marte?

SAN DIEGO — Rick Hahn said Monday night that his front office spent more time talking trades than it did free-agent signings during the first day of the Winter Meetings.

That doesn't mean anything is imminent — with Hahn adding that the White Sox felt "no urgency" to get any specific moves done during this four-day excursion to Southern California — but it means the South Siders are exploring the trade market with some level of gusto.

Well, given the White Sox need in the outfield, how about this trade candidate: Starling Marte. Who knows if the White Sox have any interest, but they seem to line up as potential fit for his services.

According to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking for a "young, controllable catcher" in exchange for the 31-year-old outfielder. The White Sox just happen to have one of those in Zack Collins, who currently sits third on the catching depth chart behind the recently signed Yasmani Grandal and James McCann, both of whom were All Stars in 2019.

Now, the White Sox have been strong in their belief that Collins can help the team into the far future. They spent a top-10 draft pick on him back in 2016, and he's put up some promising numbers in the minor leagues. He got his first taste of big league action in 2019, slashing .186/.307/.349 in 102 at-bats, a pretty small sample size. The numbers that still provide the most hope came after he was sent back to Triple-A in July, when he hit .323/.441/.631 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs in 38 games.

The White Sox want to get his bat in the lineup more often. Problem is, they just went out and gave the bulk of the catching duties to Grandal, with another All Star ready to soak up the majority of the backup opportunities behind him. Major league rosters will expand to 26 players in 2019, and there's a good deal of belief that many clubs will use that extra spot to carry a third catcher. Collins has also been mentioned as part of a potential rotation at DH, and he's been working defensively at first base, as well.

Of course, there are also the defensive questions that have hounded Collins since he was drafted. Talk of DH and first base didn't just pop up once the White Sox got Grandal. They were viewed as a potential necessity in case Collins struggled defensively as a big league catcher. Certainly the sample size to this point is nowhere near big enough to determine how he'll fare behind the plate in the long term. But it's a mystery, nonetheless, and something other teams probably know about, too.

As for what kind of fit Marte would be, he posted a career-high .845 OPS in 2019 to go along with a career-high 23 home runs and a career-high 82 RBIs. He was a Gold Glove left fielder when Andrew McCutchen still roamed center field for the Pirates but played center field exclusively the last two seasons, with less-than-ideal production: He had minus-nine Defensive Runs Saved in center in 2019. Of course, the White Sox don't really need a center fielder, with Luis Robert figures to man that position for the bulk of 2020 and beyond, and maybe Marte could be a solution in right field, where they have a pressing need. Marte, though, has never played right field in the major leagues.

The White Sox could use some hitters with better on-base skills, and Marte does not walk, doing so just 25 times in 2019. But he did reach base at a .342 clip, his highest mark since his All-Star season in 2016.

Marte would be an obvious upgrade, but he doesn't have a ton of team control left, which could make the White Sox hesitant to move a top-ranked prospect like Collins in such a deal. Marte is under club control for 2020 and has a team option for 2021. Hahn talked about the front office's lack of desire to move the prospects they've accumulated Monday night.

“There’s been, obviously, the pains and suffering that comes along with the early stages of a rebuild. We endured all that so we would be able to be in a position of building something that was going to be able to win on an annual basis, that was going to have some success for an extended period of time,” Hahn said. “Right now, we are in a bit of an interesting spot.

“Fundamentally, as a fan that has dealt with the hardships over the last three years, you want that benefit, that promised-land side of things to come more quickly. At the same time, we have to keep in mind why we started this and that was to build something sustainable. You don’t want to do anything short-sighted that’s just going to, trade wise, give us a quick bump next year but compromise the extended window we foresee coming when this all comes together.

“You need to be cognizant of that temptation to try to accelerate things. We want to get this to where it needs to be as quickly as possible. We don’t want to do that at the expense of shortening the window or making the window more difficult when it does open, whether that’s in the next few months or it takes a little longer.

“If we are trading a premium type prospect, it’s going to be for someone who will be here for a while.“

So it depends on how "premium" the White Sox believe Collins to be. What's true is that he plays a position that the White Sox now have in surplus, and that's the kind of thing that was supposed to create trade possibilities for this rebuilding organization. That hasn't materialized in many spots, thanks to injuries and under-performance throughout the minor leagues in 2019. But it has materialized at catcher, creating the conditions for a potential deal.

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Power Rankings Roundup: Too little too late for the Bears this year?

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USA Today

Power Rankings Roundup: Too little too late for the Bears this year?

If you haven't heard, the Bears have won three straight. Normally such a thing would earn them a nice boost in the Power Rankings, but because Power Rankings are so very arbitrary and so very meaningless, you can just never be sure. A win against Aaron Rodgers, in Green Bay, would probably start changing people's minds. So, you know, just go do that! Here's what they're saying this week:

NBC Sports – #13
As we were saying, there are times when Mitch Trubisky can be really good. At other times ... uh, not so much.

ESPN – #14
Until recently, everything went wrong for the Bears' offense. Poor quarterback play, uneven playcalling, bad blocking, poor execution ... you name it, the Bears were guilty of it. The past couple of weeks have been a different story, but the Bears need tons of luck to reach the playoffs.

USA Today – #14
Mitchell Trubisky has been on fire while orchestrating four wins in five weeks. But looking like too little, too late for reigning NFC North champs.

Sports Illustrated – #20
Teams seem to beat the Cowboys this year by building a lead and sitting on it while Dallas stumbles around and shoots themselves in the foot—and that’s exactly what the Bears did.

Yahoo Sports – #14
We know what’s happening right? Mitchell Trubisky is playing just well enough to end this season to make the Bears give him another season. Maybe that’ll work out as they hope. Maybe.

CBS Sports – #15
The offense has come alive to give them some playoff hopes, ever so faint. But Mitch Trubisky has made big strides.

Sporting News – #14
The Bears are seeing the Mitchell Trubisky they expected to see earlier in the season, and much of it is the product of a more favorable schedule. They have him running again, which in turn has him passing with more confidence. Don’t sleep on the QB leading them back to the playoffs.