Cubs

Glanville: Ready or not, play ball

addison_russell_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Glanville: Ready or not, play ball

As my career wound down in Major League Baseball, I found myself caddying a lot. Caddying is just what it sounds like, coming in as needed, helping the talent of the future as a mentor or advisor. It also meant that when you do get the chance to start, you may be facing tough assignments that are spaced out inconveniently for you.

As I did in 2004, I faced some tough pitchers often to protect the next generation centerfielder in Marlon Byrd in Philly. I faced a Rolodex of Cy Young award winners that year (Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, and others) or All-Stars (Brad Radke and so on), and the other starters were reserved for the young buck.

That was then, but how to be ready with so many unknowns is still an important lesson about being prepared for anything that can come at you. And in baseball, anything will come at you.

Like many players who arrive to the big leagues, they have had a lifetime of being every day players. High school, college stars, or even minor league stars, who were always in the lineup. Then, as the air gets thinner, so does the opportunity to be a starter and the more you may learn about life coming off of the bench.

Addison Russell had a surprise entry into the Cubs-Cardinals game the other day after teammate Javier Baez took a pitch off of the elbow. In theory, it was supposed to be Russell’s “day off” so when he made an error in the field, speculation arose from announcer Alex Rodriguez that he may not have been fully prepared. The implication was that he had shut off his mind to enjoy his day off, and was caught off guard.

Only Russell knows how he felt, but after I spent a career in the National League as perennial starter and bench player, there is no such thing as a day off, especially in a lineup under Joe Maddon, which has emphasis on versatility, flexibility and open-mindedness.

If you are on the bench to start a game, there is an understanding that you may get in the game. At least there should be unless, and this has happened to me, the manager tells you that under no circumstance will you be called in the game. Even then, in the back of my mind, should the game go 15 innings, I could hardly be surprised if a promise may have to be broken.

One time, Phillies manager Terry Francona gave me a day off during a season where I ended up playing in 158 games and leading the NL in at bats. He said to me “it looks like the bat is swinging you.” We were out of it in September, so he could sit me and keep me on the bench. The Cubs do not have the luxury of handing out day spa packages, they are in the race, in fact, many days, they are getting chased.

I only played one partial season in the American League and this was with Texas as Alex’s teammate. After years of National League life, the AL was another planet. Players came off the bench only in matchup situations, the rare pinch run or pinch hit, and maybe for defense (other than road interleague play.). The AL does not have the built in bench call because in the NL, the pitcher hits, a circumstance which opens up many ways you can get in the game.

Like Alex, I was spoiled on years of being a starter, so it did take a little time to know how to get ready for the chance you may come in the game. He was a DH later in his career, so he knew when he was hitting, so he could get loose with a plan. If you don’t have that advantage, usually around the fourth inning or some inning before the pitcher is batting, I would start warming up. Some parks are easier than others to do that. Stretch, hit off of the tee, jog somewhere. And you will have to repeat this each inning you are not used, just in case.

What really bites into your preparation is when something happens very early in the game. This is when you could not get into a stretching routine to be ready because of the timing (Baez injury happened in the 3rd) or you could have skipped your typical pre-game warm up to bask in your day off. Sure, being a pro means being ready but being thrust in a game is still pretty jarring.

Then when you age in the game, you don’t have the bandwidth to be stiff on the bench or you may not ever get loose, so you are (or should be) constantly warming up. I learned a lot as a young player watching veterans like Shawon Dunston, Lenny Harris, and others who came off the bench ready to go. We were all a quick turn away from a pulled muscle.

Baseball is a stop and go sport, outside of the elements of surprise of in game injuries or wild substations, you may get hit by weather like the Cubs experienced last night. When is the tarp coming off? Warm up, sit down, warm up, sit down. It is not the best way to be loose, especially when you are 34, but it is always part of any sport that plays outdoors. You have to put the built-in excuses out of your head because there is a role player performing well despite the obstacles.

As an every day player, you often get out of touch with the reality of coming off of the bench and having to perform. It is challenging for any player to come off the bench no matter what the circumstance, which is what makes pinch hitter extraordinaire, Tommy La Stella, an incredible asset. It is one thing to be loose, it is another to hit a guy throwing a 96 mph sinker.

Baseball is a tough game because it depends so much on rhythm while everything is trying to disrupt it. Errors happen, no matter what, even when you are prepared and at your best. And it is ok to recognize that you may not really be loose, which is a natural occurrence over 162 games. You can’t be totally limber every day after long flights and split doubleheader’s while the body is just being the body. Sometimes you are productive playing through it, some times, you are not.

Yet there are a whole host of players who make a career out of their instant utility. Productive players who are not afforded advanced notice all of the time. Every year, these players help win championships (see David Ross.) Coming cold off the bench, going into games when the starter’s hamstring tightens up. Facing closers who throw 100 mph. Pinch running with a tight hamstring. It happens every single day on every single team. They are as important to winning as having an MVP in Kris Bryant, or a brilliant veteran, like Jon Lester.

So let’s take this opportunity to appreciate these players more instead of only noticing them when a starter has to do what these bench players have always done. Being ready on call.

NBC Sports Chicago to present documentary on 20th anniversay of epic home run race

sosa_generic_1998_road_hr_slide.jpg
NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago to present documentary on 20th anniversay of epic home run race

“1998: Summer of Sammy” presented by Elgin Hyundai

Premieres next Monday, October 1 at 7:00 PM CT -- Exclusively on NBC Sports Chicago, NBCSportsChicago.com, and the NBC Sports app

Chicago, IL (September 24, 2018) – In a year that elevated the Chicago Cubs to national prominence, one which will be historically credited to its 29-year-old superstar from the Dominican Republic, NBC Sports Chicago – THE home of the #AuthenticFan – proudly announces its next landmark documentary, 1998: Summer of Sammy, presented by Elgin Hyundai. This half-hour NBC Sports Chicago Original Production premieres Monday, October 1 at 7:00 PM CT exclusively on NBC Sports Chicago, NBCSportsChicago.com, and on the NBC Sports app. Official trailer here: SUMMER OF SAMMY

1998: Summer of Sammy chronicles the unforgettable home run race of 1998 that pitted Chicago’s Sammy Sosa against the St. Louis Cardinals ball-bashing superstar Mark McGwire in their quest to break the once unbreakable 61 home runs hit by the New York Yankees Roger Maris in 1961. Just four years after the MLB players strike, the nation was once again captivated with the sport of baseball as fans flocked to the ballpark and to their television sets with the thrilling drama and theatre that the two superstars created in 1998. But, what followed in the years thereafter forever put a spotlight on an era once celebrated.

Shortly after the great home run chase of ‘98, suspicions of steroid use caused a stir and forced baseball to reevaluate their drug testing program. 1998: Summer of Sammy not only relives the glory of that special season, but also delves into its aftermath and the marred spotlight that exists with Sosa’s life today, one that continues to plague his hopeful return to the Cubs organization.

Featuring Sosa’s memorable interview with NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan, who was also a producer on this project, 1998: Summer of Sammy was crafted by NBC Sports Chicago’s expert behind-the-scenes team featuring Executive Producer/Editor Matt Buckman, Executive Producer Jon Graff, Senior Producers Ryan McGuffey and John Schippman, and photographers George Gaza and Eric Fogle.

“Sammy Sosa’s historic quest and battle to rewrite the home run record book truly captivated an entire nation back in 1998,” said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. “I couldn’t be prouder of our amazing production team for their long hours and hard work on a documentary that explores that amazing season, along with Sosa’s life twenty years later.”

In addition to its candid interview session with Sosa, 1998: Summer of Sammy also features interviews with McGwire, former MLB Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig, former Cubs teammate Kerry Wood, former Cubs announcers Steve Stone & Chip Caray, and Hall of Fame baseball journalist Peter Gammons, among others.

Note the following quotes from the NBC Sports Chicago Original Production of 1998: Summer of Sammy, debuting Monday, October 1 at 7:00 PM CT on NBC Sports Chicago, NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive , and the NBC Sports app:

SAMMY SOSA on the HR battle vs. McGwire in 1998: “’98 changed everything. You know, more people come to the game. I mean Mark and I shocked the world. Mark and I came in and put a show together, and a lot of more people started coming to the ballpark. I felt very happy I feel proud you know to compete with Mark.

SAMMY SOSA on being present for McGwire’s record-breaking 62nd HR: “I remember I was in right field, you know the Roger Maris family was there too, so I came running down the field, and showed him (McGwire) the respect, give him a hug, and it felt great because it was two lions fighting for first place, there was no jealousy between us.”

SAMMY SOSA on his life and legacy: “I am my own boss, I don't need a job. I was playing for a company many years ago, so after I retire I formed my own company, so I'm not looking for a job, and when I call somebody, the first thing that I say is, 'I'm not looking for a job. Just called you to say hello.' So I have my own company, I'm comfortable, thank God I've got my beautiful family, I got my friends, you know what I mean? And I've got all my Chicago fans in the whole world that respect me, what I've done. Some people criticize me but that's okay, I'm happy anyway, and I'm living my life the way I am, you know, I believe in God, that's one of the things that's made me stronger every day, so you know if I wanted to come back to Chicago I'd come back for the fans. Those people, I owe those people something.
My legacy, nobody’s going to take it away from me, it matters what I've done. So for that, I'm happy, I'm pleased. And you know look, time will heal everything.”

MARK McGWIRE on the HR battle vs. Sosa late in the ’98 season: “He actually was ahead for a couple innings the last week into September. It was one of the things to think about when (networks) were breaking into regular televised shows and newscasts and they were breaking in to just show our at bats. The night that I broke it against the Cubs, it was like FOX goes ‘Hey we’re going to make it like a nationally-televised game.’ It’s like how do you even know that it’s going to happen and it turns out that it happened the same inning almost the same count that Maris broke it in the bottom of the 4th inning. It was just one of those moments where a lot of special things happened that the forces upstairs controlled…that was pretty, really unique.“

KERRY WOOD on how the ’98 HR race saved the sport: “Those guys (Sosa & McGwire) saved baseball. They single-handedly brought the fans back to the game. The post-strike (period) was kind of in a lull until ‘98 when these guys were chasing each other…they brought it back, they brought the fans back.”

STEVE STONE on how the ’98 HR race saved the sport: “There’s no doubt about it, baseball needed a shot in the arm after the ’94 strike, it cost baseball Montreal…but ’98 absolutely breathed life back into the game. It was that chase…that chase rejuvenated baseball, it brought back life to the game. In that respect, it was the best thing that happened to baseball to that point. Baseball is still reaping the benefits to a certain extent because of ’98”

PETER GAMMONS on Sosa’s tarnished legacy: “Sammy should be celebrated, not just shamed, and there is no one on this earth who actually know how many players did and how many players didn’t. And I kind of look at it that way. There were rumors of guys who failed tests when the tests weren’t supposed to count. And I just ignore it. Because you know what, we don’t know. They probably didn’t know. And you can’t take back what that year of 1998 did for baseball.”

BUD SELIG on the Washington D.C. Congressional hearing in ’05 and the Cubs position on Sosa: “(1998) was exciting, they both handled themselves well, there’s no question about it. Later on in Washington, in that house hearing, Sammy and Mark both didn’t do as well as I’d wish they had done. I talked to all of them before the hearing. And I had had a very close relationship with Sammy as you know with him, with Mark McGwire, all of them, and I could see that they were nervous. Sammy was fairly mute, not fairly, he was mute, and Mark did things later I was proud of him and I’m glad clubs gave him a chance, but it was unfortunate. And I want to say this too, I understand the Cubs position. I have enormous respect for Tom Ricketts, and what they’ve done in Chicago is I think is amazing and I understand how they feel on this subject. This is a very sensitive subject.”

NBC Sports Chicago will also re-air 1998: Summer of Sammy presented by Elgin Hyundai on the following dates/times (all times Central Time): Oct. 1 at 9:00 PM, Oct. 3 at NOON, Oct. 5 at 8:00 PM, and Oct. 6 at 5:30 PM. In addition, fans on Twitter are urged to follow @NBCSChicago for the latest 1998: Summer of Sammy documentary updates and exclusive preview clips leading up to the October 1 premiere, plus -- fans can also get interactive prior to and during the premiere airing with their favorite 1998 memories and comments by utilizing the Twitter hashtag #SummerofSammy. Viewers are also urged to visit a special, dedicated NBCSportsChicago.com’s Cubs section at NBCSportsChicago.com/Cubs, which will include the official trailer, select video footage from the documentary, info on a special “Cubs Talk” podcast, and original 1998 commentary write-ups via NBCSportsChicago.com’s team of Cubs experts.

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

This obviously isn't where the Cubs or Kris Bryant wanted to be heading into the final week of the regular season.

Instead of talking about Bryant's level of play or the Cubs' second straight decisive win on the South Side, the 2016 NL MVP stood near his locker, entertaining more questions about his sore left shoulder while he watched Tiger Woods lock up a victory at the Tour Championship.

Bryant did not suit up for the Cubs Sunday, out with what his manager Joe Maddon called "fatigue." 

"His shoulder's just a little bit fatigued. Not hurting, just fatigued," Maddon said before the Cubs' 6-1 victory. "So you want to be proactive. You can wait 'til tomorrow [to give him a day off], but then if you wait 'til tomorrow and something were to happen today, I'd feel really badly about that. 

"So just talking to him, listening to him and his body, we're gonna give him today off."

Maddon later described Bryant's shoulder "fatigue" as a lack of strength given the superstar has missed essentially two months of action due to the injury.

Maddon acknowledged the Cubs may play things safe with Bryant and keep him out of the lineup Monday, too, but would leave that up to the player.

Bryant insisted he will be in the lineup, telling the group of reporters several times that he already told Maddon he would be ready to go for the first ame of the homestand Monday night at Wrigley Field.

The 26-year-old admitted he just needed a breather Sunday after appearing in every game since returning from the disabled list Sept. 1.

"I'm still kinda in the early stages — I've had 60-something at-bats, which is like a spring training load, I think," Bryant said. "I wouldn't say I'm feeling something — I was just tired from playing."

He said he and the Cubs are just trying to exercise caution to ensure his left shoulder doesn't get any worse with postseason baseball a week away.

"I haven't had any pain or any of that, which is great," Bryant said. "I just gotta stay on top of my shoulder program and stuff like that, which we're doing, so that's good."

Bryant said he hit in the cage and went through a normal pregame routine Sunday, but instead of trying to catch up to big league pitchers throwing in the mid 90s, he got to sit back and let his shoulder rest.

The only possible concern there may be more at play with Bryant's shoulder is the timing of Sunday's day off.

Maddon said he was going to be cautious with Bryant when he first got off the DL and make sure he got enough rest, but then Bryant played every inning but two in his first six games back, only receiving a day off on Sept. 7 because rain washed away the game at Nationals Park.

Of the Cubs' 13 games since the other rainout in Washington D.C. on Sept. 9, Bryant started and played the entire contest in 12 of those games (he came in in the seventh inning in the other).

Bryant has had to utilize that left shoudler quite a bit since beginning his rehab four weeks ago, but he also received a day of rest just two days ago, when the Cubs had their only off-day of the month. 

If Bryant is back in the lineup on Monday, then this is all a moot point. And at the moment, there's no need to think the sky is falling and the Cubs will be without Bryant at all moving forward.

In fact, exercising caution is the right move given the potential danger that any one swing could bring the pain back in that left shoulder.

The Cubs woke up Sunday morning with a 2.5-game lead in the division and will maintain that gap into the final week of the regular season. There's no point in pushing Bryant to exhaustion or risking injury at the moment.

But if and when he does return, what type of force will he be in the Cubs lineup?

Since returning, Bryant is slashing .275/.346/.406 (.752 OPS) with 1 homer, 6 doubles and 5 RBI in 69 at-bats. He's also struck out a whopping 27 times (including a pair of 4-whiff games) against only 6 walks.

A healthy and successful Bryant is vital to the Cubs' World Series hopes next month and it will be interesting to see how much his shoulder becomes a talking point around this team over the final seven games of the regular season.