Cubs

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.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Hottovy on the pitching staff and Szczur’s aspiring art career

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Hottovy on the pitching staff and Szczur’s aspiring art career

On this episode of the CubsTalk podcast, we catch up with new Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy in Las Vegas (1:00). Hottovy discusses his relationships with the current Cubs staff, his biggest challenge in 2019, and his quick transition from playing to coaching.

Later, Luke Stuckmeyer speaks with former Cub and 2016 World Series Champion Matt Szczur, whose painting of the final out from the 2016 World Series is catching eyes all over the internet (15:50). Szczur also details his role in helping Anthony Rizzo get going in the 2016 NLCS, and how he keeps in touch with all his former teammates.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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State of the Cubs: Second base

State of the Cubs: Second base

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the fifth installment on the second basemen.

Second base was the only position group the Cubs had close to starter-level at-bats available this winter, but that is probably no longer the case with Tuesday's signing of Daniel Descalso.

The Cubs entered December with only Ben Zobrist as a true second base option for 2019 with Daniel Murphy a free agent and Javy Baez sliding over to shortstop full time for at least the first month of the season (or longer if Addison Russell is not a part of the team's plans after his suspension).

The Descalso move changes the middle infield equation quite a bit:

Depth chart

1. Ben Zobrist
2. Daniel Descalso
3. David Bote
4. Addison Russell?

First, the Russell/Baez aspect. 

It's still not guaranteed Russell will be back on the active roster when his suspension is up in early May, which would create a larger hole on the middle infield depth chart.

But for right now, Russell is under contract and he may be a part of the active roster in the first week of May, so if he does return, how does that change the shortstop/second base rotation?

Speaking strictly about his on-field production, Russell's offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few years, but his defense has been elite. An active Russell on the roster would mean the Cubs could have arguably the best middle infield defense in the game with him at short and Baez at second. 

The Cubs could start Russell a few times a week at shortstop and play Baez over there the rest of the time. When Russell plays short, Baez can play second or he can go to third and move Kris Bryant to the outfield. On days Baez starts at shortstop, the Cubs can bring Russell off the bench to play shortstop and move Baez to one of the other spots to improve their late-game infield defense.

For the first month of the season, expect to see Descalso and Zobrist man second base a majority of the time. Zobrist will still only play 4-5 times a week as the Cubs look to continue the plan that made the veteran utilty guy one of the top comeback stories in the league in 2018, with a heavy dose of rest and some regular time in the outfield and away from the demanding position of second base.

Descalso's career splits are essentially the same, so even though he's a left-handed hitter, he can still draw starts against southpaws, allowing Zobrist to spell Jason Heyward or Kyle Schwarber in the outfield.

Either way, Ian Happ appears to be out of the second base equation for the Cubs. The young switch-hitter did not draw a start at second in 2018, playing only two games and 3 innings at the position.

What's next?

Probably not much, save for a few non-roster invitees that could surprise in spring training. The Cubs have next to no infield depth in the minor leagues at the moment, but that will change as the winter goes on.

The big-league roster does not have much room, though the big question mark that remains is Russell and where/if he is included from May on.

The Cubs could opt to keep Bote in the minors to start the year and add another veteran on the bench, but as of right now, Bote's league-minimum salary, versatility and stellar glove are awfully enticing.

The bottom line

The Cubs' second basemen are going to have an average age of 35 in 2018 (at least to start) with Zobrist (38) and Descalso (32) manning the position.

State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B

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