Cubs

Shohei Ohtani fallout: How Cubs got a seat at the table with baseball's hottest commodity

Shohei Ohtani fallout: How Cubs got a seat at the table with baseball's hottest commodity

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Shohei Ohtani Sweepstakes will go down as one of the wackiest — and most fascinating — free agent courtships in the history of Major League Baseball.

The fact the Cubs were even in the conversation down to the end is fascinating in its own right.

As he whittled down teams to a Final 7 before ultimately choosing the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani made his terms public: He preferred a West Coast team to make travel to his home country of Japan easier and an American League team made the most sense because it had been several years since he had played the field, serving as a designated hitter/pitcher in Japan.

The Cubs obviously cannot meet either of those requirements, yet Theo Epstein and Co. found themselves in the conversation, as the Eastern-most team left alive.

How?

"First and foremost, I think the Cubs have a lot to offer any player," Epstein said at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort Monday during MLB's Winter Meetings. "It's a really strong brand right now, it's a great environment, our fans are amazing, Wrigley is a great place to play and we're the only team in baseball that's made the Final 4 the last three years.

"Just a really bright outlook. And beyond that, we pulled many all-nighters just to get this document done and created a pretty substantial document that we submitted that was really thorough and detail-oriented that I think got his attention so he wanted to hear more about it."

Epstein is proud of how the Cubs banded together to get such an impactful pitch to Ohtani ready in rather short notice after the 23-year-old pitcher was posted last month.

"A lot of people worked really hard on it," Epstein said. "No regrets. It reinforced some great bonds in the organization. A lot of people pulled together under a pretty difficult deadline to make something really impressive happen.

"It got us to the final table and it didn't turn out our way, but I think we overcame a lot in the process. We're all glad we went through it, despite the result."

Epstein wouldn't — and couldn't — get into too much detail about the Cubs' pitch, but Kyle Hendricks and Joe Maddon were there among uniformed Cubs members. Epstein and Co. also did not give Ohtani a virtual reality tour of life as a Cub like it was initially reported.

The Cubs spent two hours talking baseball with Ohtani and came away feeling OK about their chances despite the limitations they had no control over (geography, lack of DH).

Epstein admitted he didn't come out of that meeting rationally thinking the Cubs had a shot, but he did think they increased their odds with the final presentation.

"I was so proud of the work the organization had done and I had felt so passionate about the fit that I probably fooled myself into thinking we had a real chance," Epstein said. "It was a great process and I have no regrets. I certainly wish him well; he was a really impressive kid.

"I think health-permitting, he's gonna do really, really well and have a long career. He'll be fun to follow."

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.