White Sox

Former coach Mike Barry finds joy working with inner city kids

845207.png

Former coach Mike Barry finds joy working with inner city kids

After coaching high school, college and professional football for 37 years, Mike Barry has discovered an even more rewarding occupation -- working with hundreds of high poverty, low achievement kids in the inner city of Chicago to provide positive direction in their lives.

Barry, 65, works for the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), a Chicago-based non-profit organization that partners with the Chicago Public Schools to manage several chronically underperforming elementary and high schools.

Founded in 2001 by Martin Koldyke, a venture capitalist and founder of the Golden Apple Foundation, AUSL's mission is to turn around Chicago's most underperforming schools by improving student performance and achievement through a disciplined transformation process that is built on a foundation of specially trained teachers.

Teachers like Mike Barry. A 1964 graduate of Fenwick, he played center for John Jardine's 1962 Prep Bowl championship team. He attended Nebraska for two years, then transferred to Southern Illinois, earned a Masters degree and started coaching.

He met then SIU athletic director Gale Sayers at a golf outing in Urbana and began a coaching career that took him to SIU, Arizona, the USFL, Iowa State, Colorado, USC, Tennessee, North Carolina State and the Detroit Lions with current Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. He coached at national championship teams at Colorado and Tennessee and a Rose Bowl winner at USC.

After Marinelli was fired in 2009, Barry returned to Chicago. He planned to retire. But fate intervened. Barry was speaking at a clinic on the South Side and Phillips athletic director John Byrne asked him to speak to some elementary school youngsters in his neighborhood.

"Would you come to camp for one day and work with our offensive linemen? Would you consider working with high schools?" Byrne asked. "Orr High School on the West Side has a chance to get in the state playoff. They really liked you. You connected with their kids. Would you help them?"

Barry met the Orr coach, who asked him to take a tape home and critique it so his team could prepare for its game with Whitney Young. Barry went over the film with the Orr players, telling them what they had to do.

"The coach gave me a hat and jacket after the practice and asked me to coach the kids during their game on Friday," Barry said. "I thought I was coaching in the Rose Bowl. I was coaching the kids like it was a college game."

As it turned out, Koldyke and Bryne were in the bleachers. "Who is that white guy on the sideline?" Koldyke asked. "I want to hire him to run our athletic program." He hired Barry in February, 2011, to be the AUSL's athletic coordinator for extra-curricular sports. So much for retirement.

"I love what I'm doing, working with kids," Barry said. "We have 20 teams that play every Saturday morning in Chicago. We have football and girls volleyball in the fall, boys and girls basketball in the winter and baseball and boys and girls track and field in the spring. The difference between us and CPS is we have tackle football and hard ball in the elementary leagues."

He started with Wright Junior College, now Chicago Academy, and soon added four other high schools -- Orr, Phillips, Collins and Solario -- and 20 elementary schools.

"They are high poverty and low achievement areas. We keep gangs out of the schools. Thirteen percent of the kids are homeless. They have no address when they fill out an eligibility form. The stories remind you of Michael Oher," Barry said, referring to the Baltimore Ravens' offensive tackle who was the subject of Michael Lewis' best-selling book.

Why did Barry choose to get involved?

"I was sitting in Chicago and had had a great career, all a man could want...bowl games, national titles," he said. "But I wanted to give back to the sport that was so good to me. To see the look on these kids' faces when you give them their first set of pads and helmets or their first baseball glove, things they had never been given before, is so rewarding."

Barry points out that until AUSL came along, these kids didn't know how to play football or baseball and couldn't go to parks to participate in sports. Now, on Saturday afternoons, AUSL sponsors three football games at Douglas Park and four at Solario High School at 55th and St. Louis.

"There are little problems that these kids face on a daily basis...drugs, gangs, guns. I had to buy underwear for one kid. We feed them in the summer for lunch," Barry said. "They live it every day of their lives and we try to get them to play sports, study and eat right.

"We make them believe that they can make a difference, that they can climb out of the hole they are in, that they don't have to wait for someone else to do it. The most important thing is to persuade them to get out of bed in the morning and go to school and get an education, then play football.

"It's a constant battle with the kids. It isn't a right, it's a privilege they earn every day by going to school. Sports is a carrot for the kids, a reward at the end of the day for going to class. It keeps them out of trouble, something to do after school. It gives them a team to be a part of rather than a gang."

Barry is as motivated as he was when he played for Fenwick's championship team 50 years ago. "I get up every morning at 5 and go to exercise class so I can maintain my energy level. My goal this Saturday is for all 25 schools to show up and the buses and officials and no one to do anything goofy in the stands. I don't care who wins or loses. I want them to show up on Saturday and have fun," he said.

Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge show potential paths to success for strikeout-heavy Yoan Moncada

0813_yoan_moncada.jpg
USA TODAY

Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge show potential paths to success for strikeout-heavy Yoan Moncada

White Sox fans are justifiably concerned by Yoan Moncada's league-leading number of strikeouts.

Moncada carried big expectations into this season after earning the title of No. 1 prospect in baseball last year. He hasn't lived up to those expectations. But the struggles Moncada has dealt with this season don't at all etch in stone what kind of career he'll have in the long term.

Moncada's just 23 years old, and part of the reason there have been so many outside complaints about his season is that he's under the microscope in this rebuilding process. As an early arriver to the South Side, he gets looked at closely on a daily basis while many of the other highly touted youngsters in the organization are going through their developments in the minor leagues. And with the team where it is in its rebuilding effort, Moncada is going through certain things at the big league level that, if the White Sox were in a different spot, he might be experiencing in the minors.

But while Moncada is on pace to break Major League Baseball's single-season strikeout record, it's not at all the end of the world. See above for several reasons why. But there's another good one that's been discussed before but perhaps warrants a closer look, particularly after Moncada added two more strikeouts to his total in Monday night's loss to the Detroit Tigers. (He's up to 169 on the campaign and on pace to strike out 236 times.)

For fans expecting Moncada to arrive in the big leagues and display complete offensive mastery at the plate, just look to two of baseball's biggest stars, two guys who also piled up big strikeout numbers in rookie seasons that ended in Rookie of the Year awards, for examples of how Moncada's path can still end in plenty of major league success.

Kris Bryant struck out 199 times in 2015 to lead the National League and set the Cubs' single-season record. That's striking out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. It's also a total that currently stands as the 11th highest in baseball history. But Bryant has since seen those strikeout numbers drop dramatically, a possibility for Moncada as time wears on considering the rave reviews he gets from manager Rick Renteria and others when it comes to his understanding of the strike zone.

Bryant saw his strikeouts drop from 199 in his rookie season to 154 in 2016, a season in which he had 49 more plate appearances than he did in the year prior. Last season, his strikeout total plummeted to 128 (and his walks climbed to a career-best 95) in just 15 more plate appearances than he had in 2015. This season, Bryant has been plagued by significant injuries, but for what it's worth, he's got 75 strikeouts in 358 plate appearances, a strikeout rate 10 percent lower than the one from his rookie season.

So while Bryant and Moncada are different players, there's recent precedent — and just up the Red Line, at that — for a player striking out a ton during his rookie season only to consistently see those strikeouts decrease as time goes on. Remember that this is only Moncada's first full season in the majors. Time and experience can change an awful lot.

Then there's Aaron Judge. Last season, the New York Yankees slugger struck out 208 times, the sixth-highest total in baseball history. Like Bryant did in his rookie season, Judge struck out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. But unlike Bryant, Judge is striking out at a similar rate this season. Judge is a different kind of player than Bryant, of course, more of a slugger with the kind of power you see elsewhere among baseball's all-time single-season strikeout leaders: your Mark Reynoldses, your Adam Dunns, your Chris Davises, your Ryan Howards. Of course, Judge also walks a ton, something some of those guys did/do, too. Judge led baseball with his 208 punchouts last season, but he also led the American League with 127 walks. Judge ranks in among the league leaders again this season, with 68 walks.

Again, we'll go back to the praise for and confidence in Moncada's eye at the plate. He's got 50 walks in this strikeout-heavy season. As his skills at the dish are honed further, perhaps he could follow a path more similar to Judge's than Bryant's, where his strikeout numbers stay high but so, too, do his walk numbers.

Now, these are obviously not perfect comparisons. Bryant was an NL MVP a year after he was the NL's Rookie of the Year. Judge was the AL's Rookie of the Year a year ago and finished second in MVP voting. Moncada has other statistical areas of concern besides strikeouts: He's slashing .221/.304/.398 after Monday's loss in Motown, numbers that don't come close to the Rookie of the Year stats that Bryant and Judge put up in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

But these are examples of paths to success for players who hit the big leagues only to strike out and strike out a lot. There's little way of knowing if Moncada will be able to achieve the stardom those two have accomplished. But the big strikeout total doesn't preclude him from doing so.

State of the Cubs: What is the identity of this 2018 team?

State of the Cubs: What is the identity of this 2018 team?

Who are the 2018 Cubs?

It's mid-August, there's only seven weeks of regular season action left before the playoffs and yet the Cubs still don't have an identity they can hang their hats on.

Maybe they are just a team with an underachieving rotation, an inconsistent offense, a bullpen that is fantastic when rested and an elite defense.
 
Yet they maintain there's more in the tank and with a roster this talented and track records this extensive, it's easy to believe them. 

But when will that show up on a regular basis?

Mind you, the Cubs aren't complaining where they're at.

They woke up Monday morning with the best record in the National League by three games and the peace that no matter what happens in a two-game series with the Brewers this week at Wrigley Field, they'll head to Pittsburgh Thursday at least a game up in the division.

Of course, where would the Cubs be right now without David Bote's ninth-inning heroics Sunday night or against the Diamondbacks two weeks ago? Fortunately for the Cubs, that's an alternate universe they don't have to think about.

They'll take this current position, of course. Especially with the two biggest free agent additions of the offseason — Brandon Morrow and Yu Darvish — combining to throw just 70.2 innings to date plus a balky shoulder that has put Kris Bryant on the shelf for nearly two months (assuming he returns late August or early September) and has sapped the power of the 2016 NL MVP even when he has been healthy enough to suit up. And don't forget Carl Edwards Jr. — the team's second-most important reliever — also missed time (nearly five weeks) and has appeared in just 39 games.

"I don't take anything for granted," Joe Maddon said. "The Cardinals are playing a whole lot better, the Pirates have done a nice job, Milwaukee's not going away. I get all that. But at the end of the day — and this has been my mantra forever — worry about the Cubs. Worry about you guys.

"We just gotta play our game and if we do that, that stuff becomes secondary at every stop, whether it's Milwaukee, St. Louis, Pittsburgh. Cubs do what they're supposed to do, that other stuff becomes moot. 

"That's about getting the rotation back where we think they can be. That's about getting our offense percolating on all cylinders again while we continue to play this defense. If we could somehow get KB, Darvish and Morrow back for that stretch run, my god, you can't get better acquisitions at the end of the year.

"That's all a possibility, but I don't count on it. I'm not waiting for that day to happen. In the meantime, you work with what you got and try to make that as best you can."

What Maddon has is a team that is 13-11 with a -21 run differential since the All-Star Break — obviously not the stuff of a championship team across nearly a month's worth of a sample size.

Digging deeper, however, and you see that the Cubs have been on the wrong end of several blowouts including the 18-5 loss to the Cardinals July 20 and the 9-0 defeat at the hands of the Royals last week. Of the Cubs' 13 second-half wins, 9 have come by three runs or less, including 6 one-run victories.

But the concerns are there, particularly with making sure the rotation helps pick up the slack down the stretch and reduce the stress on an already-taxed bullpen.

Cubs pitchers have combined to throw just 44 pitches and get 7 outs after the seventh inning all season — all of which can be credited to Kyle Hendricks. Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Mike Montgomery and now Cole Hamels have yet to throw a pitch in the eighth inning this year (though, obviously, Hamels has been fantastic in a small sample size and Montgomery saved the rotation when Darvish went down months ago).

Once the Cubs signed Darvish in February, there were many pundits across the game that believed this could be the top starting staff in baseball behind only the Houston Astros.

"Remember I thought in spring training, this had a chance to be THE best rotation we've had here," Maddon said. "We've had some pretty good ones. And it just hasn't gotten to that point yet, but I still believe that it can, in spite of the fact that we haven't gotten the normal innings out of them."

The rotation is underperforming, but this has been by far the deepest stable of relief pitchers Maddon has had to work with in Chicago.

"You gotta give these bullpen guys a ton of credit and the depth that is organization has built," Maddon said. "The guys that have come up for cameos have contributed greatly to this moment.

"I've often talked about the bullpen — you gotta have that to win a championship and these guys are demonstrating that right now. And part of that is to not beat 'em up."

The Cubs still rank atop the National League in many offensive categories — including runs scored, OPS and on-base percentage — but anybody who's watched this team all year knows they are prone to rather extreme highs and lows.

Since the All-Star Break, it's mostly been at a low, contributing to that suboptimal run differential.

"Offensively, I don't see some of our guys at their normal levels," Maddon said. "I know we got this wonderful run differential [on the season] and we lead the league in runs scored, but how do you maintain that? That's my biggest concern."

Beyond Javy Baez's MVP campaign and the resurgence of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, the only thing that has been working offensively of late is Anthony Rizzo in the leadoff spot.

Maddon tossed the face of the franchise atop the order a month ago and hasn't moved him out — for good reason. In 27 starts at leadoff, Rizzo is slashing .347/.446/.604, good for a 1.050 OPS. 

The rest of the lineup behind him has gone through its ups and downs lately, but that's also the nature of the game, especially in this day and age with strikeouts up and basehits down.

For perspective, a Phillies team that has been challenging for the NL East all season has experienced similar head-scratching offensive games on a regular basis:

A lot can change in Major League Baseball in the span of a few weeks.

Just a few weeks ago, who considered Bote to be big part of this team in 2018 or beyond? When the Cubs traded for Hamels, they were hoping he could give them solid innings. Did anybody predict this level of success from the 34-year-old southpaw so soon?

With seven weeks left until postseason baseball, rest assured — there are still plenty of ups and downs coming for the Cubs.

Outsiders — fans and media — often seesaw with those ebbs and flows for many reasons, but the best one is this: It's simply no fun if you don't allow yourself to get completely caught up with moments like Bote's ultimate grand slam or Hamels' Rejuvenation Tour that has only lasted three starts.

But even if those outsiders are willing to ride that roller coaster even a little bit, the Cubs certainly won't inside the clubhouse.

"Never a good time to ride the roller coaster," Rizzo said. "I get motion sickness anyways."