White Sox

Frankie O's Blog: Harry and Me

Frankie O's Blog: Harry and Me

Friday, March 4, 2011
10:12 a.m.
By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Theres a lot going on in the world of sports right now, but one thing was mostly on my mind this week. On Tuesday (3-1-11) we celebrated the life of Harry Caray (and Ron Santo) with the 13th annual world-wide toast in his honor. For me, it was actually number 14. Coming into work on the 18th of February 1998, I already knew that Harry was in the hospital in California and the prospects were not good, still, when you receive the news, its a jolt. Not only that. I was told that I was to stand on top of the bar, and lead everyone in a toast in his honor at 7:30. It was one of those out-of body experiences: Cameras everywhere, and a room thick with emotion. Everyone raised their glasses and then there was nothing but silence until the bagpipers started playing Amazing Grace, after which you could hear the sniffling and see most in the room wiping their eyes. Death is never easy to deal with, ever. The family was great in saying that we should not be sad, Harry wouldnt want that, and that we should celebrate the long, remarkable life that he lived. For thirteen years now, weve been doing that every day.

Having a celebrity name on a restaurant means that youre going to have to answer questions about that person every ten minutes. When Harry was alive, most of the time it was pretty easy. Yes. Hes in the dining room right now! People would light-up like Christmas trees when they found that out. Unlike another downtown eatery that had an iconic name on it, that was pretty cool.

People always ask my favorite story, but I dont really have one in particular. What I like to tell them about is the vibe that he created. As a bartender, Im a natural observer of human behavior. There are two things in particular: How people act, and, how do they treat others? Those things have a huge influence on my job and surroundings. Harry was off-the-charts positive in both. To see the affect he had on others was amazing to watch. It was so easy and effortless you wonder why everyone couldnt do it. But that was his genius. He did not have to try, it was who he was. He had a showmans impeccable timing when he came into the bar, never staying for too little or too long, the whole room beaming when he left.

So now, the questions, and stories, have been in the past tense for quite a while. For me behind the bar, they never get old. In many ways, being a guy from Philly, I didnt quite know what I was getting into when I walked in the doors for a job back in95. It was an exciting and dynamic place to walk into, so who wouldnt want to work there? Especially, if you were a baseball nut like myself and seeing Hall-of-Famers every day.

The Cubs fan pilgrimage thing was in full force then, they all had to come to 33 W. Kinzie. I always teased, calling the restaurant the Cubs fans Graceland. (I always love hearing Harrys story about meeting Elvis and imagining what that night was like. I mean, honestly, those two together? The mind boggles!) Those experiences changed, obviously, after his passing. People coming in would share the most touching stories with me. Mostly theyre of baseball, their family and Harry. For a lot of us, baseball is the soundtrack of the summer, and if it was Harrys voice you were hearing, that soundtrack resulted in more shared smiles and laughs than you can count. Its hard to imagine, just by being himself, someone who created more good will.

As I go to work now, Im reminded of that almost daily. Oh, sure, I once in a while get the Whos Harry? question. Time moves on and those darn drinkers keep getting younger! But I never get tired of sharing his story with a new generation for them to enjoy. The longer Im behind the bar the more I realize how important that is. Its as though those of us that work in his namesake restaurants are in charge of caretaking his legacy. And if it cant be in a ballpark, where better than in an environment where people can eat, drink, laugh and share good times. I dont think he would have it any other way.

So as I think of Harry, he reminds me of others that I have known who have passed. Even though they are gone, its still possible for them to live on in our hearts and thoughts, and still bring a smile to our face every day. Who wouldnt raise a glass to that? Heres to you, Harry!

Will the White Sox make a big splash at the Winter Meetings?

1112_rick_hahn.jpg
AP

Will the White Sox make a big splash at the Winter Meetings?

SAN DIEGO — At the GM meetings last month in Arizona, White Sox vice president Kenny Williams teased that the team was going to do more business than usual.

We found out later that the White Sox met with Yasmani Grandal while out in the desert. And when the free-agent catcher got the richest deal in club history the following week, it was a sign the White Sox were serious about their intent to be aggressive and make some big splashes this winter ahead of a possible transition from rebuilding to contending in 2020.

The Grandal signing earned nothing short of rave reviews, but there’s still an awful lot on the to-do list for general manager Rick Hahn and his front office as the Winter Meetings get going here in Southern California. The White Sox have designs on adding a pair of starting pitchers to their rotation and landing an everyday right fielder. An everyday-type DH could also be in the cards, though Grandal’s arrival has at least provided a more realistic internal option in the form of a multi-player rotation. Bullpen help is never turned away.

Much of that could be addressed this week, with ample opportunities to cross those items off the list, even if in less headline-grabbing style. You’ll remember back to last year’s Winter Meetings, when the White Sox filled a hole in their rotation by trading for Ivan Nova.

But with no disrespect to Mr. Nova, most fans are waiting for a much bigger splash.

It’s what the White Sox tried to get done before they flew out to the West Coast. Just last week they reportedly made the highest bid in the Zack Wheeler sweepstakes, only for the 29-year-old free agent to take less money to play for the Philadelphia Phillies. Cries of “here we go again” from the fan base — still stinging from the way things played out with Manny Machado a winter ago — were quickly quelled by the financial details, and it sure seems there aren’t any more excuses for anyone to stick to the old talking point that the White Sox are unwilling or unable to spend. Wheeler’s deal, had he accepted it, would have broken Grandal’s weeks-old record for the most expensive contract in club history.

So will someone else actually take the White Sox money this week?

Certainly the possibilities are out there. Still searching for starting pitching, the White Sox could turn to Madison Bumgarner, who they’ve been connected to since Wheeler’s decision. The 30-year-old three-time World Series champ could play a Jon Lester type role in a different Chicago rebuild. Though plenty have expressed concerns over what effect his 1,948.1 combined regular-season and postseason innings will have moving forward. There are reasons to be skeptical, just as there are reasons to be optimistic.

If the White Sox don’t want to play at the tippy top of the starting-pitching market — they haven’t been heavily linked to either Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg — then Bumgarner is the biggest free-agent pitching splash out there. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel are in a similar strata of this free-agent market, but perhaps neither would generate quite as much buzz as arguably the greatest pitcher in World Series history.

The White Sox could also get splashy in their quest to fill the vacancy in right field. Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna are the two biggest names on the free-agent outfield market, and either would slot into the middle of the White Sox order. Neither would make for an ideal defensive selection, considering Castellanos’ ugly defensive stats in right field (which might exaggerate that reputation) and the fact that Ozuna is a left fielder who didn’t play a lick of right during his two years with the St. Louis Cardinals. Both, however, could make a big offensive impact. Ozuna had a ludicrously good season playing for the Miami Marlins in 2017, while the White Sox are plenty familiar with what Castellanos can do after he bludgeoned them in recent seasons with the division-rival Detroit Tigers.

The White Sox could potentially go off the board and chase someone outside of their stated positional needs, Hahn leaving everything on the table when he discussed his offseason approach at length last month. But neither paying a huge sum for Anthony Rendon nor coughing up prospects for Mookie Betts seems too likely at the moment. The fun thing about the Winter Meetings, though, is what seems likely or unlikely can change in an instant.

Speaking of trades, while Hahn signaled the White Sox have little interest in dealing their prized prospects for short-term gain, that market could provide opportunities for heretofore unmentioned splashes. Who knows if the White Sox have any interest in the biggest names being speculated about — Betts, Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant, etc. — but they’ve reportedly been chatting with the Los Angeles Dodgers about Joc Pederson. After supposedly trying and failing to get him in a trade last winter, his arrival on the South Side would probably be splashy enough, considering he had a career year at the dish in 2019 that included 36 home runs.

After last year’s Machado and Bryce Harper bonanzas, expectations have been raised. After the collective breakout of so many of the White Sox core players in 2019, expectations have been raised. The White Sox seem to have the ingredients to make their long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending in 2020. Money allocated for free agents is one of those ingredients. While there’s more than one way to build a championship roster, including leaning heavily on the wealth of young talent already in the White Sox possession, those raised expectations have fans craving a splash.

So will the White Sox cannonball into the Pacific Ocean this week? Stay tuned.

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Bears' wild-card chances eroding after Week 14's results

Bears' wild-card chances eroding after Week 14's results

The Bears did their part to keep hope alive for a playoff berth in Week 14, defeating the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night and moving to 7-6 on the season. Unfortunately, they didn't get the help they needed around the league to enter Week 15's game against the Green Bay Packers with legitimate post-season juice.

The Minnesota Vikings, who currently hold the final NFC wild card that the Bears are chasing, handled their business against the Detroit Lions with their 20-7 victory in a game that was never close. Now 9-4, the Vikings' have a two-game lead over the Bears with one head-to-head matchup remaining in Week 17. Chicago needs to defeat Minnesota in the season finale and hope the Vikings lose one of their other two remaining games against the Chargers and Packers. Otherwise, it's on to 2020.

The bigger blow to the Bears' playoff hopes came in Los Angeles, where the Rams moved to 8-5 with their 28-12 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. This was a game Chicago needed the Rams to lose, considering they hold the head-to-head tie-breaker and play only one more game on their schedule that seems like a likely loss (49ers in Week 16). Los Angeles' other two games are against the struggling Cowboys and lowly Cardinals, and if they win both and end the year with the same record as the Bears, they'll have the advantage because of Chicago's loss in Week 11.

So what does all this mean? Week 14's results have the Bears' chances to make the playoffs at just 2%, according to FiveThirtyEight.  Essentially, nothing's changed, even after a win. Football Insiders is a little more optimistic; they have Chicago's chances at 4.4%.

Sunday's game against the Packers has meaning. The Bears are still alive, and a victory in Green Bay coupled with some upset losses by the Vikings and Rams could change the playoff picture quite a bit. If both Minnesota and Los Angeles lose, Chicago's playoff chances jump to 14%, per the New York Times' playoff predictor.

One game at a time. It's a mantra that's worked for the Bears over the last month of the season, and one they'll continue to preach until there's nothing left to play for.

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