Bears

Frankie O's Blog: Tax Break

Frankie O's Blog: Tax Break

Friday, April 15, 2011
Posted: 9:58 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Its always fun to take a break from doing your taxes. As usual, I keep asking myself why I ALWAYS wait to the last minute. Why? Because there is so much going on and Im easily distracted either at home or work. At home I worked my daughters track meet as a volunteer timer Thursday. (Like I had a choice!) Standing outside for two hours on a nice Chicago April day, I start to daydream about somewhere with slightly warmer temperatures, like in Minsk! Honestly! Wind chills in April? I dont know how they did it, but those little tax deductions gave it their all as they braved a head-wind that was bending trees. Its always great to be around the youngsters though, in any weather, as you can see what competing means to them. Since I spend most of my waking hours talking about, and contemplating the effects of, professional athletes and their endeavors, on and off the field of play, its always great to re-connect to the reason I care so much.

The top story at the bar, obviously, is the 1 seed of the NBA playoffs, the shocking Chicago Bulls. Its not that what they are doing right now is surprising us. But who saw THIS coming? D-Rose is awesome, we all knew. But who is this new coach? Is Boozer going to be more than a consolation prize? Two straight years of 41-41 and a quick playoff exit told us there was some talent here, but in the NBA where ascension seems to take forever, most had modest hopes. Of course now many will tell you that they saw this coming and all I can say is, really? Really?!(Thought so! Wheres Troy Polamalu?)

Beating out the Celtics, Heatles, Lakers and Spurs for the leagues best record is mind boggling. But everybody in the bar is drinking the kool-aid (not to mention the Titos!) and keep asking me how far they can go. As much as I want to say that we should hold on, who wants to doubt this team? Not me. But remember, they now have a target, not to mention a Sports Illustrated cover jinx to deal with, and its all up hill from here to go 4 rounds to get to the promised land. I have a feeling that this is going to be a fun ride and I think this is the time that Derrick Rose will catapult himself to the next level. Well all be watching, and thankfully, well be watching him enter the national consciousness on the court, not answering questions from Jim Gray.

The NHL playoffs are one of my favorite passions. This still even after the amount of pain that I had to deal with last year. The best part about them is that they are unpredictable. Sure, every now and then the favorite will win it all, but usually its a wild ride with outcomes that no one could see coming. Thats why I was amused by the Tribune Newspapers hockey experts picks for the 1st round of the playoffs. Eight series and she went with the chalk in all of them. What? Not one upset? In a sport that is annually full of them? And her headline is More drama on way? What drama? You picked all of the favorites! Way to go out on a limb and give us some insight.

I look at this year and its like throwing darts at a board. As usual, there are some great matchups from the start. I think the Blackhawks can play with the Canucks and better yet, can get in Roberto Luongos head. Although with the stuff he has going on up there, is that really hard to do? Theres no crying in hockey! Why not? Ill take the Hawks! Ill also take Pekka Rinne and the Preds to beat the Ducks. Things get really interesting in the Eastern Conference. I think every series will go seven games, so flip a coin on any one of them. And if I was going to make a wager, I would take the dog in all four. So that means that Johnny Vegas, thank you, would only take the favorite in 2 series. I cant wait to see whos right!

For something else that makes me scratch my head, theres the Barry Bonds trial. What I do not understand is: If you dont have the guy who injected him willing to cooperate, how are you going to prove perjury beyond a reasonable doubt, when he will not talk about his usage issues. If you ask anyone in the bar, or Jeff Brantley, they will tell you that of course he was on roids. Duh! But, proving it in court? When he uses the deny, deny, deny defense and knowing there had to be at least one star-struck juror, how did the feds expect to win when their entire case was he said-he said? Whether his obstruction of justice conviction sticks or not, which it probably wont, does not matter to fans. We all know what he did. Its written on the billboard that is his forehead.

And for something else that I dont understand, there is Josh Hamilton. His battle with addictions and magical Home Run Derby in 2008, have made him a feel-good story. His undeniable talent made him last years AL MVP. What I dont think any of us saw coming was his petulant tirade towards a coach after he got injured playing baseball. If you are on 3rd base, and the batter hits a pop-up, that the catcher and 3rd baseman chase after, the only thought in your head is whether you can score. Thats how Pete Rose played. Thats how Chase Utley plays. Gamers. When you see an out-of-shape pitcher standing oblivious on the mound, not even considering covering home, do you really need a base-coach to tell you to RUN? I know I would have been yelling for him to go and thats what his 3rd base coach, Dave Anderson, told him to do. That he was out in a bang-bang play is not the point. The point is that you let your opponent know that you are there to play old-fashioned hard ball, all day long! The 3rd baseman and catcher had to make a perfect play to barely tag him out at the plate. That he decided to slide head first, was that his coaches fault? I know guys fall in love with that slide, but wouldnt a feet-first hook slide have been more appropriate? The fact that he was injured did not make it a stupid play, it made it an unfortunate one. When players make it known that bustin it on every play is not how they want to play, I find that stupid.

And that brings me back to the frigid youngsters. Not to be too over the top, but it really was cool (no pun!) to be that close to kids just giving it there all, because they could. I know that they are just games, but they tell us everything we need to know about someone else and ourselves. As we enjoy the playoff season there will be plenty emotion and effort for us all to marvel at, hopefully the lesson hits home.

And just because:

SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE

The legendary eatery named after the famed former Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray, a must-visit spot for all endlessly tortured Cubbies fans to revel or drown their sorrows, is now selling their premium draft pints for 6.66.

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. deserves a lot of credit. After starting his career as a seventh-round pick and something of a longshot to ever earn a starting job, he's become an irreplaceable fixture at the most important position along the offensive line.

The four-year, $38 million contract extension he signed last offseason is evidence of that.

Despite his value to the Bears, Leno is still somewhat underrated across league circles. That may be about to change.

Leno was recently named Chicago's best-kept secret.

Leno has consistently improved as a pass protector since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and is now one of the team's top 10 players. If he hit the open market, Leno might be a $60 million player with the way the offensive line market is exploding. Over the next four years, the Bears should save about $20 million on the market price for their starting-caliber left tackle.

Leno has enjoyed steady improvement since his rookie season. His grades from Pro Football Focus reflect that: 53.6 (2014), 56.3 (2015), 71.2 (2016) and 80.4 (2017). 

The Bears' offensive line is poised for a big season in 2018. Leno and Bobby Massie are back as starters at tackle. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels will pair with Kyle Long at guard and third-year pro, Cody Whitehair, will get back to focusing on being the team's starting center.

If Leno's trend of improved play continues, he's a great candidate to go from best-kept secret to league star in 2018.

The trade rumors aren't going away, but that hasn't changed Cubs' faith in Addison Russell

The trade rumors aren't going away, but that hasn't changed Cubs' faith in Addison Russell

How much do the Cubs really need Manny Machado? 

They entered play Tuesday leading the National League in runs per game, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and run differential.

That doesn't sound like a team desperate for another bat and would trade future assets to go all-in for only a few months of a player, even one as good as Machado.

Of course, the Cubs went out and got walloped 10-1 by the Indians Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, but that had more to do with awful pitching and Machado won't do a thing to help that area of the game. In fact, Machado would actually hurt the team's run prevention given he's a worse defensive shortstop than Addison Russell.

All that being said, the Machado rumors probably won't be going anywhere until the Baltimore Orioles deal their shortstop to either the Cubs or another team, so Russell will have to get used to hearing his name included in such conversations.

Any Cubs package headed to Baltimore for Machado likely has to start with Russell, the Cubs' 24-year-old shortstop who won't become a free agent until after the 2021 season.

"He would be robotic if it did not [affect him]," Joe Maddon said. "I think honestly if he was 7, 8, 10 years into the league and something like this was being bandied about, probably not nearly as much. But the age that he's at, the experience level that he's at, I think it just can't help but have an impact.

"So we just gotta continue to nurture him here. I talk to him all the time. There's certain things you can't control. You can't control what's being said, but you can control how you react to it. That's about the best thing we could encourage him to do and he'll get our support."

Maddon said he gives Russell a hug and reminds him of "something" before every game as he tries to massage the confidence of a player that is currently the shortstop of a Cubs team with World Series expectations.

Russell doesn't turn 25 until next January, yet many people act like he's already peaked as a player. 

He's two years removed from hitting 21 homers and driving in 95 runs as part of the 2016 championship season.

2017 was a lost year for so many reasons — from off-field issues to shoulder and foot problems — and Russell has only 1 homer in the first quarter of the 2018 season, but he's taken other strides this year.

He currently boasts career best marks in walk percentage, strikeout percentage, line drive percentage, groundball percentage and is using the opposite field more than ever.

The power hasn't come yet this year, but a .343 on-base percentage is a pretty solid complementary piece to one of the best all-around defenders in the game.

Russell ranks 10th in baseball in Defensive Runs Saved among all players, tied for second among shortstops. Fielding metrics are not perfect, but Machado is 133rd in DRS among qualifed fielders and 24th among shortstops, so there is clearly a gap between the two players' glovework.

Maddon has never shown any outward sign of altering his belief in Russell becoming a dynamic player.

"Addy's gonna continue to progress to the point where all his game is gonna become consistent," Maddon said. "And even beyond that, who do you like better at shortstop [defensively] right now? ... His throwing's dramatically improved. His baserunning decisions — I know he had a gaffe in Cincinnati, but for the most part, he's gotten better.

"So what we're really talking about is his hitting. That's where people get hung up about this game all the time. I see absolute progress in that, also. He just came off a hot week and he had a couple tough days and then all of a sudden, it becomes exaggerated. Why? Because he's 24.

"I think the sky is the limit for this guy. He's a confidence guy like most of us are. As he's feeling good about himself, that's when the line drives start to occur. I mean, one of the biggest hits so far was the ball over the centerfielder's head in Atlanta [last week].

"And he always has this tendency to do some really good work when it matters most. He's been that guy already. So just be patient. He's just gonna keep getting better."

Remember, Russell is the same guy that hit a grand slam and drove in 6 runs in Game 6 of the World Series in Cleveland and started every game at shortstop that postseason. Every year Russell has been the Cubs' shortstop, the season has included a trip to the National League Championship Series.

"Our front office has always been one to make moves and they’re not afraid to do things and we’ve seen that," Kris Bryant said. "We won a world series because of that, getting [Aroldis] Chapman and some of the other guys we got, but we don’t put one ounce of thought into that because we’re happy with the guys we have here.

"The effort that everybody puts forth day in and day out when they’re on the field is spectacular. You know we have a great group of guys here and until someone is gone, we’re going to play with what we’ve got and continue to play the way we have. So, not much thought about [trade rumors]."

Russell has also quietly been very productive over the last month after a slow start to the season. Since April 26, he boasts a .306/.386/.444 slash line (.830 OPS).

It's still hard to see the Cubs willing to give up the next 3.5 years of Russell for 3 months of Machado and MAYBE a slightly better chance of re-signing the superstar this winter.

"I was talking about a 24-year-old hitter, what about a 24-year-old human being having to process all of that?" Maddon asked. "Whether he's hearing it or not from anywhere here, it's just mom, dad, brother, friend, former coach on the phone — 'What's that all about?' 

"He's gotta be inundated with that conversation. He didn't ask for that. He's just doing his job."