LaHair took the hard road to the All-Star Game


LaHair took the hard road to the All-Star Game

KANSAS CITY Bryan LaHair contacted his old high school basketball coach and asked if he wanted to meet up in the lobby.

At the winter meetings, everyone has an angle: Agents and reporters using each other, executives running interference, college kids looking for internships.

But LaHair had known J.P. Ricciardi since he was a kid growing up in Worcester, Mass., and received some tough love at Holy Name.

Ricciardi had worked in the Oakland As front office and became a figure in the bestselling book Moneyball. He went on to become the Toronto Blue Jays general manager before joining the New York Mets as a special assistant to Sandy Alderson.

As the rumors about Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder spread throughout the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, two things became clear.

They value your type of player, Ricciardi told LaHair.

The Pacific Coast League MVP had traveled there last December to pick up an award after a monster 2011 season at Triple-A Iowa (.405 on-base percentage, 38 homers and 109 RBI) and meet with Theo Epstein and the new Cubs front office.

But Ricciardi also sensed the anxiety in LaHair he was down in the dumps knowing that he was only playing winter ball in Venezuela because he needed to support his young family after six seasons on the Triple-A level. LaHair would have much rather been training in Arizona to prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I had no choice, LaHair said. I had to go make some money. I had to take care of my family. I knew that this year was an important year for me and I wanted to be as ready as I could possibly be.

At the age of 29, and after almost 1,000 games in the minors, the timing is finally right for LaHair, who will be shoulder-to-shoulder with the best players in the world on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.

How LaHair wound up on the National League All-Star is far more complicated than a Cinderella story.

Ricciardi remembers sticking LaHair on the JV as a sophomore, even though it was clear he was good enough to make the varsity, because his grades werent nearly good enough.

For lack of a better term, we just busted his -----, Ricciardi said. We tried to teach him a lesson, (that) youre not going to be able to skate through life like this.

LaHair was a bright kid who didnt seem to be applying himself.

Yeah, that was a big turning point in my life, LaHair said. That was really disappointing for me and my mom and dad. It was a tough little road. I had a lot of growing up to do. I had to pick better friends. I just had to go in a different direction.

Nothing was handed to LaHair in Worcester, an old, gritty city about an hour west of Boston. His father works for Budweiser, his mother works at a nursing home facility and they had already used up their vacation time visiting Wrigley Field last month, and couldnt get to Kansas City on such short notice.

Not that long ago, LaHair being voted into the All-Star Game by his fellow players wasnt on anyones radar. He never really had the pedigree.

Out of high school, LaHair signed with Clemson University, where he was squeezed for playing time and didnt find a great fit with the staff. He probably needed a harder edge and didnt last his freshman year.

From there, Ricciardi helped LaHair land at St. Petersburg College. In 2002, the Seattle Mariners took him in the 39th round as more of a draft-and-follow pick, but he jumped at the chance to sign and focus on his career.

The path that I took to get here, LaHair said, somehow I ended up being an All-Star. I dreamt it this way, but obviously wasnt 100 percent sure if it was ever going to work out this way.

LaHair spent seven seasons in the Seattle system, but played only 45 games for the Mariners in 2008, and was released the next year. Epsteins takeover at Clark and Addison meant everything to LaHair. The Cubs had nothing to lose.

Five years from now, he might not be that guy, Ricciardi said. The Cubs in five years are going to be a whole different animal. His timing couldn't have been better. Maybe with a different regime, they cut him loose."

LaHair was hungry and cost-effective. He saw a lot of pitches and could grind out at-bats. He had hit everywhere else. He had earned it.

Cubs utility man Jeff Baker was a sophomore at Clemson when LaHair came in at the wrong time.

Its kind of the perfect storm, Baker said. You got an opportunity in an organization that said, Hey, were going to give you 500 at-bats. Were going to let you go out there and do it. You dont see that too much, where a guy gets an opportunity this late.

Because once you start to get labeled and pegged, its hard to kind of shed that and create your own new mold. Hes done a heck of a job with that. He very easily could have probably went over to Japan and made some good money playing over there and done that route.

But he stuck it out, grinded it out, dealt with a lot of adversity and now hes an All-Star.

Thats the only label that matters now. But the goal is to play 10 years in the big leagues.

LaHairs month-to-month splits could be a warning sign, and he still has to prove he can hit left-handers. But the Cubs definitely would have taken this as they sat in their hotel suite at the winter meetings: LaHair hitting .286 with 14 homers and 30 RBI in the first half.

LaHair is spending time here with his wife, his brother and his agents. Inside Arrowhead Stadium during Mondays media availability, he sat at a table and looked at the BRYAN LaHAIR ALL-STAR GAME sign above his head and asked: Hey, can I take this? The plan was to cover it with autographs.

Its been a cool ride, it really has, LaHair said, and hopefully it continues.

Rams' trade for Jalen Ramsey will have a direct impact on Bears' season

Rams' trade for Jalen Ramsey will have a direct impact on Bears' season

The Los Angeles Rams pulled off a blockbuster trade for Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey Tuesday night, sending two first-round picks (2020 and 2021) and a 2021 fourth-round pick for the superstar defender.

It's the second trade the Rams have accomplished in one day. Los Angeles shipped CB Marcus Peters to the Baltimore Ravens for LB Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick earlier on Tuesday, completing a makeover in their secondary that will have a direct impact the Chicago Bears this season.

The Bears travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams in Week 11 as part of a brutal five-game stretch coming off of their bye week. Ramsey makes it even worse.

The Rams had little choice but to pull off a mega-deal like this. They're entering Week 7 with the 19th ranked pass defense and an underwhelming 3-3 record, a far cry from the expectations for last year's Super Bowl runner-up.

Mitch Trubisky and the Bears offense will have their hands full on November 17. The combination of Aaron Donald on the defensive line and Ramsey in the secondary is as intimidating as any defensive duo in the NFL and is capable of destroying even the smartest and most efficient passing attacks. And that's not exactly Chicago's pass offense so far.

Trubisky, who's expected to return from a left shoulder injury Sunday against the Saints, hasn't proven this season that he's capable of staring down the barrel of a Donald-Ramsey alliance. It will be a ridiculously difficult challenge for a quarterback who's still finding his way as a pro.

Ramsey has missed the last three games for a variety of reasons, most of which appear as tricks to remain healthy in anticipation of a trade.  He's a two-time Pro Bowler and has nine interceptions from 2016-2018.

Now, Ramsey is an opponent on Chicago's 2019 schedule. 

Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason


Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason

The Cubs are just a couple of weeks away from a pivotal offseason that could see a lot of change coming to Chicago's North Side.

Then again, we thought the same thing a year ago and it turned out Theo Epstein's biggest move last winter was signing Daniel Descalso to a two-year deal.

But after missing the playoffs in 2019, the Cubs are now at a crossroads as an organization. 

The NBC Sports Chicago crew previewed the offseason on the latest CubsTalk Podcast with some bold predictions for the winter.

Listen here and check out the fearless calls below:

(Note: Rationale and more context on each bold prediction in the podcast.)

David Kaplan

1. Cubs are going to take a page out of the Yankees' book and retool on the fly rather than go all-in to contend in 2020.
2. Jose Quintana has thrown his last pitch as a Cub.
3. This will be the second-to-last offseason for Theo Epstein as the Cubs president of baseball operations.

Kelly Crull 

1. Cubs re-sign Nick Castellanos and trade away Kyle Schwarber.
2. Tyler Chatwood will be in the 2020 rotation.
3. John Lackey will be named quality assurance coach on David Ross's coaching staff. (Kidding, but only kind of...)

Tony Andracki

1. Before the Cubs play a Spring Training game, Javy Baez will sign an extension that will keep him in Chicago through at least 2023.
2. Willson Contreras will be traded this winter and the Cubs will get some much-needed pitching help in return.
3. Cubs sign Howie Kendrick this winter as the professional bat and lefty-masher they craved in 2019.
4. Ben Zobrist will return on a one-year deal and finish his playing career in a Cubs uniform.
5. David Bote, Albert Almora Jr. and Addison Russell will all be traded or non-tendered this winter as the Cubs remake their bench/depth.

Jeff Nelson

1. Willson Contreras will sign a contract extension.
2. Ben Zobrist will return as a player/coach.
3. Jose Quintana will be traded for minor league depth.
4. Terrance Gore will be signed to be the 26th man on the roster under the new rules.