Cubs

Puckett deserves Hall of Fame recognition

600388.png

Puckett deserves Hall of Fame recognition

The Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame is one of the most distinguished organizations of its kind, overflowing with tradition and pride. But it built its reputation on football, so basketball has taken a backseat over the decades.

An examination of the Catholic League's Hall of Fame roster reveals fewer than 25 former basketball stars, including two NBA players of note, Mount Carmel's Lloyd Walton and St. Francis de Sales' Eric Anderson.

Others are Art Hicks, Sam Puckett, Tom Kleinschmidt, Melvin McCounts, Kevin Boyle, Jim Stack, Steve Krafcisin, Steve Puidokas, Ken Redfield, Donald Whiteside, Jeff Carpenter, Greg Carney, Jack Stephens, Mark Zubor, George Janky, Frank Ehmann, George Bon Salle, Ron Feiereisel and Joe Bertrand.

Interestingly, LaRue Martin of De La Salle, who was the No. 1 choice in the 1972 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, ahead of future Hall of Famers Bob McAdoo and Julius Erving, hasn't been selected. The 6-11 center played at Loyola and once created a lot of buzz by outplaying UCLA's Bill Walton in a college game, but never caught on in the NBA and retired after the 1975-76 season.

Longtime city basketball observer Shelly Stark rates Stephens, the former Mount Carmel football and basketball star, as one of the five best players he has seen since 1950--along with Public Leaguers Sweet Charlie Brown, Clarence Wordlaw, Paxton Lumpkin, Abe Booker and Jamie Brandon, as well as Catholic Leaguers Greg Carney, Tony Parker, Art Hicks and Sam Puckett.

But, largely because the Catholic League didn't join the Illinois High School Association and didn't begin to participate in the state football and basketball playoffs until 1974-75, many of the Catholic League's great athletes and coaches have been overlooked when the subject turns to Hall of Famers.

When the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum in Pinckneyville announced its first class last November, only one Catholic Leaguer was among the 60 male inductees--St. Elizabeth's Art Hicks.

The second class was announced recently and not a single Catholic Leaguer was selected among the 20 inductees. Interestingly, the class to be inducted into the Catholic League Hall of Fame on Thursday, May 3 includes one basketball player, Norb "Gooch" Lewinski, who played at Mount Carmel and joined Stephens and Joe Bertrand at Notre Dame.

Sam Puckett is a personal favorite. He is a member of the Catholic League's Hall of Fame, but few high school basketball fans outside Chicago have ever heard of him. He was a legend in the city. Only 5-foot-9, he put Hales Franciscan on the map, locally and nationally, and scored more than 2,600 points from 1967 to 1970.

He led Hales to three consecutive National Catholic championships and to the Catholic League title in 1970 and to second place in 1968. His 1970 team lost to Public League champion Harlan 72-66 for the all-city crown.

How good was Puckett? When future Hall of Fame basketball player Isiah Thomas enrolled at St. Joseph High School in Westchester, he was asked what uniform number he wanted to wear.

"No. 11," Thomas said, "because Sam Puckett wore No. 11, and Sam Puckett was the best player I ever saw."

He was a Parade All-American. He scored 49 points, breaking Austin Carr's record, to win the National Catholic championship in 1970. He is widely regarded as the best under 6-foot player in state history.

Curiously, he was recruited to Hales Franciscan as a 5-foot-7, 110-pound quarterback with Ricky Brooks, who later played football at Iowa. He chose Hales Franciscan over St. Philip and Fenwick because they offered full scholarships--lunch, bus fare, books, tuition--and it was a new school that was trying to establish an identity.

He was recruited by Notre Dame, but also received fliers from dozens of colleges and coaches who expressed interest in him. However he never visited any other campuses besides Notre Dame, even though Cazzie Russell wanted him to visit Michigan. Maybe they were turned off by his size or his 17 ACT score.

He was accepted at Notre Dame and was never told he didn't qualify. He attended classes before the season began, then was informed that he couldn't play. After the winter break, he transferred to Jacksonville to play with Artis Gilmore. But he didn't think it was the place for him and he returned to Chicago, then went to play at an NAIA school in Hawaii for two years, then the University of Hawaii as a senior. He never pursued a chance to play in the NBA. At 24, his basketball career was over.

But he won't be forgotten. He grew up in an era when Cazzie Russell was the biggest name in town, then George Wilson before him. In the mid-1960s, Eugene Ford and Rich Bradshaw were headliners.

"Your reputation depended on who chose you to play, how you performed," Puckett said. "At that time, you made your name before you played for a school. People knew you. I played at Marillac and Gladstone and Garfield Park. And I played in Maywood against Jim Brewer.

"We knew where to go to put your name on the map. I made my rounds. I had to have skills. I had to handle the ball. I got the ball to the open man. I kept everyone involved. There were playground legends and team players, guys who got wrote about and guys who didn't get wrote about."

Everybody knew how to spell Sam Puckett's name.

Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

As if things weren’t already going well enough for the Cubs during this strange, short season of baseball in a pandemic, now the baseball gods are dropping gifts into their laps.

The Cardinals’ lengthy shutdown because of a coronavirus outbreak has the Cubs’ arch rivals restarting their season Saturday in Chicago with a patched-up roster and eight games over the next five days, including five games against the Cubs.

And although that means the relative hardship of two doubleheaders for the Cubs in three days, all five of those games Monday through Wednesday are against a decimated Cards roster that won’t have the front end of its rotation for any of the games.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

They catch the Cardinals at their weakest point of the early season a week after catching an otherwise formidable Cleveland team at a moment of clubhouse crisis involving protocol perps Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger.

That one resulted in a two-game sweep by a combined score of 14-3.

This one already has resulted in all 10 games against the Cardinals now being scheduled for Wrigley Field.

Combine that with the three road games against the White Sox next month, and it means that the team with baseball’s best record on the field, the perfect record in player COVID-19 testing and no significant injuries to key players so far will play 60 percent of its games within its Chicago bubble if the Cubs and MLB pull off the full 60-game season.

If the Cubs were positioned any better to make the playoffs, they’d already be there.

“You can look at it that way if you want,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “We’re just doing our thing.”

No other way to look at it from here. Have you seen the rest of the schedule?

The Cubs have 43 games left, including 29 within a National League Central Division that doesn’t include another .500 team three weeks into a nine-week season. Nine more games are against the Tigers and White Sox.

The best team on the schedule is the Twins, and all three of those games are at home and not until the second-to-last weekend of the season.

With all due respect to Ross and his fear of “bad juju,” the Cubs can’t lose.

“It’s still early on,” the manager said.

Nothing’s early in a 60-game season. And the Cubs already have matched the hot starts of their 2016 and 1908 World Series champions.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go in the season,” Ross said.

The Cubs did have to scratch Tyler Chatwood from his scheduled start Friday night because of back tightness. And Kris Bryant has missed the last two games because of a sore finger after rolling his wrist trying to make a diving catch in left field in Cleveland Wednesday.

But Alec Mills looked good in short-notice replacement duty Friday until a rough four-pitch (and three-run) sequence in the sixth. And Chatwood might be ready for one of Monday’s games — or possibly one of Wednesday’s.

“Things falling in our favor?” Ross said. “We’re playing good baseball, and that should be the focus for me and not the other stuff.”

Granted, they still have to play the games. Granted, Bryant wasn’t available off the bench with the bases loaded in the eighth Friday, and Josh Phegley struck out instead.

And, yes, they actually lost a game to the Brewers Friday night.

But if you still don’t believe the baseball gods are stirring the Cubs’ pot so far this season, you weren’t paying attention in the ninth inning when Craig Kimbrel struck out Avisail Garcia swinging at a 98-mph fastball to start the scoreless inning and Manny Piña swinging at a 96-mph fastball to end it.

What closer problem? Bring on the Cardinals, right?

These guys might not lose another game.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.

Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

The Cubs plan to start swingman Colin Rea on Saturday against the Brewers, manager David Ross said after Friday's game.

Alec Mills was originally slated to pitch Saturday but was bumped up to Friday because Tyler Chatwood was scratched with mid-back tightness. The Cubs will evaluate Chatwood to see if he's an option to pitch on Monday, when they're scheduled to play a doubleheader against the Cardinals.

Rea, 30, has made two appearances this season, allowing no runs and one hit while striking out three in three innings. He was named the 2019 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, sporting a 3.95 ERA in 26 starts.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

Rea's last big league start was July 30, 2016 with the Marlins. He allowed one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out four with no walks.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.