General

The future of the Cubs’ rotation is a big ‘Q’

Q2From the Saturday, Aug. 18, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

When it comes to brilliant baseball trades, the Cubs have pulled off more than their fair share in recent years.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer turned Scott Feldman into Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. They took Ryan Dempster and flipped him for Kyle Hendricks. And they acquired beloved team leader Anthony Rizzo for just Andrew Cashner.

But with the trade for Jose Quintana, karma is biting back – big time.

Last July, with the Cubs trailing Milwaukee by 5½ games, Epstein and Hoyer moved to acquire Quintana from the crosstown White Sox. On face value, the deal made sense. The Cubs needed another starter, and Quintana – with solid career numbers and beloved by the advanced metrics crowd – was young (28), cheap ($10 million average salary) and controlled (for three seasons).

The rub, though, was Quintana was very costly in terms of personnel, requiring the Cubs had to yield their top TWO prospects in slugger Eloy Jimenez and fireballer Dylan Cease.

I thought at the time that seemed like a high price for a pitcher more solid than spectacular who currently owned a pedestrian 4.49 ERA. Quintana was indeed solid (but not spectacular) down the stretch as the Cubs caught the Brewers to win the NL Central. He then delivered a big relief outing in the NLDS clincher, before posting an ugly 10.29 ERA during the NLCS loss.

In sum, Quintana’s 2017 was a mixed bag.

Illini, Sports

The fix is in (progress) with Illini basketball

UnderwoodFrom the Saturday, March 10, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

Illini basketball needs a fix.

Much of Illini Nation finds itself in a fix.

And after dealing with both, well … could someone fix me a drink?

Last week, first-year Illinois coach Brad Underwood wrapped up his debut season in Champaign with an underwhelming 14-18 record and a first-round exit in the Big Ten Tournament that resulted in a fifth consecutive year without an NCAA Tournament appearance for the once-proud program. Five days later, once-ballyhooed freshman guard Mark Smith – the state’s 2017 Mr. Basketball winner, who Underwood once compared to Jason Kidd – announced that he would transfer,

For the most combustible of Illini fans, that one-two punch was too much, causing them to lose their minds on social media. While sharing my thoughts on Twitter this week about Illini hoops, I was bombarded with tweets that ranged from utter despair (“There’s no reason for hope”) to utter lunacy (“Underwood is the worst coach I’ve seen at Illinois”).

While plenty of Illini fans remain plenty rational about what it actually takes to rebuild a basketball program, there’s also an orchard of bad apples who were frothing so badly at the mouth that buddy who’s a die-hard Indiana basketball fan shot me a text. It read: “Your fan base on Twitter is insane. This Illinois team played hard than I can remember an Illinois team playing in the last I-don’t-know-how-many years.”

And, hey, if anyone knows insanity, it’s Hoosiers fans.

The truth is that some Illini fans simply don’t have the stomach for program overhauls (basketball or football). And that’s what we’re currently in the midst of in Champaign, where the triumvirate of former athletic director Mike Thomas, football coach Tim Beckman and basketball coach John Groce took programs already in a hole and created a crater. Digging out from that doesn’t happen overnight, and it can be messy.

Chicago

Celebrating Chicago’s starring role in filmmaking history

StoogesFrom the Saturday, March 3, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

With the 90th Academy Awards taking place on Sunday night, all eyes are on Hollywood this weekend – especially Hollywood’s own, as it rarely has eyes for any place else when it comes to celebrating contributions to film.

But did you know that Chicago has its own rich history when it comes to movie-making? It dates back to 1907 when a pair of aspiring movie moguls named George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson founded Essanay Studio and produced a film called “The Hobo on Rollers” starring their janitor.

In 1908, Essanay moved north to Uptown, where it become a silver screen powerhouse, launching the careers of a number of stars and even attracting the talents of perhaps the nation’s biggest one: Charlie Chaplin, with whom it produced 14 comedic shorts.But Chicago’s connections to movies hardly stop there.

The man behind the Man Behind the Curtain

Featuring ornate statues of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, Dorothy and Toto, Oz Park is tucked in the heart (and, I suppose, the brains and courage) of Chicago’s bustling Lincoln Park neighborhood.

More than a century ago, though, L. Frank Baum – the author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” – lived just a few miles west of the area.

Baseball, Chicago, Cubs, Sports

Baseball is back to bury our Winter of Discontent

YuDarvishFrom the Saturday, Feb. 17, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

The Bulls are bad. The Blackhawks are bad. Illini basketball is bad. Northwestern’s is too. At 22-5, Loyola’s hoops are looking good – but, let’s be honest, the Ramblers are hardly going to get the average Illinois sports fan through this long, hard winter.

But, mercifully, there was a crack in our dark clouds this week.

Major League Baseball is back. Finally.

And with MLB teams breaking camp this week in Arizona and Florida, I thought I’d break open a few thoughts about baseball’s landscape in the Land of Lincoln – which hopefully won’t end up covered with much more snow this year.

A better Yu?

After a sluggish offseason during which the Hot Stove was more of an Ice Box, the Cubs thawed things out in a major way last weekend by signing coveted free agent pitcher Yu Darvish to a six-year deal.

Acquiring the 31-year-old Darvish is huge for the Cubs, but considering that he basically replaces 31-year-old Jake Arrieta in the rotation, just how big of a difference-maker might Darvish be? If you ask veteran backstop Chris Gimenez, who caught Darvish regularly for the Rangers, he could be quite big.

“I think we really haven’t seen the best Yu Darvish yet,” Gimenez told the media at Cubs camp in Mesa, Ariz., where’s he’s trying to make the roster. “He’s still evolving as a pitcher, as well. Coming back from second full season off Tommy John, physically he’s starting to really get in tune with his own body now and kind of knowing his limitations, what he can and can’t do. I think really, the sky is the limit for a guy like that.”

Gimenez also noted that Darvish’s average velocity was up in 2017. That’s significant considering there has been a noticeable dip in Arrieta’s velocity and control since his Cy Young season of 2015. And while I can’t say whether we’re yet to see the best Darvish, I am confident that the Cubs did get the best seasons of Jake Arrieta’s career – and, my how great they were.

Chicago, General

Last-Minute Valentine’s Day plans for you lazy lovebirds

Orchid-Show-at-Chicago-Botanic-Garden-CanopyFrom the Saturday, Feb. 10, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

It’s not quite Valentine’s Day, but let’s be honest. If you haven’t already made your plans for Feb. 14, well, then I’d say you’re liable to be left out in the cold.
Both by restaurants – and your special someone.

But to all you lazy lovebirds (and lovelorn) out there, fear not. If you’re still scrambling for creative ways to celebrate Hallmark’s second favorite holiday (behind only Mother’s Day), I’m here with some last-minute Valentine’s Day ideas happening this weekend and next week in Chicago.

Dances from the Heart
Today, 8 p.m.

If you’re looking to jazz things up, tonight at 8 p.m. a special Valentine’s Day dance performance will unfold at the Athenaeum Theatre (2936 N. Southport Ave.) in West Lakeview.

The event features 13 dynamic acts involving an array of dance styles, including aerial, tap, urban fusion, jazz, contemporary, stepping, Irish, Mexican folkloric, hip-hop, urban/performance art and more.

For more information, visit athenaeumtheatre.org.

Naked at the Art Museum Scavenger Hunt
Sunday, 1 p.m.

For those seeking something cheeky – quite literally – this weekend, the Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Ave.) is offering adults an unblushing look at nudity in art with its Naked at the Art Museum Scavenger Hunt.

At 1 p.m. on Sunday, participants will scour the museum while scrutinizing works of bathing beauties, peeping Toms, sultry sirens and more. As the museum says, “No previous experience with art, or nudity, is required.”

For more information, visit watsonadventures.com.

Politics, Sports

On Chief Illiniwek, Free Speech and Curious Decisions

ChiefFrom the Saturday, Feb. 3, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

To me, freedom of speech is a serious thing.

But I also find it funny.

Funny in how people can twist it. Funny in how some seem to feel it only applies to arguments with which they agree. And funny in how many will howl when they believe that their free-speech rights are being trampled, but in the next breath will gleefully trample on those same rights of others.

From my viewpoint, all three of those things happened last week on the campus of the University of Illinois in the Curious Case of Jay Rosenstein.

Jay Rosenstein
Jay Rosenstein

For those unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, let me give you a recap. During the Jan. 22 Fighting Illini men’s basketball game vs. Michigan State, Rosenstein – a 57-year-old U. of I. journalism professor, documentarian and longtime Chief Illiniwek critic – was arrested after he followed a pro-Chief group into a State Farm Center restroom while videotaping them with his phone.

Despite Rosenstein reportedly admitting to police that he did videotape in a public restroom without the subject’s permission – usually a Class A misdemeanor – State’s Attorney Julia Rietz declined to file charges. Rietz is also an adjunct professor at U. of I., which would seem to be a conflict of interest, but that’s a whole other issue.

Curiously, Rosenstein defended his actions, according to police, by telling officers at SFC that “he felt a journalistic responsibility to record what was happening at the time.”

In a restroom.

Just as curious, Rosenstein issued a statement the next day in which he crowed, “I am a nationally recognized and international award winning documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist. I believe I was wrongfully detained because of my efforts to investigate whether employees of the State Farm Center are taking an active role in facilitating the appearance of the unapproved Chief Illiniwek.”

Now, that’s funny.

Chicago, General

Feel the love (of all kinds) in Chicago this February

AutoShowFrom the Saturday, Jan. 27, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

It’s almost February, and in Chicago, love is in the air.

Love of food. Love of science. Love of spirits, ales and ciders. Love of cars. Love of chocolate. Love of nature …

What, you thought I was just talking about Valentine’s Day?

If you’re looking to feel the love in the Windy City, here are some events that may set your heart aflutter both before and after Feb. 14.

Chicago Restaurant Week

Through Feb. 8

Now in its 11th year, the annual Chicago Restaurant Week is actually two, which means you have extra time to find to take advantage of great deals at more than 370 restaurants in the city and suburbs.

Here’s how it works: Restaurants offer a three-course lunch (or brunch) for $22, and/or three- or four-course dinner for $33 or $44. Some restaurants feature lunch only, or dinner only, while some offer. In nearly every case, the restaurants’ regular menus also are available.

To research your options, visit eatitupchicago.com for a searchable list of participating restaurants and links to their respective Restaurant Week menus.

Free MSI Days

All Month

Every weekday in February, except for the 19th (President’s Day), the Museum of Science and Industry is free to Illinois residents. All you need is to show a state ID.

Whiskey, Beer & Cider Festivals

Feb. 3, 10 & 17

You can pick your poison this month in Chicago with a trio of festivals celebrating whiskey, beer and cider.

On Feb. 3, Old Crow Smokehouse (149 W. Kinzie St.) will host the Chicago Whiskey Festival (formerly the River North Whiskey Festival), offering more than 30 varieties of whiskey, bourbon and scotch from 1 to 4 p.m. For details, visit rivernorthwhiskeyfestival.weebly.com.

A week later and a few blocks away on Feb. 10, Rock Bottom Brewery (1 W. Grand Ave.) will host the Polar Beer Festival – taking place outdoors on the brewery’s rooftop deck. From noon to 4 p.m., the event will feature strong winter – and also feature a warming area. For more information, visit eventbrite.com.

Lastly, on Feb. 17, more than 150 artisanal ciders from around the world will be on the menu, along with food samples, during Cider Summit Chicago in the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier. The event offers two sessions, beginning at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. For more information, visit cidersummitnw.com.

Chicago Auto Show

Feb. 10-19

Chicago again is offering up its annual wintertime opportunity to witness everything that’s new in the world of cars during what’s billed as the largest and longest-running auto show in America.

Chicago, Cubs, Sports

Never mind the Cubs, Sosa owes better to baseball

SosaFrom the Saturday, Jan. 20, edition of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) … 

The WISCH LIST

I used to love Sammy Sosa.

But these days? I don’t miss the guy. At all.

And while many Cubs fans appear to want Sosa back in the organizational fold based on the social media uproar following last weekend’s Cubs Convention, I have zero interest in seeing the pompous slugger back at Wrigley Field.

But last weekend during what was generally a sleepy fan fest at the Chicago Sheraton, the hottest topic – besides Kyle Schwarber’s waistline – was whether the Cubs would ever again embrace their all-time home run leader, who’s been persona non grata at the Friendly Confines since he was traded to Baltimore following the tumultuous 2004 season.

When asked about Sosa, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said during a panel that Sammy needs to “put everything on the table” regarding his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, a stance that Ricketts has maintained since the issue first arose. He explained, “Players of that era owe us a little bit of honest, too. I feel like the only way to turn the page is just to put everything on the table. That’s the way I feel.”

That’s generally the way I feel too, Tom. Although, I don’t think it’s so much that Sosa (and his fellow PED ilk) owe the Cubs, Major League Baseball, or even the fans, honesty so much as they owe it to baseball. Because, while the Cubs, Major League Baseball, and even the fans to some extent, may have all been complicit in the Steroid Era to varying degrees, the sport itself wasn’t.

And it deserves better from those who abused it.

Chicago

It’s the time of the year to just weather it

ChicagoColdFrom the Saturday, Jan. 13, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

Four years ago, statistician Nate Silver attempted to rank the most “unpredictable” weather cities in America by comparing the daily conditions of 120 municipalities to their long-range averages.

What his research found was that Rapid City, S.D., is supposedly the most unpredictable weather city in the country, while Chicago rates a mere 58th – 42 spots behind Springfield, Ill., of all places.

Now, I don’t know that Chicago’s weather is so much unpredictable – it gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer – as it is volatile.  That, it most certainly has been the past few weeks when the Windy City (and the rest of Illinois) fell into a prolonged deep freeze, only to be followed by a near-record warm-up this week that spiked into the upper 50s.

With the chill now back, I thought I’d try to warm your cold, cold hearts with a lighthearted look at the weather that was (and, well, is again).

Cracking the history books

From Dec. 26 through Jan. 6, the mercury in Chicago never escaped the teens, with the high on many days registering only in single digits, and on some not even that. That frigid 12-day run tied the record for the city’s longest stretch below 20 degrees, which occurred only twice before – in 1936 and 1895.

New Year’s Day in Chicago did set a record with a high of only 1 degree and, according to WGN-Ch. 9 meteorologist Tom Skilling, the period of Jan. 1 through Jan. 5 was the city’s fourth coldest on record with an average temperature of just 3.6 degrees, a level more than 20 degrees below normal.

I think the only thing colder this winter is Major League Baseball’s so-called Hot Stove League.

General

Wisch Lists are for New Year’s

sparkling trails of light drawing out the numbers 2018 in glowing light to welcome in the new year
sparkling trails of light drawing out the numbers 2018 in glowing light to welcome in the new year

From the Saturday, Jan. 6, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

Wish lists are for Christmas.

But Wisch Lists? Well, just like every year, they’re for New Year’s.

My “Wisches” for 2018 are a bit belated as my wife and I spent the holidays out of state, first in Florida (visiting family for Christmas) and then in Charleston, S.C., (where we celebrated the New Year).

The weather was far from warm while we were in Charleston – the city was blanketed with near-record 5-inch snowfall the day after we left town – but it was, of course, still far warmer than it’s been in frigid Illinois the past few weeks.

And as we enter icy 2018 following a 2017 that featured too much fiery political rhetoric and too many chilling allegations against powerful men from D.C. to Hollywood to many points between, here are some things that I hope to see in what’s hopefully not just a New Year, but ultimately a better one too.

I Wisch that I didn’t start 2018 with a nasty cold.

I Wisch that Illinois – and, really, the entire country – didn’t do the same.

I Wisch every year could see Bill Murray stroll into my hotel bar and sit down near me, which is exactly what happened last weekend in Charleston, where Murray has a home. If he’d been alone, I would have dropped him a “Go Cubs,” but Murray was with a trio of friends and I didn’t want to intrude.

I Wisch I knew what a Golden Cadillac tasted like, which is the after-dinner cocktail that Murray ordered – at 4 p.m. I’ll have to find out this year.

I Wisch to see Jake Arrieta in Cubs pinstripes for 2018.

I Wisch to see Bryce Harper do the same a year from now.

I Wisch anyone could be confident that the Bears and Bulls know what they’re doing.