5 Thoughts From A Weekend In Cooperstown

2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction CeremonyToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) The Chicago White Sox aren’t known for drawing a crowd.

In fact, they’re often known for not drawing one.

But after this past weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., perhaps that should change. Because fans of the South Siders showed up in droves Sunday to cheer on favorite son Frank Thomas as he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the much-maligned fan base deserves big kudos for their Big Hurt turnout.

I too spent this past Sunday in Cooperstown, along with my family, soaking in the history – and sunshine after the region’s morning showers blessedly evaporated. Coming into town, however, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of a fan turnout.

With a great induction class of Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, I was certain that the crowd would be huge – and it certainly was at an estimated 48,000, Cooperstown’s the third largest ever – but I was unsure of how it would be broken down.

Would Braves and Sox fans show up like they should? Just how many from the Cubs’ and Cardinals’ passionate followings would turn out? And was Torre alone a big enough draw to lure in Yankees fans?

As it turned out, Braves boosters – another fan base often maligned for its lack of support – showed up in impressive force to support their two former aces in Maddux and Glavine and ex-manager Cox.

White Sox fans, however, weren’t far behind the Atlanta masses, and their numbers paced well ahead of the contingents wearing Cardinals, Cubs and Yankees apparel, all of which had solid showings.

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Maddux, Thomas inductions quite a haul for Chicago

HOF

From the Saturday, July 26, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Four summers ago, my dad, my brother and I, clad in our Chicago Cubs T-shirts and jerseys, sat on the grassy lawn in Cooperstown, N.Y., and cheered loudly as former Cubs slugger Andre Dawson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

As a Montreal Expo.

This weekend, we’re back in upstate New York – along with my mom, sister-in-law and 1-year-old nephew – as we prepare to celebrate former Cubs ace Greg Maddux’s induction into the Hall of Fame.

Not as an Atlanta Brave.

In what’s shaping up as Chicago’s best baseball weekend of the summer – both in spite of and because it involves no games – Maddux and fellow Windy City legend Frank Thomas will be enshrined in the Hall on Sunday. Thomas’ plaque will show him wearing a Sox cap, while Maddux’s will feature no logo, a wonderful nod to the pitcher’s deep affection for the Cubs despite having enjoyed most of his Hall-worthy years in Atlanta.

With Tom Glavine, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa also set for induction, as many as 50,000 visitors are expected to descend upon Cooperstown on Sunday. I’m sure that many of them will be from Chicago, and hopefully for one day at least, Cubs and Sox fans can actually applaud each other.

After all, neither group has much else to cheer for this season.

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Cooperstown Shouldn’t Close Out Lee Smith

LeeFriday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas are all entering Cooperstown this weekend as first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza might make it next year. Jack Morris’ eligibility has run out. Jeff Bagwell has a decent chance at some day earning induction, while Tim Raines, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds may all be long shots, for different reasons.

And then there’s Lee Arthur Smith.

The man who finished 11th in Hall of Fame balloting for 2014 – behind all of those aforementioned stars – earned only 29.9 percent of the vote in his 12th year of eligibility, far below the 75 percent threshold required for induction. With so many big names coming onto the ballot in recent years, Smith’s tally has plummeted from the 50.9 percent that he earned as recently as 2012, when he was fourth in voting.

It looks like Cooperstown is closing out one of baseball’s greatest closers. And as Chicago prepares to celebrate the induction of Maddux and Thomas during a great Hall of Fame Weekend, that’s a shame for another Windy City great in Smith, who spent the first eight seasons of his 18-year career intimidating hitters from the mound at Wrigley Field.

Back in 1995, legendary Los Angeles Times sports writer Jim Murray tabbed Smith as the active player most likely to be elected to the Hall of Fame, calling him “the best one-inning pitcher the game ever saw” and “the best at smuggling a game into the clubhouse in history.”

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Illini (Coaching) Standards Out Of Whack

TBToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Does the University of Illinois need to loosen its stringent admissions standards for athletes in order to compete at football’s highest level?

Or does it instead need to elevate its standards for hiring football coaches?

Based on more than two decades of watching Illini teams play largely subpar football since coach John Mackovic left Champaign in 1991, I tend to vote for the latter. However, last week, veteran Illini scribe Loren Tate argued for the former through an in-depth and informative three-part series of columns for the Champaign News-Gazette.

In the series’ first part, entitled “UI standards out of whack,” Tate writes that, “While the UI is recognized with Michigan and Wisconsin nationally and internationally for their greatness as research institutions, Illinois is far behind athletically. Wins, resources, prospects, attendance … Illinois is behind.

“And part of the reason – emphasis on PART because there are many reasons – is the academic gap between NCAA qualifying standards and the level the UI insists upon.”

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Celebrating Millennium Park (and other oases)

Millennium-Park_Millennium-Park-aerial-view_4281From the Saturday, July 19, edition of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

On Wednesday, the best thing to hit Chicago in decades turned 10.

It was back on July 16, 2004, when Mayor Richard M. Daley sliced a red ribbon to officially welcome the public to Millennium Park, the downtown gem that has since grown to become a true jewel of the city.

Construction of the $490 million, 24.5-acre urban playground has long been criticized for rampant overspending, and just this month a trial over a controversial contract for the Park Grill again brought that enduring drama to light.

But as Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin wrote this week, “Little matter. Calculate the pluses and minuses, and it’s hard not to conclude that Millennium Park … is a great work of civic art, a robust generator of jobs and construction and the latest demonstration of Chicago’s audacious ability to invent the urban future.”

It’s also a resplendent oasis in the midst of Chicago’s concrete jungle that’s more accessible, beautiful and festive than adjacent Grant Park. Featuring the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture (better known as “The Bean”) as well as the Crown Fountain, Lurie Garden and Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park is also chock full of city icons.

And as it celebrates its milestone birthday, it may indeed be the best urban oasis in Chicago, but it’s not the only one. Here are three of my other favorites throughout the city.

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If Ventura Falls Short, Ozzie Actually Makes Sense

Toronto Blue Jays v Chicago White Sox

Today’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Over the past season-and-a-half, Chicago’s two baseball teams are a combined 86 games under .500. Good seats aren’t just available at U.S. Cellular and Wrigley Field – they’re plentiful. And so far this summer, both the Cubs and the White Sox have found themselves largely overshadowed by the Blackhawks, World Cup and even NBA free agency.

Yes, right now in the Windy City, baseball is a bore.

But Ozzie Guillen would apparently love to change that – down on the South Side, at least. And I don’t doubt that he could.

Before Tuesday’s All-Star Game, the Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley asked the former manager of the White Sox if could see himself being the future manager of the White Sox now that he’s significant steps toward patching up a relationship with owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Guillen replied, ‘‘I wish,” before immediately adding, “If I say yes, then I don’t respect (current manager) Robin Ventura. But that’s not where I’m coming from. When Robin gets tired of managing or he’s had enough, I would like to be back. But it’s up to them. If I wear a uniform and it’s the White Sox, that will be special.”

It would certainly be interesting, considering that Guillen almost always is. And even though I’ve never been particularly pro-Ozzie, his eventual return to the South Side could actually make a lot of sense if Ventura doesn’t ultimately pan out.

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LeBron’s Return Hits Home For Illini Nation

GroceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Four times in the past eight years, the No. 1 high school basketball player in the nation has called Illinois home.

Yet, none of them have ended up calling Illinois home in college.

In 2007, Simeon’s Derrick Rose chose Memphis over the University of Illinois. In 2011, Anthony Davis of Perspectives Charter picked Kentucky. In 2013, Jabari Parker, also of Simeon, headed off to Duke, while this summer Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor will do the same.

Throw in the likes of Homewood-Flossmoor’s Julian Wright and Crane’s Sherron Collins matriculating to Kansas, Peoria Central’s Shaun Livingston announcing for Duke before declaring for the NBA and Curie’s Cliff Alexander spurning the Illini for the Jayhawks just this past fall, and Illinois has had a rough go of it over the past several years in regards to keeping the state’s top basketball players actually in state.

The growing trend has led to increasing frustration for a fan base still waiting for a homegrown prep superstar to finally stay home, which makes LeBron James’ dramatic NBA return to Northeast Ohio something of an inspiration for Illini Nation.

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Exploring Chicago’s French Connections

Flag_of_Alliance-Française_de_Chicago_studentsFrom the Saturday, July 12, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

It isn’t July’s most popular revolutionary holiday – I’m pretty sure you know what that is – but come Monday evening, the celebration of Bastille Day will very much be a thing at Daley Plaza in Chicago’s Loop.

One during which le clou du spectacle – the show stopper – will feature waiters from Chicago’s finest French restaurants running a 200-meter footrace while balancing a tray filled with plastic glasses of Grand Cru wine.

The event, called “La Course de Garçons & Filles de Café,” begins at 5:30 p.m. with the championship sprint scheduled for 7. It’s preceded by the French national anthem and likely followed by mops.

For Francophiles far and wide, Bastille Day – which marks the moment 225 years ago when a pack of fed-up Parisians stormed a prison and sparked the French Revolution – is an opportunity to indulge France’s famed cuisine, wine and music without crossing the Atlantic.

It’s also an opportunity for me to fill you in on some things you might not know about Chicago’s French connections, both historic and contemporary.

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A Proposal For The ‘Barnstorming Illini’ In 2015

GroceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Come the fall of 2016, the University of Illinois men’s basketball team will have a snazzy new home thanks to the State Farm Center renovations.

But come the fall of 2015, the Illini won’t have a home at all – for a few games, at least – also thanks to the State Farm Center renovations.

As a result, I think the Illini should look to have several homes during that time.

On Monday, the Champaign News-Gazette reported that John Groce’s Illini will play five home games – one exhibition and four nonconference – away from State Farm Center during the start of the 2015-’16 season because a phase of construction at the arena won’t be finished until Dec. 1, 2015. So where should they be held?

Senior associate athletic director Jason Lerner said that playing games at historic Huff Hall – where Illinois played its basketball before Assembly Hall opened in 1963 – isn’t an option because its seating capacity is too small. He didn’t disclose what other alternate sites the university is considering, saying only that, “We’re looking for different venues throughout the state.”

To that, I say the Illini should play in as many of them as possible.

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LeBron’s Desired Legacy Can Only Be Safe At Home

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6Today’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) He has fame. He has riches. And he even has championship rings.

What LeBron James doesn’t yet have is the basketball legacy that he desires – and, honestly, the one that an NBA player of his caliber probably deserves.

But, you know, that’s his own fault.

Because if James hadn’t been so arrogant and tone-deaf in 2010 when he humiliated his hometown area of Cleveland on national television via “The Decision,” America might view him in a far different light today.

The good news for James, however, is that here in 2014 he now has an opportunity to redeem both himself and his legacy. All he has to do is go home to Cleveland – and, of course, win a championship there.

That’s easier said than done in a city where no team has won a title in any sport since the Browns captured the 1964 NFL crown in the pre-Super Bowl era. But with a core of talented young players now on the Cavaliers roster, a championship could happen if James returns to where it all began.

And I believe he should do just that.

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