MLB needs to take JRW’s ball and run with it

JRWFrom the Saturday, Aug. 30, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

I love Little League Baseball, and always have.

My dad, Joe, was the winning pitcher on the 1958 Kankakee Jaycees All-Star team that was the first from Illinois to win the United States Championship at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

His stories of that squad sparked my lifelong love affair with the game, and over the past couple of weeks it’s been wonderful to see so many people from all over fall in love with Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West – the latest Illinois team to win the U.S. Championship in Williamsport.

With soul-sucking news about shootings and violence pouring out from Chicago’s South Side on a daily basis, JRW has emerged as the feel-good story that the city needed to pump it up this summer. But the all-black Little League team from Chicago’s Washington Heights neighborhood may also be the feel-good story that Major League Baseball has needed too.

At least, that’s my hope. Because, I’d like to see MLB take the ball that JRW hit and run with it by using their run as a launching pad to better promote baseball among black youths throughout the country.

In 1981, the share of African-American players on Major League rosters reached a peak of 18.7 percent, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. Today, however, blacks accounted for only 8.3 percent of players on opening day rosters, the least since 1958.

For the sport of Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, that statistic is a sad one, and last year Aaron told USA Today, “I think Jackie certainly would be disappointed in the way things are today, especially for African-Americans. Let’s face it, baseball was down, and when he came along, he put a big spike into baseball with the way he played, and along came other great black ballplayers.”

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It Should Be ‘Bowl Or Bust’ For Beckman In 2014

TBToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Tim Beckman’s coaching career at the University of Illinois has started off with two straight losing seasons. So did Ron Zook’s. Ditto for Ron Turner’s.

But the last Illini football coach to debut with three consecutive sub-.500 campaigns was Gary Moeller back in 1977-’79. And he didn’t survive to see a fourth.

So, will Beckman live to see 2015 in Champaign?

The answer is that he absolutely will if he breaks through this year with a bowl-qualifying team like Zook and Turner both did in their third seasons in Champaign. While I have my doubts that Beckman’s 2014 Illini have what it takes to get the six wins they’ll need to go bowling, there’s no doubt they have a schedule that makes it a possibility.

Last fall, after Illinois escaped West Lafayette with a 20-16 win over hapless Purdue to snap the program’s 20-game Big Ten losing streak and Beckman’s personal 14-game conference skid, Champaign News-Gazette columnist Loren Tate stoked hopes for a brighter future when he noted that beginning with this Saturday’s opener at Memorial Stadium (11 a.m., BTN), the Illini will play in 10 consecutive home games “in which they should be competitive or favored.”

“The 2014 home slate,” wrote Tate, “offers Youngstown State, Western Kentucky, Texas State, Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State, and the 2015 campaign begins with Kent State, Western Illinois and Middle Tennessee. This is not to suggest that Illinois will sweep the four conference foes (in 2014), but it’s also true that these four are not the Big Ten’s strongest members.”

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Let’s End The Culture Of Fear Around Derrick Rose

RoseToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) After taking his oath of office in 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood atop Capitol Hill in D.C. and famously declared to his fellow Americans that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

But you know, he never met Derrick Rose.

At least, that’s what Rose’s critics and fans might tell you today, considering how many of them seem to find reason to fear just about everything involving the Chicago Bulls’ electrifying but creaky superstar.

They’re fearful about Rose’s knees when he doesn’t play basketball. And they’re fearful for his knees when he does. When Rose sits out playoff games, they’re fearful that he’s a selfish player. And when he goes all-out in exhibitions, they’re fearful that he’s a reckless one. After scoring only three points during USA Basketball’s 30-point blowout of Slovenia on Tuesday, I’ve even seen them fear that Rose just isn’t good any longer.

For an athlete who’s spent his entire life striking fear in the hearts of opponents, it’s ironic to now see so many people so fearful for Rose. Perhaps you’re one of them. If so, it’s understandable to fret about the health of a guy who’s played only 49 NBA games in three seasons.

But it’s pointless to live in fear of it.

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It’s Time The Illini Erect Statues Honoring Butkus, Halas

Fox Cable Networks at the Cable Show 2008Tuesday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) With only three winning seasons out of its last 12, the current reputation of University of Illinois football doesn’t have much going for it. But the enduring reputation of the Illini’s football past? Well, that’s golden.

Although, right now, only part of it is bronzed.

And it’s time for that to change.

Last month at Illiniboard.com, popular Illini blogger Robert Rosenthal wrote: “There are two. Two sides to Memorial Stadium. We call them East and West. Your seats are in the West Main or maybe they’re in the East Balcony. A few years ago, the west side became the (Red) Grange side. A statue, outside the walls, dead center on the 50, memorializing the greatest college football player of all time. That’s the Grange side.

“It’s time for a Butkus side.”

He’s right — it is. But while there are two sides to Memorial Stadium, Illinois actually boasts three football immortals, and all of them – George Halas included – deserve their statuesque due.

This coming Sunday, prior to its season opener against SMU, Baylor will celebrate the grand opening of its new 45,000-seat McLane Stadium by unveiling a statue celebrating quarterback Robert Griffin III. It was only three years ago that Griffin – now with the Washington Redskins – won the 2011 Heisman Trophy for the Bears, and already the guy has a statue in Waco. I’d say that’s a premature honor.

Conversely, Illinois’ own pigskin honors are running behind, considering that it’s been 50 years since Dick Butkus played his last down in Champaign and 95 years since Halas won Rose Bowl MVP for the Illini.

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These three guys give Chicago its character

walking_dude_titleFrom the Saturday, Aug. 23, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Unlike Los Angeles and New York, where the streets teem with famous faces, Chicago doesn’t have celebrities strolling down every block.

But it does have its characters.

Just this past Monday afternoon, while walking across the Wabash Avenue Bridge downtown, I enjoyed the rare treat of happening upon two such Windy City characters standing within just feet of each other.

Nicknamed “The Walking Dude” and “Fashion Man,” this pair – along with Wrigleyville’s omnipresent Ronnie “Woo Woo” – form a triumvirate of eccentric local legends familiar to many Chicagoans. Now, the next time you’re in the city, they can be familiar to you too.

‘The Walking Dude’

WalkingDudeHis name is unknown, and so is his background, his age or his purpose. But “The Walking Dude” – or “The Walking Guy,” as he’s also known – has been silently roaming the streets of the Loop and River North for decades. Once recognizable for his dark flowing locks, thick mustache and ever-present sport coat, “The Walking Guy” has now gone gray – and on Monday was without a jacket. But Chicago’s ambling enigma still walks and walks and walks, same as ever.

In 2006, a brief mockmuentary entitled, “The Walking Dude, A Dudementary,” was posted on YouTube. In 2010, a Facebook page was established in his honor. And around 2011, I actually once heard him speak to a convenient store clerk.

It was as if I’d heard the voice of a Yeti.

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5 Thoughts On The Illini Basketball Schedule

illiniFriday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Its first game doesn’t tip off until November, but the picture of the 2014-’15 Illinois basketball team became clear this week.

Or, at least, the picture of the Fighting Illini’s schedule did.

On Thursday, the Big Ten unveiled this coming hoops season’s conference slate, filling in the blanks behind the Illini’s previously released nonconference games. With the full array of games now available for public consumption, I chewed on it overnight and had a few thoughts.

Road warriors – and home sleepers

Before the Big Ten season even begins at Michigan on Dec. 30, Illinois will have already traveled a whopping 8,338 miles all over the map with games in Las Vegas (against Indiana State and Baylor or Memphis), Miami (against Miami), New York (against Villanova), Chicago (against Oregon) and St. Louis (against Missouri).

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Mork from Ork and other famous Chicagoans

From the Saturday, Aug. 16, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

mork_350_092712The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Today, Chicago is home to 2.7 million people. Over the decades, it’s been the birthplace of many more – some of them quite famous, although their Windy City roots may not be as nearly well known as they are.

Earlier this week, when the news broke that beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams had died from an apparent suicide, it came as a shock. But what also came as a surprise to me was that Williams was born in 1951 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago, a fact that, if I’d ever known it, I’d long since forgotten.

Curious, I did some digging this week about other famous actors who hail from Chicago, and here are a few of the most interesting ones.

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Reality Of Cubs’ ‘Plan’ Is Taking Too Many Hits

Chicago Cubs v Colorado RockiesToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) When I was a kid during the 1980s, there were few TV shows I enjoyed more than the “A-Team.”

And during each week’s episode, there were few moments I enjoyed more than when, after pulling off yet another improbable mission, Hannibal – the A-Team’s cocksure leader – would inevitably chomp on a cigar, flash a toothy grin and utter the phrase, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Someday, I’d love to hear Theo Epstein – the Chicago Cubs’ Hannibal, if you will – say those same words while he puffs on a celebratory stogie following a World Series championship at Wrigley Field. But if Epstein does pull off his own improbable mission by winning it all with the Cubs, what exactly will “The Plan” have truly entailed?

Because right now, it’s being misrepresented.

As the rebuilding process on Chicago’s North Side has slowly unfolded since team president Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer joined the Cubs following the 2011 season, fans have heard reference to “The Plan” time and time again.

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Chicago’s British café and grocer is a jolly good time

From the Saturday, Aug. 9, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

On Wednesday afternoonspencers, the cheapest round-trip flight I could find online from Chicago to London would have set me back about $2,500.

Instead, I found walking to Southport Avenue in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood to be much more economical – and nearly as British.

Now fully settled into its new location at 3755 N. Southport Ave. a few blocks south of where it originally opened in 2012, Spencer’s Jolly Posh is a British and Irish grocer and café that’s unlike any other establishment in Chicago – and about as close as you can come to enjoying Jolly Old England without actually traveling across the pond.

“The other location was something we fit ourselves into,” Jolly Posh’s British proprietor Nick Spencer, 36, told me on Wednesday while comparing his original shop on Irving Park Road to the larger one he moved into earlier this summer. “With this place, we were able to design it to fit what we want.”

And as the Brits might say, it’s a proper fit. Not to mention, a delightfully unique and delicious one.

Seven years ago, Spencer moved from England to New York for love. In 2009, after marriage, he and his wife relocated to Chicago to be closer to her family. Looking to change careers upon his arrival (he had previously worked in risk management consulting), Spencer was struck by a desire to provide Chicagoans – and ex-pats from the UK – with authentic British meats, goods and experiences (such as a regal afternoon tea) that were difficult, if not impossible, to find in the Windy City.

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By Not Yet Naming QB, Beckman Making A Smart Call

BeckmanFriday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) He’s already been compared to Tom Brady. He’s already been projected as the Big Ten’s leading touchdown passer for 2014. And he’s already become the biggest name on the University of Illinois football roster without even playing a game.

But Wes Lunt hasn’t yet been named a starting quarterback.

That he hasn’t is actually one of the more savvy decisions that coach Tim Beckman has made during his Illini tenure.

With an unsightly 6-18 overall record – and a downright brutal 1-15 mark in the Big Ten – following his first two years in Champaign, Beckman’s job security hangs in the balance as he prepares his team for its season opener against Youngstown State at Memorial Stadium on Aug. 30.

While it may well be desperate times during training camp for Beckman, he’s not behaving like a desperate coach. If he was, then he surely would have already named Lunt – the strong-armed 6-foot-5, 228-pound redshirt sophomore transfer from Oklahoma State – as his starting quarterback.

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