From the Saturday, Dec. 29, 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.
As you read today’s column, I’m with my wife out in Los Angeles for the first leg of what will be a weeklong drive up the (it better be) sunny California coast along U.S. Route 1. Along the way, we’ll be staying in Santa Barbara (for New Year’s Eve), Big Sur (pretending like we’re in an episode of “Big Little Lies”) and Carmel-by-the-Sea (where Clint Eastwood served as mayor from 1986-88), before ending the trip in San Francisco.
Hopefully I’ll return home without a California accent.
In the meantime, though, I, like, totally want to share with you my thoughts for the New Year, as we prepare to dive headlong into 2019. So, away we go …
I Wisch that every Christmas could be a white one, but also that every Christmas could be as warm as the one we just celebrated. I know that doesn’t make any sense. But, hey, these are my Wisches, so just roll with it.
I Wisch to see Bryce Harper wearing Cubs pinstripes in 2019 – and until the free-agent slugger is standing at a press conference wearing a different team’s jersey, I still believe that he’s coming to Chicago (the North Side, that is).
I Wisch that White Sox fans wouldn’t get angry when you tell them that a marquee free agent simply isn’t likely to sign with a team coming off a 100-loss season – no matter how many top prospects the franchise might have. The Sox are definitely trending up, but that doesn’t mean they’re on a rocket trajectory.
I Wisch that Illinois hadn’t lost population for the fifth year in a row – the only state in the country to have experienced such a drain.
I Wisch I believed that the state’s newly elected officials were going to help stem that tide – but, rather, I fear that they’re only going to accelerate it.
I Wisch I liked any of Chicago’s mayoral candidates.
I Wisch to see the Bears hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February as Super Bowl champs – and Bourbonnais packed for Training Camp in Summer 2019.
From the Saturday, Dec. 15, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …
The WISCH LIST
With the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings winding down last Wednesday afternoon, uber-agent Scott Boras held court beneath a Christmas tree in Las Vegas to discuss the sweepstakes surrounding his prized client – Bryce Harper.
Speaking largely in vagaries and analogies for an hour, Boras at one point said cryptically about the teams involved in the pursuit of the 26-year-old free-agent slugger, “This is not a race where every car is labeled.”
Now, what exactly that means is certainly open to interpretation. But my translation? It’s that the Chicago Cubs – and likely the Los Angeles Dodgers – are still figuring out their available vehicle numbers.
During the past week, the suitors for Harper most heavily discussed by the media have been the Philadelphia Phillies (as expected) and the Chicago White Sox (surprising enough). In a world where the league’s wealthiest, highest-spending teams are penalized for exceeding MLB’s luxury tax threshold, the Phillies and Sox have minimal current contract commitments. That gives both organizations lots of money to potentially spend on a player who is expected to command a megabucks deal worth between $300 and $400 million.
But I believe the Winter Meetings ending in Vegas without Harper having yet hit the jackpot on his contract actually bodes quite well for other organizations with payrolls already bumping up against the luxury tax threshold. Namely, the Cubs and Dodgers.
From the Saturday, Oct. 13, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …
The WISCH LIST
On the second-to-last day of Major League Baseball’s regular season, the Chicago Cubs owned the best record in the National League.
Three days later, their season was over.
As much I wish the Cubs were still playing in the NLCS this week, I’ve also come to the realization in the past couple of weeks since the team’s premature demise in the Wild Card Game, that I really needed a break.
This Maddoning season had worn me out.
Now, anyone who knows me well knows I’m no big fan of Joe Maddon. I think the guy was the perfect manager to assume the young Cubs’ reins in 2015 and help pull the team together for the 2016 championship run.
From 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.
From 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.
From 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.
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.”
From 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
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
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.
From 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.
From 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.
At the Sears Tower, they don’t just measure height in feet.
They measure it in celebrities.
Purchase a ticket for a trip to the top of North America’s tallest building and you’ll soon learn that the 110-story Sears Tower not only stands 1,450 tall.
It stands 262 Michael Jordans high, as well.
Or 313 Oprahs, if you prefer to measure in talk show queens.
Last week, however, atop the Chicago’s trademark skyscraper, it was a celebrity of a different sort – one with glass skin, but plenty of beating hearts – that was creating a buzz even MJ or Oprah would envy.
Braving the crowds – and the heights – a week ago Friday, I visited the Sears Tower’s much-ballyhooed new addition: A quartet of enclosed glass boxes known collectively as The Ledge because they stick out about four feet from the 103rd floor Skydeck.
And leave you peering 1,353 feet straight down.
Thanks to the unique attraction, which opened to the public on July 2, visitors to the Sears Tower can now get a panoramic view of Chicago that previously was reserved only for their dreams.
Or, I suppose, their nightmares.
On a clear day atop the tower, you’ve always been able to see 50 miles away in any direction. But now you also can stare 50 miles past your toes to Wacker Drive below.
At least, it seems that way.
Management at the tower said the notion to hang glass boxes from the Skydeck was sparked by years of watching visitors – think Ferris Bueller – press their foreheads against the glass walls to get a look down. Now they have an unobstructed view – and Sears Tower custodians fewer smudges to clean.
The Ledge’s boxes, which are about the size of large elevators and suspended by 30-pound steel beams, reportedly can support at least 5 tons apiece.
That’s equivalent to the weight of an elephant, which should make the queasier more comfortable when they step onto The Ledge. Although, discovering that the boxes also retract into the building when the windows get washed, might send them leaping right back out.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, the architecture firm that originally designed the Sears Tower in the early 1970s, spent a year and a half designing and constructing The Ledge. And among the challenges faced was that at times the Windy City’s wicked winds wouldn’t allow workers to construct the boxes from inside the tower.
Last week, however, many visitors seemed as if they could use a little wind – in their sails – as they flirted with The Ledge.
“I sort of went out there,” Waterford, Mich., teenager Scott Christopher said. “I stuck my foot out. But that was about it.”
Now, heights don’t particularly frighten me. But I still felt my pulse quicken a bit when I took my first step onto The Ledge. And after spending a couple minutes snapping photos and admiring the view, I then spent several more watching others do the same – or fail to.
Because, as amusing as The Ledge is, the real show is watching other people experience it. It’s high entertainment.
In my opinion, the view from the Sears Tower Skydeck has always been inferior to that of the John Hancock Building’s 95th-floor Signature Room. It’s shorter, but closer to Lake Michigan and looks down over the Mag Mile. Plus, you can get a Martini there.
The Ledge, though, is just the shot of adrenalin the broad shoulders of the Sears Tower sorely needs. After all, it’s been a rough year for the 35-year-old Chicago icon.
In February, its owners pitched the cockamamie idea of re-covering the tower in silver to improve its energy performance. And now later this summer, Sears will frustratingly change its name to Willis after its new owner, London-based insurance broker Willis Group Holdings, Ltd.
That move, to me, is akin to renaming Mount Rushmore, because the Sears Tower is more than a mere building. It’s a national monument.
One that features national figures, such as poet Carl Sandburg who has a quote painted on the wall by the Skydeck elevators that take you back down to the ground.
It reads, “Show me another city so glad to be alive.”
Sandburg just as easily could have said the same about Chicago’s people after seeing the faces of those who had braved The Ledge.
And even lived to tell about it.
To purchase tickets to the Sears Tower SkyDeck, visit www.theskydeck.com. My tip: Purchase online rather than at the tower. You’ll move through lines much quicker once inside the building.