Baseball, Chicago, Cubs, General, Illini, Politics, Sports

Wisch Lists are for New Year’s

PCHFrom 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.

Baseball, Chicago, Cubs, Sports

Winter Meetings over, but Harper sweepstakes just heating up

HarperFrom 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.

Baseball, Chicago, Cubs, Sports

The key for the Cubs in 2019? It might be simple

Maddon

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.

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.

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.

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, 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.

Baseball, Chicago, Cubs, Sports

How to make yourself at home at Wrigley

Before I head off to Wrigley Field — yep, again — for this afternoon’s Cubs-Indians ballgame, here’s today’s Wisch List newspaper column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

How to make yourself at home at Wrigley

The WISCH LIST

June 20, 2009

I don’t just die with the Chicago Cubs.

I live with them.

Like, literally.

Up in Wrigleyville, my apartment sits just blocks away from the Friendly Confines. Last season, I attended 30 Cubs games. And this March, for the first time, I took a trip with my family out to Arizona to catch a few spring training games – and some sunshine – in Mesa and Tucson.

Then, I really put my game face on.

On April 6, I flew down to Houston for the Cubs’ season opener. Five days later, I was up in Milwaukee for a game at Miller Park. And, after taking in a Cubs-Cardinals tilt at Wrigley on April 18, I road-tripped south one week later to do the same at Busch Stadium.

Yes, if Cubs baseball is an addiction, then I’m Amy Winehouse.

But rather than try to make me go to rehab, many of my friends just joke that I actually keep an apartment at Wrigley Field.

I don’t.

But only because they aren’t renting.

(I kid, I kid.)

Two weeks ago, though, I did find myself getting more comfy on the corner of Clark & Addison than ever before. That’s because one of the better kept secrets in Chicago – and out of it – is that from May to September on most days that the Cubs aren’t playing or are out of town, fans can take behind-the-scenes tours of Wrigley Field.

Tickets, which cost $25 and could make for a great belated Father’s Day gift, are available at cubs.com.

I’d say the tour is worth every penny. Because, after all, it’s not every day you get a chance to roam all about the ballpark where White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen claims to see rats and this week, prior to the Crosstown Series, added that:

“I puke every time I go there. That’s just being honest. And if Cub fans don’t like the way I talk about Wrigley Field, it’s just Wrigley Field. I don’t say anything about the fans. But Wrigley Field, they got to respect my opinion.”

Not really, Ozzie.

But, anyways, much like the ballpark itself, the Wrigley Field tour is a gem.

Beginning with a video narrated by Chicago TV news legend Bill Kurtis, you’ll learn that – in addition to serving as longtime home to the Cubs, and formerly the Bears – Wrigley Field has also hosted a variety of events ranging from wrestling to soccer to a ski jump competition.

The 90-minute tour then takes you through 95 years of history (Wrigley Field opened April 23, 1914, as Weeghman Park) as you weave your way from the right field bleachers through the visitors clubhouse, up to the press box, back down through the home clubhouse and finally onto the hallowed field.

Along the way, I discovered (yes, Ozzie) just how tiny the visitors clubhouse in fact is. To imagine a Major League squad getting dressed in there is difficult. To think of an NFL team doing so is inconceivable.

In the clubhouse, you’re allowed free reign to explore everywhere, except for the bathrooms. Perhaps, it’s because they wouldn’t want anyone to walk off with traces of any Major Leaguer’s DNA.

Right, Sammy?

Next stop on the tour is the press box, where you can see the pipe organ, the WGN-TV and Radio booths and the big red “COUGH BUTTON” that Ron Santo pushes (or, sometimes, doesn’t) during broadcasts.

I was interested to learn that the Cubs actually were ready to equip Wrigley Field with lights way back in 1941. But then, that December, a little thing happened in Pearl Harbor and the organization donated the lights to the War Department, instead.

Also amusing to discover is that only men are allowed to work inside the Wrigley Field scoreboard. Why? Well, because the only bathroom facilities up there consist of a PVC pipe and a copper funnel.

The Ladies Room is downstairs.

You next trek down to the Cubs clubhouse, where the players’ jerseys hang in the lockers awaiting their return. Some things, however, never leave the clubhouse. Most notably, the many dents on doors surely delivered by a player’s spikes – or bat – following a particularly frustrating outing.

Finally, it’s up onto the ivy-laden field to take in the most beautiful vista in all of sports.

Although, of course, Ozzie may disagree.

Speaking of which, I did notice on their Web site that the White Sox offer similar tours of U.S. Cellular Field. It doesn’t appear, however, that Guillen ever moonlights as a tour guide.

Rats.

And I really had my hopes up.