The Cubs’ business? It’s back to baseball

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago CubsFrom the Saturday, April 11, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

A funny thing happened on the way to 2016.

The Chicago Cubs became a baseball team again.

Now, yes, the club technically played that sport at Wrigley Field from 2010 to 2014 – the first five seasons of the Ricketts era, which resulted in a 346-464 record – but during that stretch the Cubs’ business wasn’t really baseball. Or even bad baseball, something it’s always been about.

Rather, the Cubs’ business was, well, business.

During those dark, dull days for Cubdom, the face of the franchise wasn’t any player on the field, any manager in the dugout or even the club’s biggest name Theo Epstein, who as president of baseball operations worked more in the shadows than the spotlight until late 2014 when the club’s checkbook finally cracked open for the blockbuster acquisitions of manager Joe Maddon and pitcher Jon Lester.

Rather, the most prominent face representing the Cubs from 2010-2014 was that of Crane Kenney, the team’s president of business operations. And for fans of baseball, that really wasn’t a great face.

Season after losing season, it seemed as if every Cubs story of note was about Kenney battling the rooftop owners over a deal he had originally brokered, or Kenney wrangling with the city over the Wrigley renovation, or Kenney working to determining what TV networks the Cubs would call home in a given year. It got to the point where it seemed as if everything involving the franchise was about anything but baseball, and that Kenney – not Epstein – was the key power player in the entire organization.

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The best ‘Chicago’ pranks – No foolin’

april-fools_2868232bFrom the Saturday, April 2, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky


When it comes to April, people have been fooling each other for at least six centuries. So don’t be embarrassed if you fell for one on Friday.

Well, you know, unless you should be.

As it turns out, the first recorded association between April 1 and foolishness dates all the way back to 1392 when Geoffrey Chaucer penned The Canterbury Tales. In one story, set “Syn March bigan tritty dayes and two” the vain rooster Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox.

Readers interpreted that line to mean “March 32nd,” i.e., April 1. But modern scholars believe there was a copying error from Chaucer’s original manuscripts and that he actually wrote “Syn March was gon,” meaning that the passage originally meant 32 days after March – i.e., May 2.

April Fools!

In honor of the pseudo-holiday just passed (it’s not a public one in any country), I wanted to share four of my favorite Chicago-related pranks over the years. Three of them took place on April 1, while the fourth simply came when time was ripe.

Welcome to Chicago!

On April 1, 1992, airline passengers descending into Los Angeles International Airport were in for a shock if they peered out the window to see an 85-foot-long yellow banner on the ground featuring 20-foot-high red letters that read: “Welcome to Chicago.”

The sign, which was raised above the Hollywood Park race track about three miles from the airport, remained up for two day with track spokesman Brock Sheridan explaining, “It was something we always wanted to do. We thought it would be kind of funny.”

I’m sure it was, until the passengers realized they had to settle for L.A. hot dogs.

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For springtime events in Chicago, April reigns

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

BFC_SQUARE_400x400By Dave Wischnowsky


By Illinois standards, this winter was a mild one.

In Chicago, there were only four days below zero and just 17 with even a trace of snow. Over the two previous winters, I’m not sure that the city spent four days above zero or went even 17 hours without a snowfall.

But all that’s in the past. (Until next winter, at least.) And spring has sprung – or will, soon enough. And beginning next week, April will reign in the city with events ranging from Opening Day for the White Sox and Cubs to the NFL Draft to plenty more in between.

Here are a few ways you can enjoy the end of wintertime.

Macy’s Flower Show
Through April 3

March showers bring April flowers? That may not be the way the saying goes, but it does fit in Chicago right now as Macy’s Flower Show continues through April 3.

The free exhibition held inside the iconic retail store at 111 N. State St. (it’s still Marshall Field’s to me) features 2 million flowers and exotic topiaries along with special events.
For more information, visit

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Wisch List on the Air

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 9.00.43 AMWith the hiring of a big-name football coach (good)), the arrests of two more basketball players (bad) and a lot of buzz about the fate of the school’s embattled basketball coach (ugly), it’s been a busy few weeks for the University of Illinois.

And it’s been a busy few weeks for me talking about the University of Illinois.

Recently, I was on the Three4 Podcast out of Indianapolis, then the Tay & Jay Show on ESPN Radio Champaign-Urbana last Friday and, on Sunday night, CLTV SportsFeed in Chicago.

You can listen to any of my segments by clicking the links above.

New AD dazzles in dizzying week for Illini Nation

whitmanFrom the Saturday, March 12, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

New AD dazzles in dizzying week for Illini  Lovie Smith is the head football coach of not a pro team, but the University of Illinois. The thrifty school has ponied up $21 million for Smith’s six-year contract and committed another whopping $24 million for his assistants, who he’s stealing from NCAA powers and the NFL. And Illini football has gone from irrelevancy to the lips of talking heads nationwide.

Up is down. Down is up. Cats and dogs are living together.

Just a week ago, no one could have imagined that former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith would be taking the reins of the Illini football program.Yes, it’s been quite the dizzying week for the long-downtrodden denizens of Illini Nation, with a Twitter follower telling me on Monday, “I feel like I went to bed in Champaign, and I woke up in the SEC.”

With statements like that, it’s clear that this is not your father’s Illinois. No, this week’s turn of events is the sign of something completely different and incredibly exciting for Fighting Illini fans stunned to the see their major-conference school finally acting like a big-time program.

And all of that’s because Josh Whitman is not your father’s Illinois athletic director. Rather, the 37-year-old former Illini football player and Academic All-American is looking like an AD built for the 21st century.

Heck, maybe even the 22nd one.

Whitman admittedly wasn’t my first choice to take over Illinois’ messy athletic department, but he’s looking like he’s exactly what I did want — the right choice, as for years I’ve argued that the only thing keeping Illinois so far down in the dumps was having the wrong man overseeing its sports programs.

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Diary of an Illini Fan


It’s been a great week to be an Illinois fan, but it’s taken a wild year to get there

What a year it’s been.

Last March, after another frustrating Illini basketball season ended not with an NCAA bang, but an NIT whimper, I wrote a column for CBS Chicago in which I dumped at the feet of Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas the blame for the university’s myriad sports woes — which then became only more myriad and woeful with a stunning flood of accusations about player abuse and racism, personnel dismissals and even more lopsided losses.

Twelve months later, however, Illini Nation is now enjoying its best week in ages thanks to the university’s dynamic new athletic director Josh Whitman pulling former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith to Champaign like a rabbit from a hat and Illini hoops pulling off surprising upset of 5th-seeded Iowa to reach the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

So, how exactly did we get from down there to up here?

Well, I intend to tell you through the series of four columns that I wrote during the past year which basically serve as the Diary of an Illini Fan in which I share the twisting saga of where Illinois was, where fans have wanted Illinois to be and how I’ve strongly urged Illinois to get there.

As it’s turned out, the map that the university administration has ended up following to find its new celebrated AD and new celebrity football coach is basically the exact one that I’ve been demonstratively waving about and pointing to for a long time.

Instead of saying I told you so, let’s take a walk down the last 12 months of Illinois’ Memory Lane.

I’ll lead the way if you mind the potholes.

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Dressing Downton: The Crawleys come to Chicago

IMG_8210From the Saturday, March 5, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

If you’re a Chicagoland fan of Downton Abbey and want to visit the fictional Yorkshire estate of your Edwardian dreams, you’ll need to hop a 7½-hour flight to London Heathrow, followed by a 60-minute drive west to the real-life Highclere Castle, followed by, well, a time warp of 90 years.

Or, instead, you could simply visit Chicago’s Driehaus Museum in River North and experience the next best thing by gaining entrance into the opulent world of Lord Grantham, Lady Mary, the Dowager Countess and the rest of the aristocratic Crawley clan.

As Downton Abbey, the wildly popular British period drama from PBS Masterpiece, winds down with its series finale on Sunday night (8 p.m., WTTW), a new exhibit celebrating the show – and, in particular, its celebrated fashions – is just gearing up in the heart of the Windy City.

And it’s a must-visit for die-hard fans of the series.

Running through May 8, “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times,” features 35 of the period-perfect costumes from the early 20th century worn by the Crawley family and their servants. Designed by London costume house Cosprop Ltd., some of the clothes are made from original fabrics and embellishments, while others were recreated from photographs, patterns and magazine pictures.

As fans know, the show’s costumes could often be more intricate than even the show’s twisting plotlines and in Chicago there’s no better place for them to take up temporary residence than the magnificent Driehaus Museum (40 E. Erie St.), located just a block off the Mag Mile.

With lavishly appointed galleries that once were the drawing rooms, living rooms, libraries and bedrooms of the Gilded Age mansion commissioned in 1879 by wealthy Chicago banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson, the home today is a museum devoted to the craftsmanship of the past. And it’s filled with enough breathtaking artwork, furnishings and décor to make even the Dowager Countess feel right at home.

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Illinois basketball is in a fix – and in need of a change


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


By Dave Wischnowsky

He’s lost recruiting battles. He’s lost players to injuries — and he’s lost them to suspension. And, yes, he’s certainly lost games, as well.

But perhaps none of those things is as troubling as what University of Illinois basketball coach John Groce has lost most recently.

Our interest.

Last weekend, less than an hour before Illinois was scheduled to tip off against Wisconsin for a Big Ten tilt at the Kohl Center in Madison, I tweeted how “Illini basketball used to be appointment television for me. But, these days, it’s just not.”

I know that I’m far from the only fan feeling that way.

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved Illini hoops. In fact, when it comes to sports moments that I hope to witness in my lifetime, a national basketball championship for my alma mater trails only a Chicago Cubs World Series title. And whereas the latter seems as if it actually might be closer than ever before, I don’t think the former has ever before felt so far away.

That’s sad. But what’s most depressing is that I don’t even really feel sorrow about the current sorry state of Illinois basketball. I don’t really feel angry about it, either. Rather, as the Illini careen towards a third straight March without an NCAA Tournament bid — an occurrence once unthinkable — I don’t feel much of anything at all.

Apathy has consumed my fandom. And, again, I know I’m far from the only one, which is why my advice to new Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman is to build off the good vibes following his own introduction and look to hire a new Illini basketball coach — sooner rather than later.

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A Long Journey on the Red Line

Fred1For Fred Long, Chicago’s youth-focused nonprofit UCAN has been a ticket to a world that he never even knew existed growing up on the city’s South Side.

CHICAGO — There are 31 stops between 95th Street and Jarvis on the CTA Red Line.

And Fred Long has a story for all of them.

As a native of Chicago’s Far South Side, 95th is home, while 87th was high school. When pulling into 63rd, Englewood comes to mind, while 35th signifies the White Sox, and the first sign of white faces when riding north — or the last sign while southbound. At Cermak-Chinatown, there’s a glimpse into Asia. And then there’s the Loop, where Monroe means traffic court.

“In our neighborhood, the only reason anyone I knew ever went as far as downtown was if you had to go to court,” Fred, the 36-year-old vice president of development and government affairs for Chicago youth services nonprofit UCAN, reminisced in late January while standing bundled in a gray stocking cap and coat on a frigid platform at 95th Street.

“And that was a big trip for people. You had to mentally prepare yourself for that journey.”
Like many of his peers in Chicago, where today 47 percent of black men between 20 and 24 years old are both out of school and out of work, Fred’s own South Side story easily could have never extended beyond traffic court in the Loop.

But through a relationship developed as a teen with UCAN — the Chicago social services institution that for more than 150 years has helped youth who have suffered trauma become future leaders — Fred’s odyssey has stretched to an apartment on the opposite end of the Red Line in Rogers Park, and then to professional roles rubbing elbows with political elites in Springfield and Washington, D.C., and some of the wealthiest philanthropists in Chicago.

“People always talk about how something saves your life,” Fred said. “UCAN, it didn’t save my life, but it definitely changed my life. It got me out of Roseland, gave me somewhere to go to every day and put me out of harm’s way. It’s allowed me to meet people I never would have known, and experience things that I never could have imagined.”

For Fred, however, the tracks leading to where he stands today were anything but smooth.

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Five things you never knew about The Second City

comedy-clubs-secon-cityFrom the Saturday, Feb. 13, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Two years ago this month, the world became a little (or a lot) less funny when comedy legend Harold Ramis died at his home in Glencoe at the age of 69. But come September, the world will become a little (or a lot) funnier when a new Chicago institution named after Ramis comes to life.

RamisOn Tuesday, Chicago’s famed improv theater Second City announced plans to open “the world’s first film school dedicated to comedy” and name it after Ramis, a Second City alum who wrote (and often directed, produced or acted in) such iconic films as National Lampoon’s Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.

And in honor of Ramis’ well-deserved honor and contributions to comedy, I thought I’d share with you five things that you might not already know about his fellow funnymen and women spawned from Second City.

Kings & Queens of Comedy

Since opening its doors in 1959, Second City has served as the launching pad for some of the biggest names in comedy. But do you realize just how many stars first cracked wise on its famous stage?

Here are some alumni: Alan Alda (1959), Ed Asner (1959), Alan Arkin (1960), Joan Rivers (1961), Fred Willard (1965), Peter Boyle (1967), Ramis (1969), John Belushi (1971), John Candy (1973), Bill Murray (1973), Dan Aykroyd (1974), Eugene Levy (1974), Gilda Radner (1974), George Wendt (1975), Shelley Long (1976) and Jim Belushi (1978).

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