Tag Archives: Theo Epstein

Books about Baseball Part II

10 Apr

 

 

 

 

 

Remember it was a tight sphinctered guy from St. Louis who opined that April was the cruelest month. Just ask any baseball fan about April. More than most, followers of the hardball understand failure and adversity.and yet… So, the 2017 Liges Grandes season has opened and the World Championship Chicago Cubs have already despoiled a perfect 162-0 season by losing in the Cardinal’s home opener (but eventually taking 2 out of 3). In any case, you will understand my focus on the books that follow below when I tell you that I am an expatriate Northside Chicagoan whose relationship with the Windy City’s National League outpost traces back to the time of Ernie Banks`and a team that never even achieved a .500 win-loss record.

So no surprise that a number of books have taken up some aspect of the Chicago Cubs…

The Chicago Tribune Book of the Chicago Cubs: A Decade-By-Decade History

Until further notice, this tome should serve as the semi-official record of the current MLB Champions. As one of Chicago’s two metropolitan dailies left standing in the 21st century, The Chicago Tribune has a vast archive of information dating back to the Cubs’S origins in 1876 as the Chicago White Stockings. The paper’s sports department culled through that archive, assembling a decade-by-decade  history and a paean to the “Friendly Confines” also known as Wrigley Field. A straightforward survey of the Cubs, for what its worth, this 336-page volume includes a good number of photographs never published before.

 

 

 

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The Plan: Epstein, Maddon, and the Audacious Blueprint for a Cubs Dynasty by David Kaplan

The fact that Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein was anointed  “The World’s Greatest Leader ” by Fortune magazine is, on the face of it laughable ( Alibaba’s Jack Ma came in second), but don’t tell that to northside Chicagoans and northern New Englanders. Having engineered the end of the championship droughts of two cities made him  (his religion notwithstanding)him eligible for beatification. Chicago journalist Dave Kaplan ( CSN Chicago and ESPN Radio) chronicles the team tear down, the hiring of an imaginative manager in Joe Maddon and the making crafty trades as well as investing in a farm system that five years into Epstein’s tenure (as in his posting in Boston) yielded a World Championship team built to achieve the exalted status of dynasty.

 

 

 

 

Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages by David Ross

To anyone who watched the Chicago Cubs last season, 39-year-old, 15-year veteran backup catcher David Ross’s value to a team laden with young talent was obvious. Simply as ace Jon Lester’s personal catcher, Ross’s contribution was significant. Early on in his two-year stint, the young Cub studs Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, dubbed him  Grandpa Rossy”  extolling his positive presence in the locker room as well as on the field. And as is now part of baseball lore, Ross hit a key home run in his career’s final at- bat in the 7th game of the world series… that’s quite a feel good story.

 

 

 

 

 

The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse by Tom Verducci

Amidst a gaggle of journeymen baseball announcers and reporters, Tom Verducci (Sports Illustrated baseball writer and FOX Sports analyst) presents himself as thoughtful and insightful and it is to his credit that he was given full access to the Cubs organization and Theo Epstein’s post-Moneyball team operating manual, The Cubs Way”. This approach was not a dismissal of the sabermetric revolution in sports but an expansion of the understanding and belief  in the value of team chemistry and clubhouse culture. Mix in the unorthodoxy of manager Joe Madden (known for coining prosaic phrases such as “Don’t Suck”) and you have substantial evidence of what a thoughtful blend of statistics and intangibles can achieve.

 

 

A Nice Little Place on the North Side: A History of Triumph, Mostly Defeat, and Incurable Hope at Wrigley Field by George Will

Gasbag 19th century Conservative,  bow tie wearing, pundit and Chicago Cub fan George Will (who has in some ways redeemed himself with his disavowal of the Bedlamite POTUS) had put together what he asserts is a “true, hyperbole-free history” (given his propensity to overblown prose and metaphorical acrobatics) updated to include “bonus material on the Chicago Cubs’ World Series win” Of course he missed a chance to comment  on  the abomination that is the “Budweiser Bleachers” (not even to comment on the irony of  naming rights being sold to the owner of the arch-rival St. Louis Cardinals.)

Here’s some copywritten hyperbole —

In the end, A Nice Little Place on the North Side is more than just the history of a ballpark. It is the story of Chicago, of baseball, and of America itself.

 

Oh my…

 

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A Magnificent (Game) Seven

2 Nov
Plaque at Wrigley Field

Plaque at Wrigley Field

The coverage of the 2016 MLB national tournament features per usual an  overblown  narrative that has been beaten to death and rivals some of the silly metrics that fill in the commentary and live coverage of the individual games. As my good and longest tenured bud Steve (Fagin) reminded me, we spent  the better part of our youth in Chicago when the Cubs (not Cubbies)never even achieved .500 seasons. I don’t recall concerns about the long championship droughts and I care as little about that as I do that the last Cub grand slam hit in the tourney was in 1908.

But then again I (have come to) understand that most of the mainstream verbiage and blather is directed to the casual  audience that has been all to happy to watch the annual baseball joust (especially in light of the 2016 political silly season)to escape the bad news shitstream—non-coverage of Standing Rock resistance,  acquittal of the Bundy thugs, cop shootings, Aleppo, Syria devastation and on and on.

Nonetheless, there is a host of good stories flowing out of the 2016 post season contests. Kyle Schweibar’s season-long rehabilitation to end up playing and fulfilling expectations. Tito Francona’s smart adaptation of his resources to triumph over the American League. Cub’s skipper Joe Maddon’s kids winning 103 games in the regular season, exposing obvious weaknesses in post season (being unable to hit A grade pitching) ads still ending up in the season’s penultimate game. The clear difference in regular and post season expressed in Chicago chief Theo Epstein’s quip, “You build a team for the regular season and then you pray in the post season”

And, of course, there are the ambient distractions of

1) noxious troll Pete Rose  joining rookie tv talking head Alex Rodriguez and Bg Hurt Frank Thomas for ‘expert’ commentary,

2) the silly Lincoln ads with Matthew McConaughey (for which he should be embarrassed),

 
3) Joe Buck’ s worthless chatter  *and MLB Hall of  Famer John Smoltz’s counterbalancing insights

Augmented Cubs logo

Augmented Cubs logo

 Watching the Cubs via MLB.com for the  past two seasons has been a joyful experience. They battled to the last out (in 2015) leading the NL in 1 run decisions) , the home broadcast announcers Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies were amusing knowledgeable and companionable for a  three hour plus viewing and Joe Maddon was and is a baseball lifer who avoids cliche and conventional wisdom in talking about his players and post-game review.

 So, I am, of course, hoping for the Cubs to triumph but I must acknowledge that it is too bad someone has to lose…

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Let me come at it another way…my kind of town

17 Apr

Chicago flag

 

On my recent hegira to the geography of my youth, Chicago Illinois (fly over zone or Heartland, depending on whether you hail from the Golden Corridor USA ), I chanced to discover the reason for the ( four six-pointed red stars [the six points symbolize transportation, labor, commerce, finance, populousness, and salubrity] on the official City of Chicago flag which was adopted in 1917. They represent major historical events: the advent of Fort Dearborn in 1831, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933–34.

A reasonable assumption (for those of us aware of the passage of time since the mid 20th century) would be that a number of events should be candidates for additional stars. And in fact there have been regular proposals to do so. Of those making it into urban folklore purportedly a letter to the Chicago Tribune opined that the city flag honor “Chicago’ s place in the history of the nuclear age.” A star was also  proposed to honor  Harold Washington, the first African-American mayor of Chicago. And following the so-called Chicago Flood of 1992.

Chicago being Chicago and Cubs fans being long suffering the notion has previously been floated to honor the eventuality of a Cubs’s World Series (which of course after 108 years would more accurately called a long shot. Enter whiz kid Theo Epstein and field mentor Joe Madden and. well, let’s just say that the odds have changed

“Once you’ve come to be a part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.” — Nelson Algren

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Coincident with my recent visit and refreshment of my  warm feelings for Chi town  I came across Brian Doyle’s new opus Chicago. As is the case with much of what makes up my reading diet a few years ago I chanced to pick up  Brian Doyle’s novel, Mink River and have stayed on the lookout for his writings  ever since—which include short stories, memoirs  essays and novels , Doyle who edits Portland magazine at the University of Oregon is a card carrying Catholic  but clearly not an apologist for the Church as the opening of his story “Pinching Bernie”  (from his collection  Bin Laden’s Bald Spot)

Bernard Francis Cardinal Law , archbishop of Boston for  almost 20 years during which probably a thousand kids were raped by priests and Law knew about it but kept shuffling the rapists around from job to job and denying everything and writing letters  that were total bullshit about how he knew  these guys real well and saw into their hearts and their hearts were pure  as driven snow, this was while  they were raping kids in sacristies and chapels and hospital rooms and classrooms and basements and cellars and billiard rooms and rectories and cabin son lakes and cars and the house of prominent donors and beach cottages and the backs of school busses and once even in a convent, well, finally Bernie gets ridden out of town. on a rail you know, the people of the archdiocese weren’t going to take this evil crap anymore, and Bernie has to vamoose from his palatial residence so fast that the coffee was still warm when the cops got there…

So, it was with gleeful anticipation that I dove into Chicago. Being a expatriated Chicagoan this tome contains a double dose of joy as the city of big shoulders, home of Studs Terkel and Nelson Algren, fabulous small Jews like Joe Epstein and Karl Shapiro, Dick Gregory, Mike Royko and  Slats Grobnik, Ernie Banks and Walter Payton, Minnie Minoso and Mike Ditka and Muddy Waters and Curtis Mayfield, Oscar Brown Jr. and on and on, remains my sweet spiritual home.. As befits the

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Doyle wastes no time indulging his playfulness  citing three epigrams by Mark Twain ,Sun Ra and this by Rudyard Kipling

I have struck a city—a real city—and they call it Chicago… Having seen it, I urgently desire never to see it again. It is inhabited by savages.*

 

 

As has become something of a Doyle trademark conceit (see Mink River ‘s philosophizing crow and Martin Marten’s pine marten), one of the main characters in Chicago is  Edward “a wise and personable dog of indeterminate breed.” While an engaging ensemble of characters,the residents of the Northside  building in which the unnamed narrator resides, join Edward,

Self Portrat, Brian Doyle

Self Portrait, Brian Doyle

the main protagonist is the city itself—presented in all its glories from the great inland sea, Lake Michigan,  that marks its eastern border  to the vibrant music culture to the great green spaces of the park system that runs the length of the city. Chicago’s narrator finds happiness playing basketball and  spending much of his spare time dribbling his worn down ball up and down the Lake Michigan shore as well as exploring the villages that comprise this big hearted metropolis. He also manages to touch upon Chicago’s dark side, playing in  edgy pickup games involving two rival Chicago gangs.
The unnamed  narrator in Chicago, a recent Notre Dame graduate is an entry-level staffer at a Chicago-based Catholic magazine who spend 15 months  in the city in 1979.  Coincidentally he becomes a fan of the (Southside) White Sox,  the year the Chisox fielded the best outfield in the major leagues —though it its something of an anomaly for someone from the city’s Northside to prefer the Southside team to the Northside Cubs. 

 
 Steve Nathans-Kelly opines
Doyle’s Chicago is a determinedly quiet book about a noisy city that sketches a vast cityscape but deals narratively in miniatures… One gets the impression that Doyle, an award-winning journalist, editor and author of multiple novels, has wanted to write this book for a long time. It’s to his credit that he didn’t let his immense feeling for Chicago and the brief time he lived there induce him to make this modest and winsome story bigger than it is.

 

 

* Some additional epigrams on Chicago

“Here is the difference between Dante, Milton, and me. They wrote about hell and never saw the place. I wrote about Chicago after looking the town over for years and years”— Carl Sandburg

“Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring”—Nelson Algren

“Chicago was a town where nobody could forget how the money was made. It was picked up from floors still slippery with blood.” — Norman Mailer

“It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago-she outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them. She is always a novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time.” — Mark Twain