Category Archives: Sports

No Cheering In the Press Box, and No Lying In the Press Room (if only)

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It’s been many years since this recovering sportswriter’s last post-game presser, but recent events are bringing back memories of the old days.

Try to take the observations in this mini-column (and first CKOW post in some time) as non-partisan and non-ideological, for whatever it’s worth.

The gist: How a coach (or other public authority figure, for that matter) in a big, high-pressure market (like Chicago, or Washington, D.C.) deals with the news media is both instructive and predictive.

If you’ve followed Chicago sports history over recent decades, you probably know what I’m talking about.

The best coaches, managers and GMs succeed on the field while maintaining a healthy and professional – though not necessarily friendly – relationship with the press. They recognize that when they address the media, they’re by extension talking to their fans and paying customers.

Some even skillfully charm reporters to the point that their mistakes quickly move out of the public discourse (think Joe Maddon).

The worst do none of this (anyone remember Terry Bevington?).

Occasionally, the Chicago sports media and coaches or managers collide, and the result is a spectacular, public meltdown for the ages (after you put the kids to bed tonight, search “Lee Elia tirade” on YouTube, then turn it up really, really loud).

That’s an extreme example, but the point is, these episodes usually end badly for one side in particular.

Also, the nuances can speak louder than words.

Watch Chicago Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville in typical post-game media session: Sleeves rolled up, hands firmly gripping on either side of the podium and succinctly answering every, single question like a pro, without condescension or peevishness. Is there any question who’s in charge?

The people that choose to constantly battle the media – rather than practice effective leadership, surrounding themselves with bright, capable people and delivering positive results – usually don’t last very long.

Obfuscation, deflection, stonewalling, outright lying, whatever… eventually, it all comes home to roost.

Rex is our quarterback. Rex is our quarterback? The fans are smarter than that. They’ll figure it out, will “vote” by not showing up to games and finding something else to do.

You may disagree with what’s being reported or what you’re reading, and that’s all fair.

Mistakes and misjudgments happen on the part of journalists individually and with news organizations more broadly – and when it does happen, believe me, the repercussions are both public and humiliating.

But also remember journalists have a job to do, and they don’t work for your favorite team or your favorite candidate. They really work for you, the people.

Quarterbacks come and go, coaches come and go, politicians come and go.

But the press has been and always will be there. The press is undefeated.

And we’re a stronger country for it.

The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center

Midsummer crop report – High as an elephant’s eye

July 21 - Paige kicks back in the shade of dad's crops. Hard to say which are growing faster.

Greetings from Wrigleyville, where baseball managing careers go to die but the corn still grows tall.

It’s been over five months since my last post — I know, I’ve been lax about keeping everyone updated about this year’s crops. All I can say is blogging is a lot easier when one is both jobless and childless, as I was for most of 2009.

But as you can see, the corn and soybeans are shooting the moon. Planted May 9, Mother’s Day, the crops have gotten a nice boost from plenty of rain in June and a blessedly hot, humid Chicago summer so far.

July 9 - Our new sweet corn plot off to the right

Also, we expanded this year – seeding three big pots to “field” corn (aka the industrial stuff, fed to pigs and chickens and distilled into ethanol), each with about six plants. We have two pots of soybeans, at around 20 plants apiece. Plus, we’ve got a late-seeded sweet corn plot this year that’s a bit behind its rooftop friends but catching up quickly.

As of July 21, the corn topped out at a little over six feet tall (excluding the pot) and the beans are about 33 inches high and sporting a nice “canopy” to shade the soil, as the farmers say.

Look closely at the top photo, and you’ll see the corn recently developed tassels and silks. That means pollination, the all-important reproductive phase, is underway. This puts CKOW’s crop roughly on pace with the rest of Illinois (89 percent silking as of last weekend, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture – way ahead of the typical pace, in other words).

Say hello to Corn Princess Phoebe Mueller (CKOW's niece), proudly sporting her new Corn King shirt. CKOW t-shirts now on sale, $18 each, including youth sizes. Be the first kid on your block to own one!

We get through pollination unscathed, and our corn crop, as a certain former Illinois governor soon to be fitted for an orange jumpsuit would say, should be “bleeping golden.”

The country’s real corn farmers are poised for a shiny year as well. Thanks to a dry, warm Midwest spring, crops were planted well ahead of the usual pace, a stark contrast to the cold, soggy conditions last year that kept tractors parked in the sheds for weeks. Last month, the USDA projected a 13.25 billion-bushel harvest, topping last year’s record by 140 million bushels.

And meet Audrey Leemans, whose mom Sarah, of Wheaton, won CKOW's first annual corn/bean counting contest last winter.

But the summer is far from over, and a hot, dry August and September – which some weather folks expect – could take production down a few notches. The usual summertime weather jitters, combined with rising consumption from the ethanol industry, have helped keep corn futures hovering around $4 a bushel, still high by historical standards.

Finally, in the wake of the unfortunate news out of the Friendly Confines this week, this year’s crop is hereby dedicated to Lou Piniella, who deserved better than what Jim Hendry and his $140 million band of sad-sack underachievers gave him the past two seasons.

CKOW would like to extend a personal invitation to Sweet Lou, before he retires and rides off into the Tampa sunset, to drop by the rooftop and pick up his own ear of Wrigleyville-grown corn. It would look nice on your desk, Lou, and would be much more useful than Derrek Lee’s bats.

Is that the door I take to get the hell out of this place?

As for the mess Lou will be leaving behind, well, we can’t blame Milton Bradley this year. But we can offer some suggestions to Cubs owner Tom Ricketts as the team slogs through increasingly meaningless games the next couple of months and he considers who will be the next victim… er, leader… for this storied franchise.

In the days since Piniella announced his retirement, we’ve heard names of the usual suspects tossed around: Bob Brenly, Joe Girardi, Ryne Sandberg, etc. But here’s an outside-the-box idea for you, Tom.

Mr. Ricketts: Hire Jim Essian. Right now. For the rest of the season. Just like ’91. What have you got to lose?

Eamus catuli, 102 years and counting…

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Who needs two? Nobody, apparently. Fire sale days raging in Wrigleyville.

Welcome to Brokers' Row, a clutch of dingy storefront ticket outlets between the Addison CTA station and Sheffield Ave. Business isn't so hot these days.

Welcome to Brokers' Row, a clutch of dingy storefront ticket outlets between the Addison CTA station and Sheffield Ave. Business isn't so hot these days.


If there’s any upside to the Cubs’ disintegration this season, it might be this: Wrigleyville’s ticket brokers and scalpers are taking a bath.

I know what you’re thinking – it couldn’t be happening to a nicer group of guys.

Street-level Cubs ticket business usually drops off in September after the kids go back to school. It drops off even more when the home team sinks to the fringes of playoff contention before Labor Day.

So you get scenes like you see in these photos. It’s fire sale time in Wrigleyville, with lonely ticket brokers lining Addison and Clark Streets, wearing bored or resigned expressions and chatting idly with their cohorts as fans stroll by, uninterested, on their way to the park.

Another scene from Brokers' Row earlier this week. Insert chirping crickets audio here.

Another scene from Brokers' Row earlier this week. Insert chirping crickets audio here.

The brokers hold up wads of unsold tickets for that day’s game in one hand, fanned out like they’re in some kind of Wrigleyville Texas Hold ‘Em tournament. These days, nothing is moving, as they say in the business.

There are close to a dozen storefront ticket brokers within a couple blocks of Wrigley (though some of these places could only generously be described as storefronts). There are also dozens upon dozens more small-time hustlers who converge on the Friendly Confines every summer to scalp tickets, hawk tasteless t-shirts or bang on plastic buckets. It’s all part of life in Wrigleyville, though few of these people will be missed come October.

The brokers, like their counterparts at our local futures exchanges, make their livings trying to buy low and sell high. Free-market capitalism at its purest, right?

A Clark St. broker displaying his inventory for Monday night's Cubs-Brewers game, about a half-hour after the first pitch.

A Clark St. broker displaying his inventory for Monday night's Cubs-Brewers game, about a half-hour after the first pitch.

One twist is many of our friendly local brokers take advantage of peak-demand games over the summer by jacking up prices to obscenely-inflated levels, among other creative tactics.

For some prime games this summer, I recall seeing some brokers listing tickets on their websites for anywhere from three to six times face value, sometimes more, for just so-so seats. For 200-level, terrace reserved seats, for example, you were talking in the neighborhood of $180 to $200 for a $40 or $45 ticket.

With so many brokers asking similarly steep prices (and hordes of summer tourists unschooled in the local ticket scene), one suspects they have plenty of room to come down and still pocket a tidy profit. Hopefully, few people actually paid those kinds of prices.

I’ve seen ticket brokers quoted to the effect that they’re providing a valuable “service” for the public and are only charging what the market will bear. That may true to an extent. They certainly have every right to participate in the market as brokers licensed with the state of Illinois.

You fans also have the right to avoid dealing with them, and instead look for tickets on places like craigslist, where you can find a lot of regular season-ticket holders, like myself, trying to unload seats at much more reasonable prices.

Plenty of good seats still available, Cubs fans.

Plenty of good seats still available, Cubs fans.

But all markets go though up and down cycles, and Cubs fans, the tables have turned in your favor. Earlier this week, brokers were asking $5 to $10 below face for pretty decent seats (100-level field boxes, $55 to $65 face) for Cubs-Brewers games.

“We shouldn’t be selling tickets under face, but we are,” one Clark St. broker said Monday. “It just seems like nobody cares.”

Nobody should even pay that much. CKOW’s advice, if you want to go through a broker for tickets for the Cubs’ seven remaining home games, is to ask for something 100-level or better, start with a two-for-one bid, and negotiate down from there until they’re to the point of tears.

If they protest, show them the National League standings. Free markets, right?

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Good luck with this “junk” bond of a Cubs team, Mr. Ricketts

Cubs fans, meet your new owner.

Cubs fans, meet your new owner.

CKOW congratulates Tom Ricketts & family on finally sealing their $800 million deal to buy a 95 percent interest in the Cubs (along with Wrigley Field and 25 percent of Comcast SportsNet Chicago).

By all reports, Tom Ricketts appears to be the kind of owner the Cubs need: a low-key, non-meddlesome type who wants a winner, likely will let the baseball people do their jobs and won’t be averse to spending money. A George Steinbrenner minus the bluster. And he represents an actual human face leading the team, as opposed to a monolithic corporation.

Ricketts’ long-running affinity for all things Wrigley has been well-documented: He’s a hard-core Cubs fan; He once lived in an apartment above the now-demolished Sports Corner bar across Sheffield Ave. from Wrigley; He met his wife in the Wrigley bleachers. Whether any of that will help get us a World Series here, who knows?

Ricketts’ family built a billion-dollar fortune in finance, founding broker TD Ameritrade. Tom Ricketts is CEO of Incapital LLC, a Chicago-based investment bank that’s hardly a Goldman Sachs when it comes to name recognition.

Incapital is credited with pioneering the underwriting of corporate bonds for retail investors. Ricketts’ isn’t exactly an attention-seeker when it comes to the media, but you can listen to him discuss the yield curve, bond ladders and credit spreads with CNBC’s Larry Kudlow here, in a June appearance on the network.

That kind of financial acumen could come in handy when it comes to fixing the Cubs, whose death march of a season (they’d lost 12 of 16 and were 8 games behind St. Louis in the NL Central going into Sunday) brings to mind some of the things that became household terms during Wall Street’s meltdown over the past year.

When it comes to the Cubs, you’ve got rough equivalents of subprime-mortgage securities in Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley (holding contracts signed at peak or ridiculously inflated values but who are now worth significantly less and are virtually untradable). You’ve got hitters “breaking the buck” (Aaron Miles and his shiny .181 batting average). Failed closer Kevin Gregg could only be described as “toxic.”

WrigleyMarquee

The team overall? CKOW is assigning it a “junk” rating, of course.

But Ricketts is an expert at finding value and yield, so we are hopeful he can apply those skills with the Cubs. For starters, he should probably do little. Give general manager Jim Hendry one more year to reverse his mistakes from the past off-season, and give manager Lou Piniella one more year to prove he can still produce a winner. As a goodwill gesture, freeze all ticket prices for 2010. Beyond that, there’s the thorny issue of a much-needed major renovation of the Friendly Confines that has to be tackled at some point during the next decade.

CKOW would like to extend an invitation to Ricketts to drop by the roof and discuss some ideas, and also check out the corn (speaking of yield).

Good luck, Mr. Ricketts. You’re going to need it. Cubs Nation welcomes you and anxiously awaits the results.

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Chicago sports “fans” – this Bud’s NOT for you.

Phillies' centerfielder Shane Victorino (in a photo poached from Deadspin), gets a Bud shower, courtesy of a true Wrigley beach bum.

Phillies' centerfielder Shane Victorino (in a photo poached from Deadspin), gets a Bud shower Wednesday night, courtesy of a true Wrigley bleach bum.


CKOW took in last night’s Cubs-Phillies game courtesy of his brother-in-law, Roger, the Chicago cop. In Roger’s seats, tucked into Wrigley’s left-field corner against the chain-link fence, we had a perfect vantage point for the Cubs’ latest embarrassment, and I’m not talking about Alfonso Soriano’s defense.

In the latest case of Chicago sports fans making national news for the wrong reasons, Philadelphia centerfielder Shane Victorino was doused with beer while running back to catch a fly ball against the ivy during the fifth inning Wednesday night. This is, of course, inexcusable, but not at all surprising (See Deadspin for further dissection of the incident).

The Wrigley Field bleachers this time of year are filled with drunken tourists and college kids about to head back to school, and strange things seem to happen around here during the dog days of summer in general.

I'm with stupid - Wrigley security didn't get the right guy initially, but the perpetrator turned himself in (photo from Getty Images via Chicago Tribune).

I'm with stupid - Wrigley security didn't get the right guy initially, but the perpetrator turned himself in (from Getty Images).

Whatever the time of year, there are always a few idiots in the bleachers. Not all that many, but a few, and sometimes they do things that reinforce the bleachers’ rep as a glorified, open-air sports bar. There will be someone who runs out onto the field during a game before this season ends, I guarantee it.

As we discussed the beer-tossing episode, Roger, who knows a thing or two about the law, noted that, according to Illinois criminal code, throwing beer at someone is a form of battery – it’s considered similar to throwing a rock or a baseball. Sure enough, the Cubs and Victorino filed formal complaints with the Chicago Police Department, according to the Chicago Tribune.

When Sox fans attack - Royals coach Tom Gamboa gets rolled during a 2002 game at the Cell.

When Sox fans attack - Royals coach Tom Gamboa gets rolled during a 2002 game at the Cell.

We’re glad the beer-tosser turned himself in. He’s Johnny Macchione, 21, of suburban Bartlett, and he’s believed to the guy on the left in the photo above. Earlier tonight, after being cited for battery and illegal conduct within a sports facility, both misdemeanors, he issued an on-camera apology to Victorino and the Cubs in front of local TV news crews. Of course you’re sorry, Johnny. Nonetheless, you’re still a complete tool. We hope you’re banned from Wrigley for life.

Last night’s incident takes its place among other moments of infamy on Chicago’s fields of play: The guys who ran onto U.S. Cellular Field during a White Sox-Royals game in 2002 and tackled Kansas City coach Tom Gamboa; the guy who snatched the helmet from the head of Dodgers’ catcher Chad Kreuter during a 2000 game at Wrigley, inciting a melee; the guy who ran onto Wrigley and tried to take down Cubs reliever Randy Myers in 1995. The list goes on and on. What is it about certain “fans” here?

Beyond that, Wednesday night’s incident seems like a perfect metaphor for the big, spilled-beer-of-a-season the Cubs are having: So enticing and tasty-looking from a distance, but when you get close and try to grab it… whoops!

William Ligue Jr. of Alsip, Ill., is escorted away after attacking, with this then-15-year-old son, Royals coach Tom Gamboa in 2002.

William Ligue Jr. of Alsip, Ill., is escorted away after attacking, with this then-15-year-old son, Royals coach Tom Gamboa in 2002.

Many Cubs fans, myself included, were head-faked by the team’s hot streak after the All-Star break last month. But it’s one thing to feast on bottom-feeders such as the Nationals; it’s quite another to defeat good teams.

The troubling signs have been there for months: endless injuries, failure to consistently beat quality pitching, poor clutch hitting and sloppy, distracted play in general (do these guys really want to be here?). Hard to see anyone but St. Louis taking the NL Central at this point (Last night, Philly smoked the Cubs, 12-5, and won again today, 6-1, to complete a three-game sweep and send the Cubs to their fifth loss in a row).

Looking ahead, we can see at least one encouraging date on the calendar: Sept. 13, when the Bears open the NFL season in Green Bay. Here’s hoping Jay Cutler is as good as advertised. If not, we may be in for another long winter.

8/8/88 – Let There Be Light!

NoLightsinWrigleyCKOW would like to take a moment to observe an unusual anniversary: The day they finally turned the lights on at Wrigley Field.

Yep, it was 21 years ago today the Cubs played their first scheduled home game under lights, becoming the last Major League team, as some local pundits observed at the time, to discover electricity.

Alas, it wasn’t an “official” game. Rain forced the game, against Philadelphia, to be called after 3-1/2 innings (given that the Midwest was in the grips of a severe drought that summer, I find a touch of irony in that). The first official Cubs home night game was actually the next night, Aug. 9, with the good guys beating the New York Mets, 6-4 (Mrs. CKOW has the distinction of being in attendance, with her family, at that game; I’m hoping someone can dig up a ticket stub, but no luck yet).

Meet Justin, 27, of Lincoln Park, here enjoying Lollapalooza Saturday. He was barely past kindergarten when they first turned the lights on at Wrigley, but remains a purist on the matter.

Meet Justin, 27, of Lincoln Park, here enjoying Lollapalooza Saturday. He was barely out of kindergarten when they first turned the lights on at Wrigley, but remains a purist on the matter.

It seems so very, very long ago. It also seems strange to think of a time when you could only watch a game at the Confines during the day. Over the past two decades, the Cubs – and Wrigleyville – have slowly but surely been dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th, and then the 21st, centuries (I couldn’t find any “No Lights” t-shirts for sale in the shops around Wrigley, but you can still buy them online; They’ve also got some buggy whips and typewriters they’d like to sell you).

But they’ve still got a ways to go. The Cubs now play 30 night games a season, and are allowed no more than that through 2015 as part of an agreement with the city of Chicago. That amounts to a little more than a third of their 81 home games. Meanwhile, most other teams, including the White Sox, play about 50 games or more at night.

That’s ridiculous. There’s been a number of theories posited over the years on how the additional day games hamper the Cubs compared with other teams – Cubs’ players tend to wear down as the summer moves along because they play so much in the heat being one. There may be some truth to that. But as local pundits have also observed, the Cubs have historically proven themselves just as inept during the day as they are at night.

July 19, 2006 - Then-Astro Roger Clemens squares off against Greg Maddux during one of many Wrigley night games since 1988.

July 19, 2006 - Then-Astro Roger Clemens squares off against Greg Maddux during one of many Wrigley night games since 1988.


Whatever the case, CKOW hopes that Tom Ricketts, or whoever the next Cubs owner is, pushes for even more Wrigley modernization, including adding at least 10 to 20 night games to the schedule. Many of you are familiar with the drill when it comes to this kind of thing. The Cubs say they want to do something to Wrigley – expand the bleachers, build a restaurant/parking garage next door, add night games, whatever. Mayor Daley then snorts and scoffs at a press conference, community meetings are held, certain Wrigleyville residents scream like scalded cats about drunk people urinating on their lawns, and eventually, after a long, drawn-out process, something gets done.

It may take similar wrangling to get this ordinance changed, but the new owner should go for it anyway. Day baseball is great and everything. But there’s no reason the Cubs shouldn’t be playing games on Friday and Saturday nights like every other team. Additional night games would also make it easier for working people to get to Wrigley.

Mr. Ricketts, tear down this ordinance!

A Wrigleyville Yankee in King Richie’s Court

Meet Bob, a hard-core Sox guy from Villa Park - Stay out of his seat, Cubs fans

Meet Bob Sailer, a hard-core Sox guy from Villa Park - Stay out of his seat, Cubs fans

CKOW ventured into hostile territory Wednesday night, taking in the White Sox-Angels game at U.S. Cellular Field with a few friends.

A native Iowan, I’ve never subscribed to this parochial, North vs. South Side rivalry that’s divided generations of Chicagoans. As the late, great Chicago-based writer Studs Terkel told me in an October 2005 interview, it all boils down to a “sophomoric feud,” which it is.

I’ll never begrudge the Sox their success, including the ’05 World Series championship that happened soon after I talked to Studs. I had the privilege of helping cover the Sox’s four-game sweep of Houston for Bloomberg News, and will never forget the experience. I’ll also never forget the t-shirt Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was wearing when he strolled into the clubhouse after a Game 1 win – printed on the front of the shirt: “It ain’t gonna lick itself.” Classy, A.J.!

Friends of Ozzie - Johnny Moreno, a New York native who said he got tickets for the game through friend Ozzie Guillen, the Sox manager

Friends of Ozzie - Johnny Moreno, a New York native who said he got tickets for the game through friend Ozzie Guillen, the Sox manager


Nothing, in fact, would make me happier than a “Red line,” Cubs-Sox World Series going to Game 7 (with the Cubs winning, of course). Kill me the next day and I’d die with a smile on my face.

Nonetheless, mine is apparently a minority view, and the rivalry rages on. It’s a rivalry fueled by long-running misperceptions and outdated stereotypes. Some versions of those stereotypes characterize the “typical” Cubs fan as a Cabernet-sipping, investment banker from the North Shore who is too busy pecking away on his BlackBerry to pay any attention to the game.

The “typical” Sox fan? Quite possibly a mullet-sporting, tatted-up pipefitter from Beverly who still has most of his original teeth and considers himself a “real” fan of the game. Chip on shoulder included.

Neither stereotype is always born out in reality. Contrary to their blue-collar, shot-and-a-beer image, the Sox count some of the most prominent businesspeople and politicians in Chicago as fans – including Mayor Richard M. Daley and John W. Rogers, Jr., CEO of big fund manager Ariel Investments. Personally, I can think of several workaday, born-and-bred South Siders I know who somehow are life-long Cubs fans. You never know.

Unlike Wrigleyville, there's barely a bar within a line drive of the Cell, so many Sox fans bring their own, oftentimes right up to the stadium gates

Unlike Wrigleyville, there's barely a bar within a line drive of the Cell, so many Sox fans bring their own, oftentimes right up to the stadium gates


We talked to a few Sox fans at the Cell Wednesday in an effort to shed some light on this infernal, intracity conflict. Asked how he feels about Cubs fans, Bob Sailer of Villa Park (pictured at top) didn’t mince words.

“I hate ‘em,” Salier said. Why? “Every time we play (the Cubs) and they win, I get a phone call” from Cubs fan friends. “Every time we win, I don’t hear from them.”

Adding to Sailer’s indignation: When he showed up for Game 2 of the ’05 World Series at The Cell “there was a Cubs fan in my seat,” Sailer said. “They’re bandwagon jumpers.”

So much for my effort to punch holes in this myth. Okay, there’s still many Sox fans who loath their Cubs counterparts and vice versa. It will always be that way, and that’s fine. It’s one of many things that makes Chicago, in my opinion, the greatest sports city in the country. (Check out this good story written last October by Andrew Harris, a former Bloomberg colleague of mine, for additional perspective).

By the way, the Sox beat the Angels last night, 6-2. Though the Sox lost today, 9-5, they still took two of three from Los Angeles, and are two games behind Detroit in the American League Central. Here’s hoping North and South sides of Chicago and all points in between can enjoy a late-summer playoff chase.

Sox beat Angels, 6-2 - We gone

Sox beat Angels, 6-2 - We gone