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Is new Cubs pitcher Lester worth $155 million? Hell yes!

  • Written by Bob Rakow

On Oct. 2, 1984, my college buddy Paul Gember bought a used car and was itching to drive. He sat with me in the lounge at Moraine Valley Community College practically begging me to ride with him.

 

I wouldn’t budge. The Cubs were about to play in Game 1 of the National League playoffs and nothing was keeping me from watching the game. I wasn’t missing a pitch. This was a rare occasion—Cubs and playoff baseball. It was not to be missed.

 

Just a week earlier, I lugged my boom box to work so I could listen to the Cubs clinch the National League East with a win in Pittsburgh. I was washing pots and pans at Jenny’s Smorgasbord in Oak Lawn (later the Harley-Davidson shop) and listened to the last few innings after the eatery closed.

 

What a moment.

 

The team that lost every year since I began following them as a young boy won a division. Rick Sutcliffe threw a two-hitter. What a gem. The ace that had been acquired from the Cleveland Indians carried the Cubs that year.

 

When I wrapped up the pots and pans that glorious night, I walked out of the restaurant to my dad’s waiting car.  I don’t remember what we said to one another, but it was one of those perfect moments. He’d waited nearly 40 years for the Cubs to do something, anything. He suffered through 1969.

 

We relished the moment.

 

Back to Paul Gember’s new car. He would not take no for answer and offered the ideal compromise. "I’ll drive us to Wrigley Field," he said. "You’re on,'' I told him, and we made the trek from Palos Hills to Wrigleyville listening to the Cubs game on the radio.

 

When we got there, we managed to get into a bar, and when the game ended, a woman poured a beer over my head. Cubs, 16, San Diego Padres, 6. Sutcliffe hit a home run. I was ecstatic. Wet, but ecstatic.

 

Five days later, I was bummed. The Cubs lost three straight games to the Padres, who were led by Steve Garvey. The final game was on a Sunday. I’ll never forget my dad cooking or baking something in the kitchen and refusing to watch the game. It hurt bad.

 

There have been other Cub playoff appearances, and they were disappointing. But nothing hurt like 1984 and the ball rolling under Leon Durham’s mitt. That was 30 years ago and I remember it like yesterday.

 

I thought about the Cubs joy and pain my dad and I suffered last week over the years when I texted my son with the most exciting news I’ve had as a Cub fan in several years. “The Cubs got Lester,” I texted. He knew already and held off texting me the news because he thought I had gone to bed.

 

Lester is Jon Lester. The top pitching free agent in the 2014 crop. He’s the guy who signs the first free-agent pitching contract so terms can be established for all the other free agent hurlers out there. Lester, as sports radio host Chet Coppock would say, sits atop the big, rock candy mountain. The crème de la crème.

 

The Cubs paid dearly to get him—six-years, $155 million dollars. Lot of money? You bet. Worth it? In the Cubs case, hell yes.

 

Lester is a winner. The kind of guy who could carry a team. He spent most of his career with the Boston Red Sox. Won the World Series with the team in 2007 and again in 2011. He spent part of last season with the Oakland A’s, but the baseball world has known for months that the he would be the prime free agent in the off-season.

 

And now he’s a Cub. I have trouble wrapping my head around that notion. Chicago teams, not just the Cubs, typically do not get the top players. They pay lip service to free agency while the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox and Angels among others are serious about winning and willing to spend the money needed to be competitive.

 

On the afternoon before he signed, four teams were still in the running for Lester’s services: the Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Los Angles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. Later in the day came word that the California teams were out of the running. Just as well. The Giants are the world champs and the Dodgers have the best pitcher in baseball.

 

So, Lester’s choices were to return to Boston—familiar territory where he’s had success and the fans love him—or take a chance in Chicago, where something is about to happen. Where Theo Epstein tore the whole ugly, losing mess to the ground and gathered top prospects that are finally ready to play in the big leagues.

 

Oh yeah, along the way he added one of the game’s best managers in Joe Maddon.

 

Some Cubs ripped Epstein over the past few years for his rebuilding strategy. They were sick of losing and argued that Epstein needed to sign some veteran players as soon as possible to make the team respectable. They wanted the short-term fix. Epstein wanted a team that is in a position to win every year. See the Chicago Blackhawks as an example.

 

Epstein was patient. He’s endured several losing seasons but introduced us to Starlin Castro, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo on the major league level plus Kris Bryant and a host of others on the minor league level.

 

Addison Russell, the A’s top prospect, was brought to Chicago in a late-season trade last year. Last summer, the Cubs had four of the top 15 prospects in baseball, according to MLB.com, and eight among the top 100.

 

The future is bright. The future is now. Talk of the Cubs winning in a few years should be put to bed. Jon Lester doesn’t get signed so the team can win in 2017. Epstein just upped the ante. Lester is likely not his last off-season move.

 

It’s an exciting time to be a Cubs fan. Opening Day is April 5.

 

 

 

Mary Cate story hits home

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

Claudia Mug Shot-Color

Taekwondo is starting in ten minutes. We've got to leave right now!”

That was the scene in my house a few years ago and I was doing some of the commanding.

I was watching my then-preschooler struggle to get into her uniform. I wanted desperately to intervene, so I could hurry things along. However, she jerked away each time I reached for her saying, "Mommy...I can do it!"

            In her final attempt to pull her elbow through the sleeve, the fingernail on her thumb acted as a razor, slicing into her eye. She let out a whistling howl, sealed her eyes closed and hopped. Once subdued by my petition to help, she opened her eyes and I flinched. She had busted a blood vessel.

            "What!?" she said, looking back at me.

My grim expression was telling.

            I played it down. "Ugh, well, your eye looks a little red.” I said. That was an understatement. Try bloody Mary red!

“Does it hurt?" I asked.

            She said no and told me she was fine. Regrettably, when we arrived at Taekwondo, people weren’t exactly discrete about letting her know they noticed.

            "WHOA! What happened to your eye?" one kid said.

            Her eye may not have hurt but, her countenance showed her feelings were. She said everyone that pointed out her injury made her feel bad. Fortunately for her, the flaw was temporary and healed within a week.

If only things were that easy for my youngest daughter with special needs. She looks like a typical developing child but, she has an intellectual disability due to a FOXP1 gene mutation. It can be awfully uncomfortable observing her in social settings with those unfamiliar with her tendencies. Their squeamish body language and looks of confusion speak volumes. It’s as if they’re saying, “Hey kid? What’s wrong with you?” 

            I must admit, my infomercial explanation of her diagnosis is becoming more concise. Depending on the setting and applicable circumstances, it sounds like this…

            “Rhonda-Rene communicates using sign language, pictures, and gestures. Did I forget the frequent, excitably outbursts? Due to a speech impairment called Apraxia she can only verbalize a few words. Her lack of language doesn’t hinder her desire to engage people. She can be forward, unknowingly invading personal space. Being able to move is a necessity for her, it regulates a sensory disorder that requires she seek vestibular input through swinging, spinning, climbing, pushing etc. Because her developmental age is much younger than her chronological age, which is, it’s challenging for her to participate in certain social and academic activities without assistance. While she’s extremely affectionate, unless she initiates the contact, she may become tactile defensive.”

            I’ve made a vow that even if it’s done singularly, I’m determined to inform people of her condition so she’ll have a chance to be understood. Are we not all unique, fantastically flawed and desiring acceptance?

            I hope you’ve taken the opportunity to read the front page story I wrote about Kerry Ryan Lynch and her daughter Mary Cate, who has Apert Syndrome. If so, you might agree that their bulk-sized school assemblies are probably more efficient than my one-on-one’s in the park. They headline school events like rock stars, playing a ‘kindness’ message that’s applicable to everyone!

             Kerry and Mary Cate are blessed with an enormous responsibility. They’re on the ground, fighting a war against ignorance with the weapon of education. There are people who spend their entire lives searching for purpose. The Lynch family members not only know their purpose, they’re creating a map for people like me.

            It is my honor to identify with their journey. I’m grateful for having a platform that'll bring awareness to their story. I leave you with what I feel is the most powerful statement in Kerry’s Choose Kind presentation, “Everyone you know is facing a battle you know nothing about -- so be kind!” 

 

Game over and management drops the ball

  • Written by Bob Rakow

I got canned today.

 

Never saw it coming.

 

But beyond the shock of being without a job is the way that I found out I’d no longer be working for the Reporter.

 

I was working on a story when I received a text from a friend in the industry who told me that the bosses here decided to get rid of me. No one here took me aside to inform me, and I’m not sure if and when I would be told.

 

I’m making this up.

 

But a similar scenario turned out to be cold, hard reality for personalities at a Chicago sports radio station a few weeks ago.

 

For several months, I’ve been a loyal listener to the Game, an upstart sports station at 87.7 FM. The station came to the market in February facing some long odds. The signal was not especially strong, and there are two big-time sports radio stations on Chicago’s AM dial that have had years to establish their brand.

 

Still, Tribune Media owns the Game, so I thought they’d give it time to grow. Not in this “what have you done for me lately?” world. Sadly, the game clock runs out on the Game at the end of the year when the station goes off the air.

 

How did on-air personalities find out? They received texts while on the air that media writer Rob Feder had reported the station’s demise on his blog.

 

Amazing.

 

Afternoon hosts Ben Finfer and Alex Quigley were in the midst of talking Chicago sports when they got the news. There was no memo from management, no staff meeting.

 

Quigley, also a member of the station’s management team, was given the news the previous night but was told not to share it with colleagues. I’ve seen an online video of Finfer reacting to the news and Quigley’s body language says it all.

 

At one point, he apologizes for not sharing the news with his partner. What a horrible spot management put him in.

 

Finfer was damn mad and he didn’t hold back. I’m sure he was dumbfounded that he’ll be without a job come the New Year, but he had that rare opportunity to rip his bosses for all to hear. What was management going to do, fire him?

 

“I would think that somebody at least would have some respect for their employees and let them know, give them a heads up, that there’s something going on,” Finfer said.

 

He continued: “I don’t understand. Why is so hard to tell your employees they’re losing their jobs? Why did we have to find out that way? Isn’t there anybody here who has respect for employees?

 

“I had respect for our bosses until about five minutes ago. They haven’t even come in the room yet to say anything. I’ve never, ever had management treat me this way.”

 

The boss is Jimmy de Castro, the president and general manager of WGN, who’s had tremendous success in Chicago media, including running WLUP during the station’s heyday when Jonathan Brandmeier, Steve Dahl and Garry Meier were radio legends.

 

Apparently, despite all his success, de Castro never learned how to treat people.

 

Finfer continued his rant wondering how he and Quigley were supposed to complete the remainder of their show—talk Bulls, Bears and Hawks as if nothing happened.

 

He admitted that he had an idea things could end. After all, radio is an ever-changing, revenue-driven business. All he wanted was some respect and not to be embarrassed while on the air.

 

“Who does that? Are they even human,” Finfer asked during a nine-minute segment the day the word got out.

 

Finfer has worked in Chicago sports radio for many years as both a producer and fill-in/weekend on-air host. The move to a full-time afternoon shift at the Game was a big one for him, and I’ll bet he doesn’t regret it.

 

There are endless people in the media and entertainment business that took risks and gambles to advance their careers only to be disappointed by setbacks. Those same people tend to get up, dust off and chase the next opportunity. I’m willing to bet Finfer lands on his feet. Here’s hoping he does.

 

Ditto for the other personalities at the Game. Some are more well known that others, but I thought they did a fine job in a sports-crazed market without taking it too seriously or mistreating callers. Best of luck to all of them.

 

In an August interview with Feder, Jimmy de Castro sounded optimistic about the future of the Game. “I feel like Bugsy Siegel in early Vegas, living proof that time, money and a little water can build something special.”

 

Unfortunately, de Castro’s words rang hollow while Finfer and his colleagues are left holding the bag.

 

 

Good to finally grace these pages

  • Written by Ray Hanania

 

Hanania-GrapevineIt took 30 years, but I finally made it back to the newspapers on 123rd Street and Harlem Avenue, the home of the Reporter and Regional News.
I’ve covered Chicagoland since 1975, but it was in 1985 when I ended my eight years at the Daily Southtown and almost started work at the Regional News.
I left the Southtown to become lead columnist for the Joliet Herald-News. I also spoke with Charles Richards about writing a column for the Regional News, with Herald approval.
The Richards’ were excited and laid out a front page announcing I had been hired. I worked closely with Virginia Richards to bring my column, “The Grapevine,” to a larger Chicagoland audience. But the best laid plans, as they say, went awry.
The City Council gave me an enthusiastic farewell, introduced by Chicago Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th Ward). A brilliant orator, Burke poked fun at me for getting under the skin of every mayor including Mike Bilandic, Jane Byrne and Harold Washington. Washington chided me, too
The meeting was the first for new Ald. Dorothy Tillman, a public housing activist. Tillman refused to remove her traditional large brimmed hat during the meeting causing a fight which made news. During the battle, Tillman gave me a rose from a dozen she received from supporters, and my friend and mentor at the Chicago Sun-Times, Harry Golden Jr., mentioned it in his story. That prompted Sun-Times editor Ken Towers to urge me to head up the newspaper’s new Page Ten column as the political writer. How could I refuse a salary that was double what the Herald and Regional News offered together?
The Richards were understanding. Being a political writer for the Chicago Sun-Times was, back then, a big deal.
The Reporter and Regional News are two of the best community newspapers serving the Southwest Surburbs. I am proud to bring my writing talent (four Lisagor Awards, one Sigma Delta Chi award, and other national awards), as well as my controversy (as Reporter editor Jeff Vorva so graciously noted last week).
 Journalism ink is in my blood. After leaving the Sun-Times, I launched the Villager Newspapers in 1993. In 2004, I started writing for the Southwest News-Herald and recently for the Des Plaines Valley News.
  Now I’m back.
Here’s a salute to the Richards dynasty, and to all the community publishers I knew, including Bruce Sagan at the Southtown, Walter Lysen at the Messenger Press, Ed Vondrak at the Southwest News-Herald, too, and now, Steve Landek and Mark Hornung.
I promise to continue fighting to give Chicagoland’s Southwest region the recognition it deserves.

Off the Grapevine
The fact that Congressman Bobby Rush doesn’t care about the west end of his district is a disgrace, which explains why he lost the suburban vote to his challenger, Jimmy Lee Tillman, who deserved to win … Bruce Rauner’s victory over Gov. Pat Quinn, thanks to the swing votes of Reagan Democrats in the suburbs, sets up a certain battle in 2018 that will probably see Lisa Madigan finally step up to the plate … The big push in the spring will be to oust Mayor Rahm Emanuel and replace him with someone who appreciates, not offends, Chicago’s diversity. Rumors abound that Liz Gorman will be given a Cabinet post in the Rauner Government for her support … So fun to watch the mainstream news medias which shamefully slammed Rauner before the election now climbing over itself to curry his favor … Pause to thank our veterans this week for their service to America.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. Reach him at rghanania@gmail.com

 

Ray Hanania's Grapevine: Watching Wallenda's 'death watch' in the city was not worth it

  • Written by Ray Hanania

 

 

 

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More than 50,000 people crowded Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago to watch Nik Wallenda walk a tightrope across the Chicago River, and then one between the Marina Towers blindfolded.

 It was irresponsible, of course. There was no catch line or net to save him if he fell in the cold winds  that swept across the river walk where gawkers stood and Chicago Fire Department rescue units and scuba divers waited, “just in case.”

And it was the “just in case” that drew everyone --  the death watch -- just in case he fell. A terrible thought but without it, what made the daredevil stunt worth it?

Wallenda was more than 90 minutes late, so by the time he walked the first wire from Marina Tower to the Leo Burnett building, half the people were already leaving to go home before he began his second walk, blindfolded, across a shorter wire between the West and East Marina Towers buildings.

As I waited in the chill with my son, I could only wonder why I had to drive downtown and risk Chicago’s rising murder rate, the unbelievable high cost of parking and food at overrated restaurants. Chicago reeks with excessive taxes. So why are we downtown and not someplace in Chicago’s suburbs?

Where is the suburban version of Nik Wallenda entertaining crowds?

Political Grapevine

Who can predict the outcome of a tough Ad War between Gov. Pat Quinn and challenger Bruce Rauner? Regardless of who wins, the two real election winners are House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who breathed life into Quinn’s candidacy, and Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman, who gave Rauner the chance he needed to make this an election to remember. Four years ago, voters dragged themselves to the polls and Quinn defeated Bill Brady, with no one paying attention to the Southwest suburbs of Cook County. This time, Gorman made the suburban county the focus of the battle.

Are you tired of the bias on TV News? I watched Laura Washington and Roosevelt professor Paul Green lamely pretend to be objective analysts on WLS TV. Are there not any objective commentators who can offer the public insight rather than self-serving political insight?

November is Arab-American Heritage month in Illinois. The most disturbing aspect is the revelations recently that several leaders of Chicago’s leading Jewish Community organizations lobbied newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011 to close the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs. Emanuel then pulled the rug out from under the popular four-year-old Arabesque Festival, which was also unfairly attacked by the same groups. Mayor Daley stood up to the critics but Emanuel has a personal agenda to see the racism through. Shame on Emanuel’s phony pretense of racial diversity and cultural pride.

Here is some controversy as solid as Oak (Lawn): With the state elections over, the focus shifts to suburban and Chicago elections. The 10th Ward will have a showdown between neighborhood activist Samantha Webb and Ald. John Pope, a protégé of former 10th Ward heavy and convicted political boss Al Sanchez … Many people in Oak Lawn are hoping former two-term Mayor Dave Heilmann gets back involved and runs again in 2017. Oak Lawn is turning into an economic disaster. Everyone’s watching the vicious war of words between longtime Trustee Bob Streit and Mayor Sandra Bury in dueling online blog posts.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )