5 Questions with...Tribune's Phil Rosenthal


5 Questions with...Tribune's Phil Rosenthal

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of Communications
CSNChicago.com ContributorWant to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the city's most popular personalities on the spot with everyone's favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled "5 Questions with..."Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, it's our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports-related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.This week ... one of the most respected media writers in the nation whose columns and blogs for the Chicago Tribune are a must-read for anyone wanting to know the very latest in the continuously evolving media landscape ... he's a Chicago-area native, a devoted husband and father, plus, he's one of those guys who is usually the smartest person in the room ... here are "5 Questions with...PHIL ROSENTHAL!"BIO: Phil Rosenthal, the Chicago Tribune's media columnist, has been a working journalist since 17, when he talked his way into a regular freelance gig with the Waukegan News-Sun while still in high school.As he earned his journalism degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rosenthal covered sports, spot news and media for The Capital Times in Madison, Wis. He spent 11 years at the Los Angeles Daily News, first as a sports writer, then a television critic and ultimately as a columnist whose work was nationally distributed by the New York Times News Service. He returned to his hometown and joined the Chicago Sun-Times in 1996, serving as deputy sports editor, sports columnist and television critic. He moved to the Chicago Tribune in 2005.Highlights of his career include modeling swimsuits for Sports Illustrated supermodel Vendela, getting a manicure from Lorena Bobbitt, smoking cigars with Jack Paar and introducing his mother to Johnny Carson.Rosenthal is virtually certain no one actually reads biographies all the way through, and would congratulate you for making it this far.An award-winning journalist, he once saved the life of one of his three brothers and was kicked off his high school newspaper. He was an extra in the Oscar-winning movie "Ordinary People" and, although it appears he wound up on the cutting-room floor, he did get paid and fed and can claim to be just two degrees from Kevin Bacon. Rosenthal is married and has two young children, who don't yet read his column but recognize his picture in the paper. They are not yet embarrassed to be related to him.Rosenthal Field in north suburban Lake Bluff is named for Rosenthal's late father, a former youth baseball coach and elementary school board member, not him.Phil Rosenthal's media column appears Wednesday and Sunday in the Chicago Tribune, and as events warrant. His "Tower Ticker" blog provides media updates 247 at chicagotribune.comphil. Well, it's available 247. He does sleep, although not as much as he would like.
1) CSNChicago.com: Phil, with the ongoing expansion of the digital media world, especially with social media outlets, there has certainly been a big change in recent years on how consumers gather their information. When it comes to true local journalism mainstays such as the Tribune and Sun-Times in our town, do you feel that younger readers are still relying on these publications for their news and -- a follow-up question -- do you think that all major newspapers across the country will one day will band together and truly figure out a way to monetize their news and information on the Web?
Rosenthal: I don't know if banding together is the answer. I'm not even sure it's legal. But monetizing content is the great unsolved mystery for traditional media, and obviously the clock is running on that. My own sense is there are two kinds of news, regardless of whether we're talking print, digital or any other media platform, even those that may not exist yet. One kind of news is the sort everyone and anyone can provide and it will be fast and free or very cheap to the consumer as a result. This would be breaking news, press conferences and other public happenings. The other is proprietary, unique because of what it says or the way it's said. It gives the consumer a deeper, more nuanced understanding of what has happened andor what will happen, so people value it enough to pay a premium to get it or at the very least will come to it in consistently large numbers. That's easier described than produced, obviously. As for where people get their news, I think everyone relies on the Tribune and the Sun-Times for at least some of their local news, even if they never pick up a copy of either paper or visit their Web sites. That's because the two organizations play such a huge role in informing not only their readers, but other sources for local news in this market.

2) CSNChicago.com: With Oprah leaving broadcast television to start up her OWN network and a new talk show, not to mention Conan O'Brien heading to TBS later this year, do you think these are smart career decisions by these two media giants and do you think their following will remain at a high level with their move away from broadcast TV?Rosenthal: As you know, most cable channels not only get ad money, they get money for every single household they reach from the cable and satellite providers that carry them whether anyone actually watches or not. Obviously, a big audience or a resolutely loyal audience that would perhaps leave a provider if it were to drop a favorite channel can get more money per household out of that provider. That's part of the calculation in TBS signing Conan and Oprah partnering with Discovery Networks on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Not everyone has cable, so it's harder to get as big an audience. But they also don't need to reach as big an audience to be a financial success. Cable channels still reach enough viewers for them to remain part of a national conversation. For Conan, it means the freedom to do what he wants the way he wants, which should serve him well. As for Oprah, she will profit even from shows she has little to do with. And if any of those other shows break out as hits on OWN, there's always the option of moving them to broadcast TV later.
3) CSNChicago.com: You spent 11 years away from Chicago during your time in L.A. and covered the sports scene there for a while. Is it true what they say that no one really cares about sports in that city (especially being the No. 2 market without an NFL franchise)?Rosenthal: No. They do care about sports in L.A. A lot. First off, they've had enough success that they don't need to tolerate losing, and often don't. What they have that Chicago doesn't -- and often gets lost in discussions about L.A. sports -- is two major universities with major sports programs in USC and UCLA. Take football, for example. I looked this up. Both teams had off years last season, but on a single afternoon last September when they each played at home, UCLA drew almost 56,000 against San Diego State and USC drew more than 84,000 against San Jose State. And that night, the Dodgers drew more than 53,000 against the visiting Padres. So clearly there are plenty of sports fans and not everyone was at the beach or the mall. When it comes to the NFL, for a while when I lived there, the league had two teams in the market. I was a Rams beat writer for a season. But the Raiders returned to Oakland and the Rams went to St. Louis and now it's been 15 years without a team. I'm not sure it's missed that much at this point. Even in Chicago, most NFL fans watch games on TV, not in person. Plus, without a team in town, they have more and better viewing options. The weird thing there is that the early games all kick off at 10 a.m. That takes getting a bit of used to.
4) CSNChicago.com: When you came back to Chicago in the mid-90s, you covered the Bulls during the second three-peat run (1996-98). What "non-game" Bulls memory stands out to you most during that frenzied time period in our city?Rosenthal: I was just talking about this with somebody. One non-game memory that stands out is of walking along with Michael Jordan as he played in a celebrity golf tournament near Lake Tahoe on the day in 1996 he accepted a one-year, 25 million deal to stay with the Bulls. Outside the ropes there was this mob of people following him, as they always did. But here you also had people on nearby hotel balconies with binoculars. You had people anchoring their jet-skis on the lake, craning their necks. Dozens of kids in Jordan jerseys jockeyed for position in the crowd. One family I met said they drove four hours just to get a glimpse. He was playing in a threesome that day with the Denver Broncos' John Elway and Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux, who was the NHL's MVP at the time, and they might as well have been invisible. Nobody cared about them, just Michael. During that Bulls run, we all talked about how it was like covering a rock star. But it's all a little surreal looking back.
5) CSNChicago.com: As someone who handled TV critic duties for many years in both L.A. and Chicago, what would you say is the most "under-appreciated" show in TV history and why?Rosenthal: There are so many that immediately come to mind, but I'd have to go with ABC's "Police Squad." It was canceled in 1982 after only four of its six half-hour episodes aired and then went on to spawn three movies. The common belief as to why it failed is viewers didn't pay close enough attention to get or even notice the jokes. Isn't that the definition of "under-appreciated?" "The Richard Pryor Show" lasted just four episodes in 1977 because NBC didn't appreciate what Pryor and his staff wanted to say and do.A show I'm sure deserved to be a hit was 1995-99's "NewsRadio." NBC boss Warren Littlefield and I used to go round and round over whether the network was giving the show enough support. He kept renewing it despite the fact it didn't draw much of a crowd, but it didn't have the benefit of one of those hammock slots between Thursday-night hits that propped up shows such as "Caroline in the City," "Suddenly Susan," "Veronica's Closet" and "The Single Guy."
BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: You're a proud father with two kids ... what's the best parental advice you have for any "dads-to-be" out there?Rosenthal: When in doubt, ask your wife. Chances are, she knows. We're big believers in Dr. Marc Weissbluth's books on the importance of establishing good sleep habits for your kids. It's not always easy or convenient to follow the guidelines, but you would be stunned how effective they are. I mean, our kids never went through the terrible twos. Oh, and you might want to encourage your sons and daughters to become White Sox fans, even if you're not. It's easier to get tickets and there's a lot more for the kids to do at the ballpark.
Rosenthal LINKS: Chicago TribunePhil Rosenthal columnsChicago TribunePhil Rosenthal's "Tower Ticker" blogPhil Rosenthal on FacebookPhil Rosenthal on Twitter

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The Cubs felt so nervous just before a 7:09 first pitch on Saturday night that Javier Baez found the camera looking into the home dugout, waved with a big smile and started pumping his fist, hamming it up for the video board as Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” blasted through the Wrigley Field sound system.

The Cubs then ran out onto the field and systematically destroyed the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending this National League Championship Series in six games with a 5-0 win that featured almost no tension or suspense, obliterating for now the narrative around this franchise.

The old stadium still kept shaking, from Kris Bryant’s RBI single in the first inning to the clapping to Anthony Rizzo’s “Intoxicated” walk-up music to a standing ovation for Kyle Hendricks, who outpitched the supposed best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw.

“We don’t care about history,” Bryant said. “This is a completely different team, different people all around. It doesn’t matter. This is a new Chicago Cubs team. And we are certainly a very confident group.”

Sure, 1908 will hover over the entire World Series, which begins Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. But this is the new normal for Bryant, who within two years has won 200 games, four playoff rounds, a Rookie of the Year award and probably MVP hardware.

This team isn’t going away, either. With a chance to win the pennant for the first time since the Truman administration, the Cubs started two rookies who began this season at Triple-A Iowa – catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Albert Almora Jr. – in a lineup that featured Bryant (24), Rizzo (27), Baez (23), Addison Russell (22) and Hendricks (26).

Contreras caught a shutout and posed for a moment at home plate watching his line-drive homer off Kershaw fly into the left-field bleachers in the fourth inning. Rizzo – who had looked overmatched earlier in the playoffs – became the first left-handed hitter to homer off Kershaw during this calendar year.

And when Rizzo tried to wave off Baez for the ball Josh Reddick popped up to the right side of the infield in the fifth inning, Baez cut right in front of Rizzo to catch it, continuing a long-running gag among the Cubs infielders.

“I don’t think they’re oblivious, because that’s sort of insulting in some ways,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They know the history. I just don’t think they care. They think they’re a good team and they love to play. And we have some guys that definitely shine on the big stage.”

Baez – a September call-up last year who couldn’t get an everyday spot during the regular season – showed off his bat speed and unbelievable defensive instincts and emerged as the NLCS co-MVP along with big-game pitcher Jon Lester. Sold on the idea of all this young talent someday coming together, Lester joined a last-place team after the 2014 season, taking a leap of faith, even at $155 million.

“I don’t feel like there’s pressure at all in our clubhouse,” said Almora, the first player Theo Epstein’s front office drafted here in 2012. “There’s just hunger and excitement and desire to win.

“None of us were around in 1945…so we just got to write our own history.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This is what the Cubs have been talking about since the New York Mets swept them out of last year’s NLCS, since the Ricketts family invested almost $290 million more in free agents, since unconventional manager Joe Maddon made “Embrace The Target” the theme of spring training.

Whatever your preconceived notions of the old Cubs are, know that this group has an amazing sense of balance. They are youthful and experienced. They play as a team and with individual flair. They have style and get dirty. They are analytical and sort of oblivious. They are loose and intense. And the ending hasn’t been written yet.

“We still got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “We’ll enjoy tonight – don’t get me wrong – we’ll have a celebration. We’ll have a good time. We’ll smile, we’ll hug each other, probably get drunk a little bit…but we got some work to do.”

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities] 

The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”