Follow the money

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Follow the money

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

The big story this week was the unprecedented penalties handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the New Orleans bounty scandal. Wow. That got everybodys attention. I think most of the folks I talked to thought the penalty was a bit much, but thanked god it wasnt their team, especially since we all know that this is not an isolated incident. I have no doubt that Goodell had to act in this way since it became public. At that point the Saints did this to themselves. I find it interesting that it was noted that this investigation had been going on for years. The troubling part is that this did not deter Gregg Williams and the Saints from curtailing the practice. Again, I believe it was because these incentives were so much part of the tough-guy culture and existed for so long that those involved did not see the harm, pardon the pun. Much like Martha Stewart, the lying when confronted only increased the penalty. And also like a gun-toting-in-the-sweatpants-at-a-nightclub wide receiver and a delusional, hair-dyed, Howdy-Doody look-alike ex-governor, examples must be made of. Theres nothing like a very public flogging to keep the masses in check.

Now as I said here last week, I think some of this is over-blown in the fact that this is portrayed as players repeatedly taking wild-eyed head-shots and tackling at knee level only. The game moves too fast for that. Wouldnt an obsessed media notice? Are the Saints penalty numbers far above the rest of the league? But core aggression, achieved by almost any means, is always going at the heart of a game of violence. Stuff is going to happen. The players understand the world of mayhem in which they exist. Bounty or not, a hit that knocks someone out is going to get notice: From players. From coaches. From fans. And, lets not forget, be shown repeatedly, around the clock on ESPN and the NFL NETWORK! If it bleeds it leads!

Now call me cynical, but Im wondering in what different ways the NFL could benefit from this. During the past year, concussion issues in sports have been discussed more than any time ever. Goodell has been out front on this, touting a concern for player safety. But is he exactly the right guy to be doing this? After all, hes in charge of a business that is built on violence and high-speed collisions. Can a cattle farmer be an animal rights activist? Also since hes in charge, he must be aware of the 39 lawsuits from over 850 former players over concussions. I would think those lawsuits stand a chance against a league that used to sell biggest hits videos on their own website. Wouldnt a good preemptive strike against damages be to show that your on and off-field business model had changed? (Or is it an admission of guilt?)

Culture change doesnt come easy, and I commend Goodell for at least trying to move the bar to a more palatable place. But, with the money that is involved Im finding it hard to believe that all of his motives are altruistic. Then again, if he really is the savior, he can purify the sport by dealing with the real elephant in the room: The fact that the NFL is the most popular sport in this country because its the easiest to gamble on.

Im thinking if there was going to be a how-not-to book written on how to negotiate a player contract, it should be done by Matt Fortes agent. Lost in the woods is always my first thought when I hear the latest update of his contract saga. Forte is not in a position of strength, usually the determining factor in a negotiation, but he and his team dont seem to understand this. I know that this must be very frustrating for him, but what can he do? What he shouldnt do is send out woe is me tweets lamenting the fact that the Bears signed another running back. Honestly?Theres no crying in football! Michael Bush is a beast of a back and a great compliment to Forte. What Forte should do is stay quiet, and double-down that he wont get hurt and play on his 1-year deal. After this season Im sure the Bears wont want to use the tag again, then he can do what he wants. If they do use it again, he will have made about 20 mildo in 2 seasons, so quit the whining or sign a new deal. Or better yet, get some better advice. Im available!!

The thing about John Elway as a player was that he always seemed to get better the more dire the situation. Ever heard of The Drive? Need I say more? Well it seems he save a little of the Elway magic for his job as President of the Broncos. As Ive written here before, part of Tim Tebows allure for me was watching Elways reaction to it. One of the best quarterbacks ever watching this hack. First the team was pressured to put him in. Then he wins a bunch of games to get them into the playoffs. The Elway reactions, facially and verbally, were priceless. He should teach that vacant smile to beauty contestants to use as they are asked questions about topics they have no clue about, like say about anything you would read in a paper. Then after the shocking playoff win against the Steelers, Tebow was the QB of the future, right? Wrong, worst mechanics-ever breath! John Elway is a freaking genius! How could he get rid of his polar quarterbacking opposite, in a city head-over-heels in love with him and not hear one word about it? Sign Peyton Manning, thats how! Even if Manning is done, who cares? Tebow is someone elses problem. (Of course Ill have more on that, but that topic is an entire blog in itself, my little foot soldiers!) He gone! And in the world of Elway, thats all that matters. Plus, youre selling your fan base that you are trying to win now with a future Hall-of-Famer. And he got a fourth-round draft pick! I cant get over what a brilliant move it was on Elways part. Has he ever thought of politics? Better yet, does he want to run my Eagles?

Preview: Cubs-Giants Thursday on CSN+

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Preview: Cubs-Giants Thursday on CSN+

The Cubs take on the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, and you can catch all the action on CSN+. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Thursday’s starting pitching matchup: Mike Montgomery vs. Jeff Samardzija

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ headline Cubs prospects ticketed for Arizona Fall League

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ headline Cubs prospects ticketed for Arizona Fall League

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ will headline the group of seven Cubs prospects ticketed for the Arizona Fall League.

As the Cubs project their next wave of talent, Jimenez is thought to be close to untouchable after a breakout performance at the All-Star Futures Game and a Midwest League MVP season at Class-A South Bend.

Jimenez – who originally signed out of the Dominican Republic and got a $2.8 million bonus in the summer of 2013 – is hitting .331 with 14 homers and 81 RBI through 111 games with the South Bend Cubs. At the age of 19, the dynamic outfielder reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman year at the University of San Diego with that 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and powerful right-handed swing.

Happ – the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Cincinnati – is a switch-hitter (.717 OPS at Double-A Tennessee) who has tried to increase his versatility by moving between second base and the outfield and become a Joe Maddon-type player.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Mesa Solar Sox roster unveiled Wednesday also includes Victor Caratini, an advanced defensive catcher who drew interest around the trade deadline and could be packaged in a bigger deal for pitching if Willson Contreras continues to develop behind the plate and Kyle Schwarber comes back healthy next season.

Cubs officials trying to build a pitching pipeline for Wrigley Field will also get a look at right-handers James Farris, Ryan McNeil, Stephen Perakslis and Duane Underwood Jr. in the showcase league.

Jason Hammel helps Cubs sweep Pirates and surge into September

Jason Hammel helps Cubs sweep Pirates and surge into September

Another quick hook left Jason Hammel seething over the weekend at Dodger Stadium, bringing back uncomfortable questions about how much manager Joe Maddon trusts him, and whether or not the Cubs would find a spot for him on a playoff roster.

Four days later, Pearl Jam’s “Alive” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system as Hammel warmed up before facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, with no guarantees about October or next season.

Hammel responded with another strong start during Wednesday’s 6-5 victory, completing a three-game sweep that left the Pirates staggering in the wild-card race and helped the Cubs cut their magic number to win the division down to 16.

Outside of a few extreme lows that distorted the perception of his superb overall season – 10-run outings against the New York Mets and at Coors Field and the 39 pitches he dismissively called a side day in Los Angeles – Hammel has been an integral part of the elite rotation that pushed the Cubs to such a huge lead in the National League Central.

Now up 15 games on the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs surged into September with an 85-47 record, an expectation their pitching staff will get healthy and become whole again and a sense of harmony within their clubhouse.

“That’s rearview mirror now,” Hammel said, wearing a Pearl Jam shirt during his postgame press conference. “Joe and I talked it out. There’s no room for off-the-field BS or disagreements or to hold a grudge. 

“I told him how I felt. He told me how he felt and the reasoning for everything. We’re grown men. We solved it and have to respect each other’s views and opinions. To carry something like that would really mess up something special we got going on right now.”

Hammel (14-7, 3.14 ERA) shut down the Pirates for six innings, allowing only one run, scattering three hits and showing the confidence that made him an All-Star-level performer in the first half. 

Hammel regained control of his fastball, spun some curveballs and incorporated a changeup to create doubt in hitters’ minds and add a different wrinkle to opposing scouting reports. He limited the damage to one run in the fifth inning, working around three walks and screaming and flexing his muscles after striking out Andrew McCutchen swinging at a 93-mph fastball to end the threat.

“Yeah, I wanted to get back out there,” Hammel said. “The last one just didn’t sit well with me. So far, so good.”

On a night when the crowd chanted “MVP,” Kris Bryant backed Hammel by launching his 36th homer and playing Gold Glove-level defense at third base. Bryant saved a run by diving to his left to catch a Sean Rodriguez line drive and end the second inning. Bryant began the fourth inning with his answer to Anthony Rizzo’s tarp catch, leaning over the wall and into the stands to catch a Josh Bell pop-up.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

But the defensive play of the night belonged to Addison Russell, who with the bases loaded and the Cubs trying to protect a 5-2 lead, raced over from shortstop and made a sliding catch near the left-field line to end the seventh inning.

“This team’s going to be really good for a long time,” said Hammel, who had been packaged with Jeff Samardzija – Thursday’s starter for the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field – in the Russell trade with the Oakland A’s in 2014. “These kids – I say kids now, because I can, because I’m old – they’re impressive and they continue to dazzle.

“You can’t really say surprised, because we’ve come to expect all these great plays and the big knocks that they’re driving in. We’re witnessing greatness.”

After getting 22 wins in a month for the first time since September 1945, this could become the next awkward conversation: If John Lackey (shoulder) returns to full strength – and the rest of the rotation doesn’t experience any setbacks down the stretch – what are the chances of Hammel making a playoff start?

“Stay healthy and we’ll see what happens,” Maddon said. “I don’t bet on the come. Let’s get to the playoffs first, make sure everybody’s well, and at that point then you look at the group you have. And then maybe at that point you look at the group you may be playing. And then you try to formulate the best plan of attack from your personnel versus their personnel. 

“I’ve not even thought about a playoff moment once.”

The Cubs will now have all of September to think about October.