Frankie O's Blog: Three Wise Men

Frankie O's Blog: Three Wise Men

Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010
2:14 PM

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Of course when doing a blog before a holiday, you have to use it for a theme. Dont you?! For me, this one was easy. Although, I could have titled it: WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES, but wheres the feel of the season with that? You can argue with me later over which is more accurate.

Upon looking at what I wrote at this time last year, besides wincing at the many 5th grade grammatical errors, I noticed a theme: There was utter dismay in this town about the state of the Bears. Actually, thats not enough. There was actual anger in every fan that I talked to at the bar. Three years of not making the playoffs, after a Super Bowl appearance, had ignited the fan base and not in a good way. Add to that the bitter crash of the buzz from Cutlermania from the summer of love in 09, (Liken it to the crash from his sugar and caffeine buzz that Frankie O suffers in the middle of his shift each night!) and that made for a volatile mix for the fan base. Fire Angelo!! Fire Lovie!! Can we trade Jay Cutler back for the neck beard?! O.K., so I didnt hear that third one as much, but you get my point.

Fast forward to now, and a 2010 NFC North title, and how do the three objects of scorn look now?

Jerry Angelo was under fire for his trade for Cutler. He had gambled the future of the organization on the chance to acquire what he felt was a franchise quarterback. 26 interceptions later, some of which were so awful they should have counted for two, the populous were questioning why the general manager had a job. They wanted him stopped so that he could no longer inflict his talent judging acumen on their beloved Monsters of the Midway. At the very least, if he had to stay, he needed to get rid of his choice for coach. So what happened? He kept the coach, and made his best free-agent move: the signing of Julius Peppers. My favorite part of the Peppers signing was that the bonus money was not paid all at once, that the contract could be voided after one year. For a player whose motivation to give his all was sometimes questioned, this would provide the inspiration to have a monster year and he has.

As far as Angelos franchise QB, this has been a different Jay Cutler. His seeming indifference with possession of the football last year infuriated many. His indifference to how everyone felt about his performance infuriated even more. As Ive talked here many times, I dont think that there has been a more scrutinized athlete in this town since Ive been here than Cutler. For many, it is not just about what he does, it is how he does it. That is never going to change. His personality is such that hes going to rub people the wrong way. I think he is starting to understand how his behaviorals are being interpreted, not that I think it matters to him. He understands that the bottom line to him being loved in this town is all about winning. Not throwing 26 picks helps also. His 20-13 TD-INT ratio is acceptable as is his 89.6 passer rating. But more importantly, his 9-4 record and the fact that he is in the playoffs for the first time are going to provide the answer to the question of whether he was worth the kings ransom that was paid to acquire him.

And then there is Lovie Smith. Following in the footsteps of Poppa Bear Halas and Da Coach ensure that the position of coach of the Bears is going to come with ultimate expectations. Not winning it all is not good enough. Being a flashy personality wouldnt hurt either. Well, the last three years had been as excruciating for us as it was for him. Many in this town were baffled as to why he was given another chance to lead this team after three consecutive failures. The most popular conclusion was that the team was too cheap to eat his contract and that we all would have to suffer the consequences. Whether that would be to watch his team or to listen to him describe their performance afterward. What has happened is his best coaching effort since he arrived here, in my opinion, starting with the compilation of his staff. A lot of guys would not feel comfortable with three former head coaches working for them, especially when they knew their head was on the chopping block. But, desperate times call for doing whatever it takes. There is no mistaking the imprint of the coaching staff on this team, from the offensive line play, the play calling and the play of the QB, the additions of the Two Mikes: Martz and Tice, has revitalized offensive football in this town known for just the opposite. Defensively, Rod Marinelli seems more suited to the defensive coordinator position to the guy that was over-matched leading the Detroit Lions. (Whose fault that was is another debate for another day!) Any quality team is going to have a quality leader who is going to do whatever it takes to put every person who is under his charge in a position to succeed. There is no one who has done that better this year than Lovie, and he has an unlikely division title to show for it.

So as we enjoy this holiday season, I say we do so with an eye towards what can happen in the future that is beyond our wildest dreams. Good things can happen in places that we never expected. To prove it we only need to look at the local football team and the three wise men who provided gifts for us all. What a difference a year makes indeed!

Leicester City winning the Premier League is the biggest sports story of the year

fire_lites_04-30_640x360_677153859724.jpg

Leicester City winning the Premier League is the biggest sports story of the year

Leicester City just became the biggest sports story of the year.

If you're a soccer fan, you knew that already. If not, let me explain why the club from the Midlands in England shocked everyone, even the sportsbooks across the Atlantic, by winning the English Premier League title this season.

Those sportsbooks are a good place to start. Leicester City was a 5,000-to-1 favorite to win the Premier League this season. You won't find a professional sports team in this country that has odds that long to win a title.

The longest odds to win the World Series this year were the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves at 500-to-1. The NBA's Philadelphia 76ers were 350-to-1, and that team won 10 games. Hockey's longshot was the Arizona Coyotes at 250-to-1. You can't get an NFL team at longer than 200-to-1 to win the Super Bowl right now. That makes Leicester 10 times less likely than any underdog champion this country can provide.

The upset title was such a shock to the sportsbooks in England that they were offering to cash out bettors at a discount price before Leicester clinched the title. In the end, England's biggest sports books combined to lose more than $11 million.

As ESPN's Paul Carr pointed out, 15-seed Cal State Bakersfield was 5,000-to-1 to win the NCAA Tournament this year. A 15-seed has never made it past the Sweet 16 and with all respect to how bonkers it would be if a 15-seed was to win the NCAA Tournament, that's just six games. Leicester City did this over 38 games.

By the time the Foxes play out the last two games, they clinched the title early for an extra ounce of insanity, they will have played each team twice, once home and once away. This isn't a miraculous play like a Hail Mary or a massive one-off upset like the Miracle on Ice. This is a full season where a team that was expected to finish towards the bottom of the league won the championship and led the league for most of the season.

There have probably been more incredible moments and more incredible games in sports, but maybe never a more incredible season than what Leicester accomplished this year.

The reason the odds were so long is because there is no salary cap and there is no draft. Each team is truly on its own when it comes to creating a good team and the playing field is not even.

Imagine the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays fighting as division rivals in a world where instead of having a draft where the worst teams picked first, all amateur players entering the pros were free agents. Most of the players who would have been first round picks would wind up with the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, etc. The poor Rays would have a lower payroll and no built in mechanic to keep them competitive. That's what Leicester has to go up against when competing with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Then there's the promotion and relegation system most of the world uses in soccer. Leicester City wasn't even in the Premier League from 2004-2014. Last season the team returned to the Premier League and barely survived relegation. They even had a stint in the third tier in the 2008-2009 season.

In the Premier League era, which started in 1992, no team has ever been lower than third the year before going on to win the title. Leicester was 14th last season.

The mesmerizing stats are countless, but to close it out it's worth noting that Leicester is a 132-year-old club. It had never won the top league in England. Even Cubs fans think that's a long time.

Joe Maddon vents frustrations with tensions already rising in Cubs vs. Pirates

maddon_and_zobrist_post_05-02_640x360_678254147548.jpg

Joe Maddon vents frustrations with tensions already rising in Cubs vs. Pirates

PITTSBURGH — “Still smells like champagne,” said one wise guy walking through the visiting clubhouse at PNC Park late Monday night.

The Cubs had just beaten the Pittsburgh Pirates, with some of the same raw emotions from last year’s wild-card win resurfacing during a 7-2 win in early May. There’s that much at stake in the National League Central that maybe we shouldn’t spend so much time fixating on the St. Louis Cardinals.

The eye-for-an-eye moment came in the seventh inning, with Pittsburgh reliever Kyle Lobstein drilling Ben Zobrist with his first pitch. Home plate umpire Laz Diaz had already watched Cubs starter Jason Hammel hit Starling Marte with a pitch in the sixth inning and issued a warning to both benches.

Manager Joe Maddon yelled at Lobstein and Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli screamed at the visiting dugout, and it felt like October all over again.

“I was able to vent a little bit,” Maddon said. “It’s always fun to vent, isn’t it? I mean, we’ve all been there. You have to vent on occasion. That’s the worst thing you could possibly do for your health long-term — to hold that stuff in. I want to get it out.”

Maddon spent part of his pregame media session talking up Cervelli, calling him a “good dude” who worked out at his wife’s boxing gym in Tampa, Fla., during the offseason: “He came to my Gasparilla party, dressed as a pirate of all things.”

“It’s just a matter of judging intentions,” said Zobrist, who’s new to this emerging rivalry after earning a World Series ring with the Kansas City Royals last year. “As a team, you’re trying to think: ‘Well, was that intentional? Was it not?’ But I think in that situation it was pretty clear.

“Our whole team’s going to stick up for each other. Obviously, Joe took exception to it. I think a lot of other guys did, too. I’ve been around long enough — I’ve been hit before. I took my base and scored a run. That’s the way I look at it.”

Maddon had even more fun with the Pirates and the replay system in the seventh inning after Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle erased a double play with a successful challenge at first base. Maddon responded by using Major League Baseball’s new takeout rule to challenge Jordy Mercer’s slide into second base.

“I had no clue what I was doing,” Maddon said. “I just knew I could challenge. At that particular juncture, why not? Give it a roll. Bottom of the seventh inning, who knows what they’re going to think?”

Maddon kept rolling and filibustering during his postgame news conference, saying how much he loved the Pirates’ uniforms as a kid growing up in Pennsylvania and comparing this rivalry to his high-school quarterback days and Hazleton vs. West Hazleton.

“People in Pittsburgh can enjoy that,” Maddon said. “They can identify with ‘Friday Night Lights,’ ‘All the Right Moves,’ all of the above. I’m being this way specifically so I don’t comment on the hit by batter.”

Cubs top Pirates to stay baseball's best, but Theo Epstein won't stop making moves

cubs_pgl_hit_05-02_640x360_678218819760.jpg

Cubs top Pirates to stay baseball's best, but Theo Epstein won't stop making moves

PITTSBURGH — Relentless is the word the Cubs keep using to describe a lineup that knocked out Gerrit Cole on Monday night with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning and the Pittsburgh Pirates already trailing by two runs at PNC Park.

Relentless could also be a label for Theo Epstein’s front office, even after spending almost $290 million on free agents and even with an 18-6 record that’s the best in baseball following a 7-2 win over the Pirates.

The Cubs want nothing to do with the randomness of another elimination game and can’t take anything for granted with 85 percent of the schedule still remaining. They’ve already lost playoff hero Kyle Schwarber for the season, and the outfield picture is clouded with Jason Heyward dealing with a sore right wrist since early April and Matt Szczur scheduled to get an MRI on his right hamstring on Tuesday morning.

Not that Epstein needed a reminder, but the president of baseball operations flashed back to last year’s National League wild-card game when he flew into Pittsburgh, checked into the team’s downtown hotel across the Roberto Clemente Bridge and went running along the Allegheny River.

From his hotel room, Epstein could sort of see where Schwarber’s two-run homer off Cole flew out of PNC Park last October, giving this franchise a runaway sense of momentum.

“We’ve played really well,” Epstein said, “but I don’t think we’ve completely locked in yet or clicked in all facets of the game. Our pitching staff’s really been carrying us. It’s been the most consistent part of our team yet. As it warms up here, I think the bats will get going and they’ll probably carry us for a while.

“But as far as needs that we might have, or ways that we can get better, we’re always assessing that. I think there’s lots of different ways we could potentially improve the club before the end of the season.”

The Cubs will watch Tim Lincecum’s upcoming showcase in Arizona because they always check in on potential impact players at that level. Lincecum — a two-time Cy Young Award winner who helped the San Francisco Giants win three World Series titles — is making a comeback after hip surgery.

While the Cubs should have big-picture concerns about their rotation and a farm system that hasn’t developed the arms yet, Jason Hammel (4-0, 1.24 ERA) is making his own comeback.

Even if manager Joe Maddon doesn’t seem to completely trust Hammel, who gave up two runs across five innings and got pulled after throwing 89 pitches and accidentally hitting Starling Marte to lead off the sixth. Four different relievers combined to shut down the Pirates (15-11) the rest of the night.

Epstein — who is in the fifth and final year of his contract and used “status quo” to describe his extension talks with chairman Tom Ricketts — will have the position-player prospects to bundle if the Cubs do need a frontline pitcher this summer. A franchise-record payroll in the neighborhood of $150 million was also projected to have some room for in-season additions.

After beating up on the division’s have-nots and going 8-1 against the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs should have a better idea of where they stand after Maddon’s “Minimalist Zany” road trip to Pittsburgh and a four-game showdown against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field.

“There’s always the threat of somehow playing to the level of your competition in a negative way,” Maddon said. “I’m not denigrating any team that we’ve played to this point. That is not my point. But if you play teams with less-than (.500) records and maybe they’re not playing as well, you don’t turn that dimmer switch up to the full velocity. But when you’re playing really good teams, I think that naturally brings out the best in you.”