5 Questions with...WGN Radio's Mike McConnell

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5 Questions with...WGN Radio's Mike McConnell

CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want 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 local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its 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 weeks guest ... a standout talk radio veteran whose vast knowledge of politics, pop culture, sports, and numerous topical issues affecting not only the city of the Chicago, but the entire country, has quickly made him a must-listen during his brief, two-year stint on WGN Radio 720 ... he's a man with an opinion who has no problem disagreeing with you on just about anything ... thankfully, he agreed to be a part of 5 Questions with ... MIKE McCONNELL!

BIO: Mike McConnell joined WGN Radio in August 2010 and can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

McConnell previously hosted middays for WLW-AM 700 in Cincinnati, one of the country's most respected radio stations, for 25 years. He also hosted the nationally syndicated "Weekend with Mike McConnell" for seven years. Known for his quick wit and common-sense approach to discussions, his show features a broad range of topics from in the news social issues to the oddities of everyday life. "I play it down the middle. If you're too far on one side of the middle, you're missing half the show," says McConnell of his style.

McConnell grew up outside of Philadelphia and attended the University of Dayton before starting his radio career in Cincinnati.

He enjoys everything there is to do in the great outdoors along with looking things up and being right all the time.

1) CSNChicago.com: Mike, you're coming up on your two-year anniversary at WGN Radio after spending 25 at WLW-AM in Cincinnati and were glad you're here! Now that you've been in Chicago a couple of years, what is the one thing about our city that has been a pleasant surprise to you ... and the one thing that has disappointed you?

McConnell:

Positive surprise about Chicago

I'd been to Chicago about a dozen times, mainly to watch baseball, so I didn't pay much attention to the where and how people live. So when you're thinking about moving, I thought my choices were high rise vs. suburbs. I'm not much of a high-rise guy and I don't like a commute. So the neighborhood situation is probably the most pleasant surprise. I have a 10-minute commute to downtown from Lincoln Park. And then there are all the other neighborhoods with their own unique attractions and quirks that are worth checking out.

Down side of Chicago

I have restaurants across the alley from where I live and I'm sure their dumpsters smell great. If I was a rat, I'd want to live in my backyard too. The city has worked hard to stay ahead of the problem, but I think it's a losing battle. I've looked at buying my own rat traps but my rats would just wear them like a necklace.

2) CSNChicago.com: It looks like the City Council will be moving forward to approve Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal to partially decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Good move? Bad move? Your thoughts

McConnell: Good move. I don't think people stop to think how being busted for small amounts of drugs can drastically change someone's future. The President has admitted he's smoked pot and snorted coke when he was young. If he'd been busted like the 18,000 Chicagoans who are each year, would he be President of the U.S. today? No. Would he have been a Senator from Illinois? No. Would he have been admitted to Harvard? I don't know. But the point is we've been drastically altering people's futures over youthful indiscretions for far too long.

3) CSNChicago.com: You recently went on a tour of Wrigley Field with WGN Radio contest winners. What was that experience like for you personally and, from what you witnessed, what is your opinion on if major renovations are actually needed to keep this historic landmark going strong for years to come?

McConnell: I've done the tour at least three times. Twice with friends from out of town. And I recommend it for any baseball fan, not just a Cubs fan. I've watched Cubs baseball on WGN since I first got cable in the early 80s. There's always that thrill of seeing something in person for the first time that you've seen on television for years. And having a chance to sing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was maybe the highlight of my sports fan life.

I'm no architect, but fans have come to expect more amenities than Wrigley Field provides today. The old scoreboard has to stay, but traditionalists have to allow for more electronic signage elsewhere. Update and expand the restrooms, and add a restaurant somehow. If you do the tour, you'll be amazed at what visiting teams get for a locker room. It's pretty much a closet. And the fact that the Bears played there all those years, and visiting NFL teams used the same room, leaves you wondering how everyone on the roster fit inside. They must have changed in shifts. The average fan won't care much for the quality of the luxury suites, but I've been in a few around the league and they don't measure up either. They're not even half the size on average, and don't have restrooms. And lastly, the Cubs have to figure out how they can sell more signage without messing with the rooftop experience. The rooftops are a larger part of the Wrigley atmosphere than perhaps the Cubs would want to believe.

4) CSNChicago.com: As an avid book reader, what are your top can't-miss suggestions you can pass along to us for a good summer read this year?

McConnell: Not to dodge a question, but I read so much for work that I don't have much time for leisurely reading. Last week, I had three books to read along with my usual prep work. So it gets to be that a day I don't have to read is like a day off.

For me, the summer is for getting outside, playing golf, soaking in the sun, watching a ballgame or 10. Doing all those things you wish you could do from October to May. Watch something mindless on TV like "Wipeout." Drink beer on a sidewalk. Hit the festivals. Go to the beach. Ride a bike, take a walk. I could write a book about killing time in the summer. The last book I read for pleasure was Michael Crichton's "Timeline." It's about time travel back to the middle ages, and the book was a lot better than the movie.

5) CSNChicago.com: Your bio states your love for the great outdoors ... what was your most memorable outdoors experience ever and what was it that made it so special to you?

McConnell: For an adrenaline rush in the great outdoors, it's hard to beat white water rafting. A favorite spot for me is the Gauley River in West Virginia. I've done it about 10 times. Nothing beats putting your raft in at the base of the dam at 7 in the morning with torrents of water coming through the base of the dam, setting up the best rapids this side of the Colorado River. I've been dumped out of a raft on two occasions. You feel like a sock in the washer and gain a whole new appreciation for water and nature. If you have half a mind to try it, look up my friends 'the Rivermen' -- fantastic guides and accommodations.

Less stressful, but the most spectacular natural setting I've seen is Machu Picchu in Peru. I went about three years ago. You can hike all or part of the Inca Trail -- tough at high altitude. And climbed Huayna Picchu (if you Google a photo of Machu Picchu, it's the tall peak that's always shown in the background) -- its the greatest view on earth.

McConnell LINKS:

WGN Radio 720 official Mike McConnell page

Mike McConnell on Facebook

Mike McConnell on Twitter

Cubs preparing to hire new translator after Aroldis Chapman’s rocky start in Chicago

Cubs preparing to hire new translator after Aroldis Chapman’s rocky start in Chicago

The Cubs are in the process of hiring a new translator for Aroldis Chapman, sources said, trying to smooth things over after a rocky introduction to Chicago that left the superstar closer feeling frustrated by his portrayal in the media.

Chapman told Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s Siera Santos that he requested a new translator on Thursday, while a Cubs official said the team had made the offer earlier this week, responding to all the negative coverage from a press conference that made a bad first impression and national headlines for the wrong reasons.

The Cubs understood trading for Chapman – who began this season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy – would immediately spark controversy.

But the Cubs still didn’t seem completely prepared for the moment, or quite as thorough as advertised, watching Chapman look disengaged on Tuesday, not remembering anything specific about what chairman Tom Ricketts had told him over the phone about off-the-field conduct – a precondition that president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sold as an essential part of the deal with the New York Yankees.

With a large group of reporters gathered before a Cubs-White Sox game, Chapman sat in U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting dugout next to Henry Blanco, the quality-assurance coach and former big-league catcher who’s approved under the new joint program between MLB and the players’ union that requires every team to have a full-time, Spanish-speaking translator this year.

Blanco has built-in credibility and communication skills after playing for 11 different teams across 16 big-league seasons, but he found himself in a difficult position, given the sensitive nature of the questions and what’s at stake for a World Series favorite and an image-conscious organization.

Chapman later did a one-on-one interview in Spanish with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez. The team’s public-relations department circulated that transcript, with Epstein saying Chapman had been nervous and something got lost in translation.

But the damage had been done, with a visibly upset Chapman initially refusing to speak to the media on Wednesday night after making a spectacular debut in a Cubs uniform, unleashing 13 pitches from his left arm that registered at least 100 mph on the big Wrigley Field video board.

It became an awkward scene after what was supposed to be a feel-good 8-1 victory over the White Sox, creating a new tension in a laid-back clubhouse. Chapman showered, listened to his associates and ultimately agreed to two minutes of questions, with catcher Miguel Montero becoming his translator.

“What I’m trying to do right now is to really build a relationship with this guy so he starts trusting me,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I believe once that occurs, I’m really going to be able to understand exactly what he’s about and what he’s thinking.

“I know there’s been some reticence or pushback regarding him to this point. However, understand where he’s coming from right now. We don’t know him. He doesn’t know us. And he really doesn’t even know the language.”

Chapman – who grew up in Cuba and is now in his seventh season in the big leagues – should be motivated to acclimate given the possibility of a World Series ring and a big free-agent contract this winter.

“I’ve spoken to him only once, at length, just trying to get him to relax,” Maddon said, “(and) have him understand me and what we’re all about here.

“As we all develop better relationships with him, the conversation’s going to flow a lot more easily and you’re going to maybe get the kind of information you’re looking for. But to put myself in his shoes, coming into a new venue, a new city, new everything, it’s a pretty heavy moment to immediately be scrutinized that way. I can almost understand why it’s been difficult for him.”

With Aroldis Chapman in the fold, do Cubs now have a bullpen that rivals world champion Royals?

With Aroldis Chapman in the fold, do Cubs now have a bullpen that rivals world champion Royals?

Aroldis Chapman firing 103 mph fastballs past hitters is going to send the sellout crowds at Wrigley into a frenzy on a nightly basis in the season's final few months.

It also gives the Cubs bullpen a completely different look, something Joe Maddon has referenced several times since Theo Epstein's front office pulled off the blockbuster for the most dominant closer in the game.

With Chapman slamming the door in the ninth, Hector Rondon and his 1.89 ERA now move up to the eighth inning. Pedro Strop — who is having arguably the best season of his career with a 2.79 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 11.4 K/9 — now slots in as a seventh-inning guy.

It has the look of a trio of relievers that could rival the dominant Kansas City Royals bullpen over the last two World Series runs.

Cubs second baseman/outfielder Ben Zobrist got a firsthand look at the back end of the Royals' bullpen last fall, watching Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson and Wade Davis combine for only one unearned run against the New York Mets in 12 World Series innings.

Zobrist isn't ready to crown the Cubs' bullpen in the same category, but he could see how the comparisons could be made.

"I don't know; it just started," Zobrist said before Thursday's Crosstown finale. "I'm not gonna say it's exactly like it. It's different. It's different guys, but it's the same type of makeup.

"You got really hard-throwing guys that know how to spot their pitches and they're really tough pitchers. That's the way it felt last year in Kansas City. 

"When you get a guy like Strop or a Kelvin Herrera or whatever that's coming in in like the seventh, you're going, 'This guy can be a closer on just about any other team and yet he's coming in this early in the game.'

"That spells doom for other teams. It's tough to overcome that later in the game."

[RELATED - The Aroldis Chapman Show comes to Wrigley]

With all the days off built into the posteseason, teams can roll with their best relievers on a nightly basis. 

Maddon likes to play matchups and ride the hot hand, but come October, he will have three very good options, as Chapman's presence has a domino effect on the rest of the relievers.

"That shortens the game," Zobrist said. "For the other team, when they're going up against that, they know that they only have so much time before the game is over in their minds mentally. 

"If we have a lead going into the sixth, seventh inning, they're in trouble because they're going to have to face some of the best relievers in the game the last few innings.

"What [Chapman] does to our bullpen is just takes it to that next level where the game is at least an inning shorter."

Cubs fans got to see that play out in front of them at Wrigley Field Wednesday night as Rondon came in to throw a perfect eighth before Chapman blew the Sox away in the ninth.

"They just know that it's hard to come back from a game when you're winning late in the game like that," Zobrist said. "Even if it's 3-1 like it was last night [before the Cubs tacked on five insurance runs], it seems like an insurmountable lead when you got a couple guys at the back end of the bullpen like that."

Robin Ventura isn't convinced White Sox will sell at deadline

Robin Ventura isn't convinced White Sox will sell at deadline

There’s been plenty of smoke and trade rumors this week, but Robin Ventura doesn’t get the sense a deal is forthcoming.

The White Sox manager acknowledged on Thursday afternoon his role in trade dealings is minimal as general manager Rick Hahn and his staff have fielded all the phone calls, with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana believed to have drawn the most interest. Jon Heyman reported Thursday the New York Yankees are the latest team to have inquired about Sale’s availability.

As busy as Hahn has been this week, his phone apparently ringing off the hook, Ventura isn’t convinced the White Sox will be sellers come Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

While it could simply be another round of posturing as teams angle to best position themselves, the White Sox headed into Thursday’s finale against the Cubs 50-51 with at least a pulse when it comes to the postseason.

“This week probably led to some more phone calls, of people calling just to see what's going on with us,” Ventura said. “I think our guys should look at it as a nice thing that people are calling and asking about you because that means people want you. But I don't want to see anybody go out of here. I don't think that's going to happen.”

[SHOP: Get your White Sox gear here]

The White Sox managed to stay afloat even though Sale was gone for five games with a 4-1 mark in his absence. That included two walkoff victories over the Detroit Tigers and a pair of wins against the Cubs on Monday and Tuesday. Ventura acknowledged a win behind Sale on Thursday would be a big boost as the club heads into a three-game series at the Minnesota Twins on Friday.

The run comes almost a year after the White Sox rolled off seven straight victories to inch their way back into the wild-card race in 2015. That week of victories convinced the White Sox to hold off from trading free-agent-to-be Jeff Samardzija. The next four games could very well decide the fate of several players as Hahn said last Thursday the club is open-minded in trade talks and sick of being “mired in mediocrity.”

“I hope we do it again,” Ventura said. “That decision isn’t mine and I’m not taking or making any phone calls. For me I hope we do it again.”

Last year the White Sox collapsed after they didn’t trade Samardzija, who fell apart and went 1-8 with a 9.24 ERA in his first eight starts after the deadline. The White Sox rotation is in much better shape than last season’s with the recent success of James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez. The team also is hopeful Carlos Rodon could return on Sunday to accompany Sale and Quintana.

Though the offense has been inconsistent, the group has improved and finally has another much-needed left-handed hitter for the middle of the order in Justin Morneau. So while the White Sox bullpen is beat up pretty good, Ventura thinks his club is better prepared for the stretch run.

“We’re probably better situated of sustaining that than last year,” Ventura said.