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

No need for Cubs to overreact when best years should be in front of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell

No need for Cubs to overreact when best years should be in front of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell

There’s no need to overreact when the injuries pile up and the Cubs lose 6-of-7 games in June, because Kris Bryant and Addison Russell are still possibly years away from their best seasons in an organization loaded with young talent.
 
Bryant and Russell have been such integral parts since debuting in April 2015 that it's hard to remember they're still around three-to-five years away from their prime. They're also in a perfect situation to keep developing, not having to worry about carrying the weight of the franchise on their shoulders, the way Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro used to feel those responsibilities.
 
The pressure is spread out among a young core, a battle-tested group of veterans and a manager that loves the spotlight. All of that can help explain why each player has avoided the dreaded "sophomore slump" that sometimes plagues second-year players in the big leagues.
 
"Last year, I thought both of them fought through some really different moments their first year up," Joe Maddon said. "And that's what it's really all about. The sophomore slump, for me, is where the league adjusts to you, and then you adjust back to the league. That's the definition."
 
Bryant currently has an OPS that’s 19 points higher than his 2015 numbers, while Russell's OPS is 23 points higher entering play Monday, and both second-year players have seen major improvement in important areas.
 
Bryant led the league with 199 strikeouts last season, but has seen his strikeout percentage drop from 30.6 percent to 23 percent this season. He's on track for about 162 strikeouts in 2016.
 
Russell, meanwhile, has experienced just an incremental decrease in strikeout percentage (from 28.5 to 27.2 percent), but he has seen a nice jump in walk rate (from 8 percent in 2015 to 11.2 percent this season). Despite drawing only one free pass in his last eight games, Russell is on track for 68 walks, which would've ranked 12th in the National League overall last season and first among shortstops. 
 
"The guys that don't adjust back quickly enough really have an extended period of negative moments," Maddon said. "I think they learned a lot last year. They made a lot of adjustments. Both of them made swing adjustments last year. And that, I think, is permitting their success this year.
 
"Addison's propensity to get big hits is unbelievable, and now he's using the whole field. He's not chasing balls out of the strike zone. Those are the adjustments he had to learn how to do last year when he was going badly, and now he's doing them.
 
"They're both going to hit a bad stretch, there's no question. But I think they're better able to handle that based on their experience from last year."
 
Bryant has settled in as one of the premier offensive threats in the game by following up his 2015 campaign (26 homers, 99 RBI) with a pace for 39 homers and 112 RBI.
 
In spring training, he said he considered 2016 an extension of his rookie season, just with a three-month break off in between. But as the regular season hit, he took that sort of thinking to another gear.
 
"I feel a lot more focused this whole year," Bryant said. "I don't know why. I don't know if it's a whole other level or just extra determination or the fact that I know we have a good team and we really want to win.
 
"I just feel really good up there. I feel like I'm having some quality at-bats. I'm doing all I can to help. I'm in a good spot."
 
Russell, meanwhile, has developed a reputation as a clutch hitter, posting a .429 average, 1.237 OPS and 23 RBI in 54 plate appearances in high-leverage situations. 
 
He's taken his game to another level at the biggest moments, not something often said about a 22-year-old with only 210 big-league games under his belt.
 
"Just a slow heart beat," Maddon said. "If you talk to the kid any time, he's always 'suavecito.' There's nothing really hurried about him. He's just got a great way about him.
 
"Again, he's going to keep getting better. Everybody's liking it when he's doing good. I'm here to tell you: He's going to get better."
 
However, Russell also just went through one of those bad stretches at the end of May/beginning of June where he hit .161 with a .569 OPS through 18 games, striking out 23 times. He felt he had gotten too passive during that span.
 
When the St. Louis Cardinals swept the Cubs at Wrigley Field last week, Russell stared at strike three right down the middle during his first trip to the plate. He instantly made a mental adjustment to be more aggressive and responded with three straight hits to close out that first game.
 
"I've been feeling good," he said. "I've been seeing the ball well. Just taking an opportunity of swinging the bat at the right moment. I felt like early on in that game, watching two balls go by that I would normally do some damage with, I kind of took it hard and realized maybe I'm letting these pitches go too frequently. 
 
"I still feel more comfortable [overall this season]. It's just a daily grind, man. You're going to go through these funks. You're going to hit balls day-to-day that don't tend to fall. You normally don't want to change anything, so my approach is just to stay the same, and I want to take my walks as well."
 
The Cubs understand this is a long season filled with adversity, injuries and losing streaks. But if Bryant and Russell cannot be considered sophomores anymore, would their maturity and advanced approaches put them at a junior level?
 
"I think so. Favorite year in high school, by far," Maddon said. "You're totally free your junior year. SATs don't matter. PSATs are OK. I got my license, among other things. It was a really good time."

Cubs ace Jake Arrieta nominated for two ESPY Awards

Cubs ace Jake Arrieta nominated for two ESPY Awards

Jake Arrieta had a 2015 season for the ages, and was rewarded for it by winning the National League Cy Young Award, becoming the fifth player in Cubs history to accomplish that feat.

He's also been nominated for a pair of ESPY awards because of it: best breakthrough athlete and best MLB player.

After struggling to find his groove in four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles (20-25, 5.46 ERA), Arrieta turned it around in Chicago, particularly in 2015 when he erupted for a 22-6 record with a 1.77 ERA. 

The Cubs ace followed that up in 2016 by jumping out to a 9-0 start, and went nearly a calendar year without a loss.

He's also one of 26 pitchers in MLB history to have thrown more than one no-hitter, and did so 11 starts apart from each other.

The voting ends at 7 p.m. CT on July 13, when the ESPY Awards will take place. Cast your vote here.

Report: Pau Gasol tells Bulls he has declined option, becoming a free agent

Report: Pau Gasol tells Bulls he has declined option, becoming a free agent

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but Pau Gasol is hitting the market.

Gasol told the Bulls that he has declined his option for the 2016-17 season and will become a free agent, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

The 35-year-old signed a three-year, $22.3 million deal with the Bulls in the summer of 2014.

In two seasons with the Bulls, he averaged 17.6 points per game and 11.4 rebounds and made an All-Star appearance.