Fan Fare

Fan Fare

By Frankie O

I am a sports fan.

A HUGE sports fan!

Anyone reading for any part of the 6 years here already knows this. My psychosis is on full display for all to see. But that doesnt mean that in my fervor that I am unaware of the part I play in the process. I am an observer. And, I am a source of revenue for the teams and leagues I follow. That is why I am bombarded with garish signage, internet offers and commercials as a reward for my visits to a stadium or arena and in my near constant TV viewership of athletic endeavors. Its a badge of honor that I have watched over 500,000 Anheuser Busch commercials in my lifetime. (I wont even mention the Viagra and Cialis commercials that seem to dominate national broadcasts these days, but that number is growing rapidly every day!) It comes as part of the price to enjoy the ultimate reality shows of our times.

For as much as sports exist to entertain, like any other business their continued existence is dependent on their ability to turn a profit.

They say its a game, but its really a business. And, as we all know, business is business. This leads to plenty of off-field drama and reality shows. It also makes a fan think.

The two areas I find interesting are:

1) Who is responsible for a franchises financial viability?
2) What responsibilities exist in the team-fan relationship?

Of course financial viability should be the responsibility of those running the franchise, right? I mean they put up the cash for the right to own. The main focus then must be to understand your target consumer and to give them what they want in the quantities that they desire. Im a believer here of the more you win, the more you make. Thats simple enough. Its the bottom rung of the competitive hierarchy that seems to have the most money problems, isnt it? That would make sense. They then have the choices to make in their fight for survival in this win-or-else world we live in. Sometimes though, as time has gone on, we have had the unique opportunity of being sold on the civic pride angle of having a professional sports franchise in our midst, no matter the scope of their on-field miscues. Whatever! I bring this up again of course in lieu of the Cubs latest grab for IllinoisChicago public funds. I know the headlines said that the Cubs were going to use their own money, but lets be real here. Someone is going to pay. Who might that be? Well, first of all, I would think the neighborhood might have to make a donation and that is in addition to what they have already donated to their local alderman to protect their interests.

To be honest, Ive never really had a problem with this, although I would also agree that the neighborhood should have some say on what occurs there. But ultimately, the Cubs have made everyone in that neighborhood a lot of cash and my guess here is that everyone in that neighborhood knew the franchise was right next door when the bought their property or opened their business. I would think the Cubs are well within their rights to get their payments from rooftop owners since those owners make a ton of cash directly from selling an experience related to someone elses business. But when you want to start shutting down public streets to effectively increase your business footprint, who directly benefits from that? And who would suffer? If I owned one of the Clark Street bars I would be very concerned about the negotiations going on with city hall.

Its with this in mind, that when I hear the improvements in and around Wrigley Field will enhance the guest experience, I reach for my wallet. Because thats what the bottom line here is. Upon my arrival to Chicago 18 years ago and my initial visits to Wrigley, I often wondered aloud (because thats how I wonder!) and later in this space, why the team didnt own the buildings surrounding the stadium poaching off their business. For most people, myself included, there is only a limited amount of time allotted to going to a game. The team should understand this and act accordingly. The common denominator of all of the stadiums built since Camden Yards in Baltimore was the number of options that a ticketholder has once they enter the ballpark. There are still options in the neighborhood, but the fun starts once you go inside and head down Eutaw Street. (I often tell folks at the bar, you havent lived until you get a picture in front of the stadium with the Babe Ruth statue and then go inside and have Boog Powells sweaty head add extra flavor to your barbeque beef sandwich before the game!)

So I can understand the Cubs trying to grab as much fan cash as possible, its their game.

And heres where the relationship should be honest. The enhancement is for one reason and one reason only. Again, no problem with that, just be upfront.

You know, like NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Did you see his heartfelt apology to the fans for the lockout? Please.

His only job is to make money for the NHL owners. He apparently is pretty good at this. Since he took over 20 years ago, NHL annual revenue has risen from around 500 million to the current 3 billion. Wowza! For a niche sport in this country, thats impressive. Part of the collateral damage of this ascension though, were the three forced lockouts of their primary expense, the players. Did he apologize the other two times? I cant remember. Or care. Im a hockey fan. I just want to see the best players play. I dont need crocodile tears.

In a way, this lockout could end up working out to the NHLs favor. With the condensed 48 games in 99 days schedule, us fans are expecting more exciting, playoff-style hockey than we would see in a normal regular season, which of course will make everyone in the NHL more money in the long run. Funny how that works. Not funny ha-ha, but funny.
Because in the long run, its about the product. Do you think the Hawks public relations blitz right now would have had the same resonance 10 years ago? Thats what a Cup will do for you.

Add the NBA and the NFL to this labor strife mix.

Will the fans come back? Of course we will. Were fans. What else do we have to do?
In todays world fans will show their support but it comes in many different ways. No longer, I think, is a fan measured by how many games they go to. Who has the time, and more importantly, the money?

The fan today spends plenty on team merchandise and has to be able to watch any game, at any time, wherever they are. Thank you smart phone!!

And after spending all of your cash on jerseys and league subscriptions, who can afford going to the actual games? Add in to the fact that they are giving away big-screen HD TVs, why would you want to leave the house?

Me, I have to be compelled to go to a game. Two things do that. One is an over-the top experience for the large sum of money I know that Im going to invest. Wrigley held that for quite a while, but I have to admit, it looks pretty cool over my fireplace also and I dont have to worry about parking or a trough. Ive been there more recently for concerts. Now that is something that is worth the money. Seeing an iconic musical act in one of the iconic structures of all-time. Paul McCartney? Roger Waters? Bruce? Now thats priceless.

The other, and you would think this is unbelievably obvious, a winning product.

People want to be a part of something special, not a bridge to nowhere. Going to see a team that is near the top of their league is always cool and will always be the major part of the equation. That is an enhanced guest experience every day of the week.

If you build it, they will come. With their wallets open.

Fans like us, baby we were born to pay!

What can the Cubs expect from the Cleveland Indians in the World Series?

What can the Cubs expect from the Cleveland Indians in the World Series?’s Dan Hayes and JJ Stankevitz saw plenty of the Cleveland Indians while covering the White Sox in 2016, and set their sights on what kind of a challenge the Tribe will provide the Cubs in the World Series.


The American League’s second-best offense has slowed down considerably in the postseason as its .635 OPS ranks seventh among 10 playoff teams in 2016. But the Indians have received enough clutch hitting from part-timer Coco Crisp and their star in the making, shortstop Francisco Lindor, to make the most of their stellar pitching in the playoffs.

In the regular season, the Indians finished second in the American League in runs scored (777) in part because of an aggressive approach on the base paths and even though the team’s best player, Michael Brantley, was limited to 43 plate appearances because of injury. The Indians ranked second in the majors in extra bases taken with 186, two ahead of the Cubs, according to The team also finished second in the majors with an extra bases taken percentage of 45 and led the AL with 134 stolen bases in 165 tries (81 percent).

The offense is centered around designated hitter Carlos Santana, who blasted a career best 34 home runs and posted an .865 OPS. First baseman Mike Napoli and second baseman Jason Kipnis also established career highs in homers with 34 and 23, respectively. Kipnis finished with 68 extra-base hits, including 41 doubles.

Third baseman Jose Ramirez picked up much of the slack for a team that also was without projected outfielder Abraham Almonte for half the season because of a suspension for PEDs. Ramirez had 46 doubles among his 60 extra-base hits and produced an .825 OPS in an outstanding all-around campaign that could garner him a few MVP votes. Rookie Tyler Naquin also filled a big void in the outfield with 14 homers and 43 RBIs in 365 plate appearances.

So far, Indians manager Terry Francona has divided up the plate appearances among his outfielders in October. Only right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall has received consistent playing time as the Indians have platooned Crisp, Naquin, Rajai Davis, who stole 43 bases this season, and Brandon Guyer.

-- Dan Hayes


Andrew Miller may be having the best postseason a relief pitcher has ever had. The big-ticket trade deadline acquisition threw 11 2/3 innings in the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox and ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, striking out 21 while allowing only five singles and two walks (that’s good for a laughable .132/.171/.184 opponent slash line). Manager Terry Francona hasn’t been shy about using Miller early in games, too — he inserted the 6-foot-7 lefty in the fifth inning of Cleveland’s ALDS Game 1 win over the Red Sox, and half of his six playoff appearances this year began in the sixth inning or earlier. Miller’s ability to throw multiple innings will put pressure on the Cubs to score early and often against the Indians’ rotation.

Francona’s willingness to use Miller early has been critical toward helping maximize the success of a starting rotation without two of its three best arms in the postseason. Carlos Carrasco (fractured gone in right hand) won’t pitch in the World Series, though Francona hinted that fellow right-handed All-Star Danny Salazar (strained flexor muscle in right forearm) could return to start in the World Series. Right-hander Trevor Bauer, who sliced his right pinky open while repairing his drone and only managed to record two outs before his finger gushed blood in Game 3 of the ALCS, will start Game 2 or 3.

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With or without Salazar and/or Bauer, though, Cleveland’s rotation has been effective. Corey Kluber is the unquestioned ace of the staff and allowed only two runs over 18 1/3 innings in three postseason starts, which stands as a continuation of his strong regular season numbers (18-9, 215 IP, 3.14 ERA, 3.26 FIP). Josh Tomlin has had a short rope, only throwing 10 2/3 innings in his two starts, but allowed three runs in that span with 10 strikeouts and three walks. Rookie left-hander Ryan Merrett threw 4 2/3 shutout innings in a clinching Game 5 win over the Blue Jays last week, too, showing no signs of “shaking in his boots” in his first postseason start.

The rest of Cleveland’s bullpen -- which tied for the second-best ERA in the American League (3.45) in the regular season -- has found success in addition to Miller in the playoffs. Hard-throwing closer Cody Allen has looked unflappable in five save opportunities, allowing five hits and three walks with 12 strikeouts. Right-handers Dan Otero (3.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K) and Bryan Shaw (5.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR) have been go-to options if Miller can’t bridge the gap between the starting pitcher and Allen, too.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that Cleveland has found pitching success in the playoffs, even with so many injuries, given their 3.86 staff ERA ranked 7th in baseball.

-- JJ Stankevitz


Nobody has been as outstanding of a defensive team as the Cubs in 2016. But, the Indians are still near the top of the second tier team and have proven a remarkably improved squad over the past two seasons. Much of their improvement stems from the stellar play provided by Lindor, who ranked second in the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating (20.8) among shortstops and fourth in Defensive Runs Saved with 17, according to Combined with Kipnis, who ranked sixth in UZR (7.3) among second baseman, the Indians have a strong double play combo. Ramirez also proved to be a steady defender at third base after taking over as the full-timer following the release of Juan Uribe.

Though the club has missed the presence of starting catcher Yan Gomes, it has handled his absence extremely well. Not only does replacement Roberto Perez rate among the game’s best pitch framers, he also threw out 13 of 26 runners who attempted to steal a base with him behind the dish.

-- Dan Hayes


Francona won two World Series trophies with the Boston Red Sox, including the one in 2004 that ended that franchise’s 87-year title drought. He’s led Cleveland to two postseason berths since taking over in 2013, and the Tribe haven’t had a losing record in his four years at the helm.

The 57-year-old has been lauded for his aggressive use of Miller in the playoffs, deploying the lights-out lefty as a study bridge between a starting rotation beset by injuries and dominant closer Allen.

First baseman/catcher/designated hitter Santana is hardly a prototypical leadoff man, but he’s hit first in six of Cleveland’s eight games in the postseason after leading off 85 games in the regular season. And that’s the batting order position he’s been most effective from --- In the regular season, Santana hit .260/.385/.502 with more walks (67) than strikeouts (60) as a leadoff man. Francona’s willingness to eschew stolen bases and speed on the base paths has put early pressure on starting pitchers by having Santana on base so frequently.

Said Cubs starter Jon Lester, who pitched for Francona in the Red Sox 2007 championship run: “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared, I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready.”

-- JJ Stankevitz

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”