The breaks of the game: Selig's state of play

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The breaks of the game: Selig's state of play

Friday, Sept. 24, 2010
7:27 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

This week Bud Selig spoke with Tyler Colvin as the Cubs outfielder rested at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, recovering from the wound left in his chest by a shattered piece of a maple bat.

It remains to be seen whether all the headlines generated by Colvins freak injury will result in significant change. But the commissioner defended baseballs safety record on Friday at Wrigley Field, saying the industry has reduced broken bats by 50 percent across the past 20 years.

Every time a bat cracks, Selig said, its sent to Major League Baseball headquarters in New York, and then forwarded to researchers retained at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin to study the issue.

You watch something like the Tyler Colvin incident (and) it scares you, but were making progress, Selig said. Our experts think we may have some solutions, so hopefully this offseason we can really finish solving the problem. But progress has been made. We just need to do more.

Selig deflected part of the responsibility to the Major League Baseball Players Association, whose members like to use maple bats and figure to make it a negotiating point once the collective-bargaining agreement expires after the 2011 season.

Selig pushed several items like expanding the playoff field to his offseason agenda during Fridays session with reporters that lasted nearly 13 minutes inside Wrigley Fields press box dining room.

(Im) the guy who brought (in) the wild card and took a lot of abuse, Selig said. Two or three years ago we had a special committee (and) I really thought we were going to increase it then. (But) the more we talked about it, the less desirable it became for a lot of reasons. However, this winter, its time to revisit that and we will.

The commissioner remains intrigued by the concept of expanded instant replay, but come October you shouldnt expect to see radical changes for the postseason. Hes brought it up for review, but is concerned about the pace of the game.

I know that some (in the media) would like us to do it for the playoffs, but if were going to do anything, were going to do it permanently, Selig said. If you play all year 162 games (in) six months you ought to play by the same rules when you get to the playoffs. But well take a look at it again. Im not averse (to it).

On Friday Selig toured Wrigley Field which he first visited as a kid in 1944 with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and he later dodged a question about the 2014 All-Star Game.

The Cubs have lobbied the commissioners office for the event which is expected to go to an American League city andor a new facility as a way to commemorate the stadiums 100th anniversary.

They didnt put you up to asking me that, did they? Selig said. There are a lot of people begging for All-Star Games.

Wrigley Field will pass the three-million mark in attendance on Saturday, but the vast stretches of empty seats have been noticeable this season.

Selig recognizes this, but projects that 73-plus million fans will go to a game in 2010. The former Milwaukee Brewers owner remembers when the average attendance for a franchise was around one million in the 1970s.

Look, here we are in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Selig said. I could bring a hundred economists and nobody (would disagree). This year the average team will draw 2.4 to 2.5 (million) with every game on television.

Overall were doing remarkably well. The game has never been stronger than it is today.

This season Selig points to the on-field success experienced by smaller-market contenders like Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Texas, Cincinnati and San Diego as evidence of the industrys health.

The safety of fans and players is one piece to a giant puzzle. Colvins rookie year is over, and hes said to be in decent shape. For Selig and his partners, the issue wont go away once Colvins at full strength.

With Tyler it was such a scary thing, but its not shocking because thats how bats are these days. You see (bats flying) all the time, Cubs pitcher Tom Gorzelanny said. We got a guy with a punctured lung at home right now. Its just a matter of time, so hopefully something can be done about that. Its frightening.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs president Theo Epstein, world's greatest leader? 'The pope didn't have as good of a year'

Cubs president Theo Epstein, world's greatest leader? 'The pope didn't have as good of a year'

MESA, Ariz. – Cubs president Theo Epstein showed zero interest in playing along with Fortune magazine putting him on the cover and ranking him No. 1 on the list of "The World's 50 Greatest Leaders," or two spots ahead of Pope Francis.

"The pope didn't have as good of a year," manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday, channeling Babe Ruth.

Epstein essentially bit his tongue, responding to reporters with a copy-and-paste text message that reflected his self-awareness and PR savvy. 

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house," Epstein wrote. "The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball – a pastime involving a lot of chance. If (Ben) Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. 

"And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Epstein obviously has a big ego. No one becomes the youngest general manager in baseball history and builds three World Series winners without a strong sense of confidence and conviction. But he genuinely tries to deflect credit, keep a relatively low profile and stay focused on the big picture. 

Fortune's cover art became an older image of Epstein standing at the dugout, surrounded by reporters during a Wrigley Field press gaggle. (This was not Alex Rodriguez kissing a mirror during a magazine photo shoot.) The text borrowed from Tom Verducci's upcoming "The Cubs Way" book. 
 
Fortune still hit an Internet sweet spot and generated a lot of buzz, ranking Epstein ahead of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (No. 4), Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (No. 7) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (No. 10).

"I'm all about the pope," Maddon said. "Sorry, Pope Francis. We're buds. I'd like to meet him someday. But after all, what we did last year was pretty special. 

"Has the pope broken any 108-year-old curses lately?"

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Epstein also ended an 86-year drought for the Boston Red Sox, putting the finishing touches on the immortal 2004 team and winning another championship in 2007 with eight homegrown players. 

No matter how the Cubs try to airbrush history now, that five-year plan featured lucky breaks, unexpected twists and turns and payroll frustrations as the franchise went from 101 losses in 2012 to 103 wins last season. But even after the biggest party Chicago has ever seen, no team in baseball is better positioned for the future. And there is no doubt that Epstein is a Hall of Fame executive.  

"He's very good at setting something up and then permitting people to do their jobs," Maddon said. "That's the essence of good leadership, the ability to delegate well. But then he also has the tough conversations. 

"He sees both sides. I've talked about his empathy before. I think that sets him apart from a lot of the young groups that are leading Major League Baseball teams right now. You know if you have to talk to him about something, he's got an open ear and he's going to listen to what you say. He's not going to go in there predetermined. 

"You can keep going on and on, him just obviously being very bright, brilliant actually. He's got so many great qualities about him. But he leads well, I think, primarily because of his empathy."

That blend of scouting and analytics, open-minded nature and pure guts led to the Cubs: drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber; trading for Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Addison Russell and almost their entire bullpen; and signing transformative free agents like Jon Lester and Zobrist.            

Chairman Tom Ricketts locked up Epstein before the playoffs started last October with a five-year extension believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $50 million. Arrieta didn't laugh off the Fortune rankings.

"It just shows you all the positive that's he done," Arrieta said. "Not only here, but beforehand in Boston and what he's built for himself and for the city of Boston and the city of Chicago. It's hard to understate what he means to the organization."

How Cubs decided Kyle Hendricks would be their fifth starter

How Cubs decided Kyle Hendricks would be their fifth starter

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Joe Maddon made the obvious choice and named Jon Lester as the Opening Night starter, the Cubs manager joked about Kyle Hendricks reacting to the news by throwing stuff around the weight room.

So imagine how last year's ERA titleholder and a World Series Game 7 starter responded to the idea of being slotted fifth in the rotation.

"I heard things rattling in there," Maddon said with a laugh.

The Cubs revealed their alignment before Thursday afternoon's Jake Arrieta vs. Zack Greinke matchup at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, confirming Brett Anderson will work as a starter (for as long as he's healthy) while Mike Montgomery moves to the bullpen for the defending champs.

The Cubs want John Lackey to face the St. Louis Cardinals, so he will open as the No. 3 starter at Busch Stadium. To break up the lefties in the rotation, Anderson — who once tweeted: "Kyle Hendricks looks like he'd celebrate a World Series win with a glass of 2% milk, Oreos and a book" — will start Game 4 against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

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Whether or not the Cubs are overthinking this and overplaying their hand with a mild-mannered personality, don't expect Hendricks to rage against the pitching infrastructure.

"That's the point about our group," Maddon said. "Everybody buys in. Everybody's good. They understand being a part of the puzzle in your own unique way.

"It's kind of neat when you can have these conversations, knowing that ego's not going to play a part of it from the player coming back at you. They know it is part of the overall picture. They also know that the purpose is to try to do what we did last year.

"It's a unique situation. I'm not saying we're taking advantage of it, because everybody kind of digs it."

Whether or not Hendricks repeats his 2.13 ERA and third-place finish in the National League Cy Young Award vote, the Cubs see 200 innings as his next level after throwing 180 in 2015 and 190 last season (plus seven playoff starts combined).

"Everybody gets hung up on numbers," Maddon said. "He's definitely better than a No. 5 starter. It just happens that we're going to slot him in the five-hole coming out of camp. It's not a pecking order regarding ability by any means.

"A lot of it is just comfort zone for us with Kyle doing so well there last year. But, listen, Kyle can be a lot of people's No. 2s or even a 1 in a situation right now, too."

All along, the Cubs have coached up and managed Hendricks to the point where he could beat Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers to clinch the franchise's first pennant in 71 years.

"Why mess with that?" Maddon said. "As long as his ego doesn't force you to attempt to try to do something differently, and it doesn't, outside of throwing things a little bit. He's beautiful. We're all good."