Chicago Cubs

Cubs welcome Deshaies to TV booth

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Cubs welcome Deshaies to TV booth

Not two minutes after stepping in front of the microphone, where hell replace Bob Brenly next season as the Cubs television color commentator, Jim Deshaies started to tell a story.

It was about the last start of his major-league pitching career, which took place at Wrigley Field in July of 1995. The summer was particularly hot, and he remembered being able to see the heat radiating off the towers at the Hyatt on Wacker, where his team, the Phillies, were staying. He knew his playing days were numbered I was on life support pretty close to flat-lining and with the wind blowing out and the temperature something like 105 degrees, the fly-ball pitcher was worried.

My career is going to end today, Deshaies thought. I knew it.

The room laughed. Deshaies joked that at least he acted as a good scout in predicting his own downfall. More laughs.

The Cubs officially introduced Deshaies on Wednesday as their new TV analyst with a press conference at Wrigley Field during which Deshaies featured the quick wit and honesty that prompted the Cubs to pull him away from the Houston Astros, where he left a 16-year partnership with play-by-play man Bill Brown that had been regarded as one of the best in baseball.

To a certain extent, I feel like Im breaking up the band there, said Deshaies, a former left-handed pitcher who went 84-95 with a 4.14 ERA in 12 seasons, seven with Houston.

But he was drawn to a city where baseball is relevant regardless of the year the team is having. The Astro guy had a hard time leaving Houston, but the baseball guy says this is the place to be.

Deshaies said Houstons upcoming move to the American League didnt affect his decision to leave. But the Astros havent had a winning season since 2008 and lost 106 games last year, five more than the Cubs.

Deshaies, 52, signed a four-year contract that will pair him with Len Kasper for Cubs games broadcast on WGN, Comcast SportsNet and WCIU. Other reported candidates were former Cubs Eric Karros, Dan Plesac and Rick Sutcliffe, but for a second straight time, the Cubs hired someone with no connection to the organization.

Deshaies quickly showed he gets the significance of the booth hell step into, which has been filled by Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray.

Im not going to pronounce any names backward, he joked.

Kaspers former partner, Brenly, left the Cubs after eight seasons for the same job in Arizona, where he won the 2001 World Series as the Diamondbacks manager.

Kasper and Brenly had also developed into a popular pair, but Deshaies personality seems to complement the usually straight-laced Kasper. While talking about his new partner, Kasper said that Deshaies humor will come in handy. Kasper didnt say this, but that might be most true next season as the Cubs continue to re-shape a team that lost 101 games in 2012.

You have to tell the truth and you have to have fun, said Deshaies, who wore a black blazer over a white shirt and a purple polka dot tie.

More of his self-assessment:

-- He said he points out players mistakes but is reluctant to bury guys because he thinks baseball is a difficult game and there is always context for any situation, which he learned when he once criticized an opposing player for not running hard to first base only to be told by one of the teams broadcasters that the player had a hamstring injury.

-- He prefers saying I dont know instead of bluffing and being wrong.

-- Hes a believer in sabermetrics, the statistics-based computer analysis that has swept over the game in recent years, but he understands that not all listeners want to hear about them all the time.

-- He likes to feel out players individually to get a sense of what theyre willing to share, and he makes it a point to be available to players before games in case they want to talk about a certain play he commented on.

Deshaies family wife Lori and daughters Libby, Molly and Kelly will move to Chicago after Kelly, the youngest, graduates high school next year. Libby is a second-year law student at the University of Illinois in Champaign, and Molly is a teacher.

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

A walk-off win in the middle of a pennant race didn’t dull the edge in Joe Maddon’s voice, the Cubs manager blasting Major League Baseball and expecting to be fined for his rant in the Wrigley Field interview room.    

“That’s asinine,” Maddon said after Wednesday night’s 7-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, fuming over the ninth-inning at-bat where Ben Zobrist showed bunt and got drilled by Wandy Peralta’s 96-mph fastball. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakney signaled for Zobrist to jog to first base, only to have first base umpire Chris Conroy call strike two.

“Listen, I don’t even know what to say about that call,” said Maddon, who stormed onto the field and got ejected for the second time this season. “We’ve had different things happen, and I’ve been playing really good in the sandbox. Really good. And I’m not right now. That call cannot be made under those circumstances.

“I can understand if the guy’s actually swinging, and all of a sudden you get like a check swing. But he’s bunting – and then trying to get out of the way – and you’re going to call a bunt?

“There’s no way any hitter under those circumstances – with the ball coming at his thigh – is going to bunt through it and then get hit in the thigh.

“That really almost did cost us the game. Fortunately, we came back, they made their wild pitch. But I’ve been playing good in the sandbox. That was wrong.”

Zobrist – who called for an electronic strike zone after watching a controversial strike three end Saturday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field – still managed to put the ball in play, move up Javier Baez and Jon Jay and keep the pressure on the last-place Reds.  

“I tried to pull the bat back, but there was nowhere for me to go,” Zobrist said. “It started right at me, and was going down towards my ankle, and I could not physically pull it back and still pull my ankle up at the same time. I tried to pull my ankle up and (Conroy) thought I was offering at it, apparently.”

Imagine the reaction if the Cubs hadn’t regrouped and maintained a 1.5-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

“I know that instant replay is not perfect,” Maddon said. “But all this little minutia needs to be looked at as we move this along, because that impacted the game. That’s bases loaded, nobody out. It’s a different at-bat for (Albert) Almora. It’s a different thought for their pitcher. Everything’s different. The world rotates differently at that point.

“To influence a game like that is wrong. And, listen, the guy’s a good guy. I think he’s a good umpire. But I’m not going to concede consistently to these guys. You can’t make that mistake.”

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

Kris Bryant already has a bromance with Anthony Rizzo, their Bryzzo Souvenir Co. brand and a joint appearance at a downtown Chicago hotel this weekend where Cubs fans can pay $699 for their autographs.

Bryant also has a friendly rivalry with Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals superstar who loves trolling on social media and teasing where he might land as a free agent after the 2018 season. Even their wives had fun with it on Instagram earlier this month when the Nationals came to Wrigley Field for a potential playoff preview.

But the player Bryant patterns himself after now – the one who lives up to “The Science of Hitting” and the principles his father absorbed from Ted Williams and passed down in the family’s batting cage in Las Vegas – is Joey Votto.

“He’s the best player ever,” Bryant said before Wednesday night’s 7-6 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds. “He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain.

“He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Favorite player? Really?

“Besides, you know, people on my team,” Bryant said with a laugh.

The Cubs contained Votto on a night where their bullpen nearly imploded, holding him to a 1-for-4 that stopped him from tying the major-league record Williams set in 1948 by getting on base at least twice in 21 straight games with the Boston Red Sox.

Through Votto, Bryant sees where he can grow after becoming a National League Rookie of the Year and MVP and World Series champion before his 25th birthday.    

“He’s not just doing it this year – he’s doing it his whole career,” Bryant said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant – who has reached base safely in his last 13 games and put up a 1.035 OPS in August – is heating up at a time when the Cubs are trying to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers (1.5 games back) and St. Louis Cardinals (2.5 games back) in a tight division race.

Where Votto famously dismissed old questions about whether or not he was being too selective, Bryant blocks out any talk about an All-Star snub, his batting average with runners in scoring position (.227) or RBI total (54). Bryant is getting on base more than 40 percent of the time and also leads the team in doubles (25), runs scored (78) and OPS (.936).  

“Sometimes it’s almost like you can kind of go up there and force the pitcher to throw the pitch that you want, just by taking pitches,” Bryant said. “My first year, I was kind of just up there swinging at everything. I still felt the approach was good and it could work in the big leagues. And it did. But I think there’s ways to have a better approach up there.

“(Votto’s) a different guy with that. I feel like he’s aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it. And he mentioned that to me, too, when I got to first (on Monday night). He said: ‘Your approach looks a lot better this year.’”

Bryant sincerely thanked Votto, but the reigning MVP isn’t trying to put together a package deal with Harper and turn the Cubs into Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.  

“I already told him before: ‘We already have a pretty good first baseman. He’s not going anywhere,’” Bryant said. “Joey can switch positions if he wants to play for the Cubs.”