Mooney: Sandbergs imprint wont disappear

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Mooney: Sandbergs imprint wont disappear

Friday, Oct. 22, 2010
7:45 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

There are days where Wrigley Field can just sell itself.

Thats why it will cost as much to see the Marlins, Astros and Reds on three Saturday afternoons next summer when schools out, weathers ideal, and tourism spikes as it will to watch the White Sox, Yankees and Cardinals.

The Cubs understood the demand after analyzing five million pieces of data from the past five years and revealed their new and most expensive marquee pricing tier before they finally decided on their manager for 2011.

Ryne Sandbergs name might have meant something at the box office. When Sandberg brought his Class-A Peoria team to Wrigley Field in July 2008, the Cubs sold 32,103 tickets, or 23,109 more than they did two years later when the Hall of Famer wasnt managing the Chiefs.

But fans today are also more sophisticated than theyve ever been before. In high definition they can watch virtually any game across the country. Online they can reference box scores from shortly after World War I, or look up the terms for Carlos Zambranos 2013 vesting option.

They play fantasy baseball and quote new-wave statistics like VORP and UZR. It was never going to be as simple as installing Sandberg in the dugout and waiting to pass the three-million mark in attendance.

At the same time that information overload the obsession with organizational rankings and prospect lists will probably yield a greater appreciation for the work Sandberg has done the past four years.

Especially if in the future you regularly hear Go Cubs Go walking out of the stadium after James Russell and Andrew Cashner jog in from the bullpen. And you notice more people wearing Tyler Colvin jerseys in Wrigleyville. And you see Casey Coleman throwing to Welington Castillo every fifth day.

There is an entire generation of players signed and developed by the Cubs who were born after Sandbergs MVP season in 1984. They played for him at Peoria, Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.

It was an awesome experience for all of us. He shows a lot of confidence in you and lets you play, Coleman said. Just because he didnt get the job here, I think he set himself up for other jobs all over the place.

Jim Hendry has said that Sandberg will absolutely be welcomed back into the organization if he doesnt find a major-league coaching job.

Hendry admits that he is more visible in the clubhouse than most general managers. He doesnt have the Ivy League pedigree of some of other executives in the game who are more comfortable in a boardroom with a spreadsheet. His background is in coaching and scouting, so he listened when the Cubs supported Mike Quade.

Managing is handling people, communicating with people, being upfront (and) having your convictions, which Mike does, Hendry said. You cant fool players. You cant be one way (one) day or (another way) the next. (Quade) set the rules and regulations. They followed them.

Some have wondered why we should even pay attention to the player endorsements. After all, they looked like a 100-loss team before Quade took over. Well, it mattered to Hendry.

Ryan Dempster the first player to publicly lobby for Quade to return is the company man. He deferred part of his 2010 salary so Hendry would have more flexibility to pursue a free agent last winter. Ownership has supported Dempsters charitable foundation and the young pitchers look up to him.

Given Dempsters stature within the organization he was the only player spotted at Quades introductory press conference this week it was impossible for the media to ignore his support.

Aramis Ramirez who said no one could have done a better job than Quade with this roster could have instead just cut-and-pasted one of his standard responses: I get paid to play third base. You got to ask Jim Hendry that question.

Ramirez didnt answer that way and you have to put this all in context. Of course the players brought up from Triple-A would never rip Sandberg when asked about the manager in Des Moines. But there were specific, telling moments.

Darwin Barney a natural shortstop blocked by Starlin Castro recalled how Sandberg went over every situation that could come up at second base and explained in detail how to turn the double play when they knew a promotion was coming soon.

Micah Hoffpauir was lost when he didnt make the Cubs out of spring training and hit .196 during his first two months in Iowa. Sandberg encouraged Hoffpauir, telling him to relax and reassuring him that he would carry the team. Hoffpauir finished at .283 with 22 homers and 95 RBI in 118 games.

Throughout the system, Sandberg played a part in their educations. The past three years Coleman pitched for Sandberg at three different affiliates and then went 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in his eight starts with the Cubs.

Colemans father and grandfather pitched in the majors and its impossible to answer the nature versus nurture question but he appreciated how Sandberg understands what it takes to make it there and excel.

You see eye to eye with him and a lot of players love that, Coleman said. Everyone thought this was supposed to be Rynos job, but (with such a strong finish under Quade), its really hard to change that.

Sandberg wont be standing on the top step of the dugout at Wrigley Field next year, but he wont be forgotten, and not just because his numbers retired there.

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

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

CSN will also carry the live audio call of Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully during Sunday's game as the SportsNet LA audio feed will be featured during the third inning.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester vs. Kenta Maeda

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Cubs: Jason Hammel still fuming after Joe Maddon’s quick hook at Dodger Stadium

Cubs: Jason Hammel still fuming after Joe Maddon’s quick hook at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – Even from the upper levels of Dodger Stadium, inside the Vin Scully Press Box, you didn’t need binoculars or a lip reader to tell that Jason Hammel wanted nothing to do with Joe Maddon. 

Not this early on Saturday afternoon, not when the Cubs pitcher came into a possible playoff preview with a 13-6 record and a 3.07 ERA. An animated Hammel gestured toward home plate and walked off the mound in the middle of the third inning, continuing a sometimes awkward/usually productive relationship with the star manager that dates back to their time together as Tampa Bay Rays.    

The media waited several extra minutes outside the visiting clubhouse after a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers while Hammel met with Maddon in his office. Maddon’s postgame press conference then lasted almost eight minutes, giving Hammel time to shower and change into his street clothes. Hammel was still fuming by the time reporters wandered over to his locker.

“That’s between me and Joe,” Hammel said. 

Hammel – who normally enjoys the back-and-forth exchanges and gives insightful answers, even to uncomfortable questions – declined to get specific about the meeting, the decision-making process or how to work with Maddon.  

“That’s a conversation for me and him,” Hammel said. “There’s no reason for that to be in the papers. It’s a professional way of working through it. We’ll leave it there.” 

No, Hammel doesn’t get much latitude, even during his 11th year in the big leagues and a strong individual season that had so far answered questions about a second-half fade. But Maddon didn’t like what he saw against a stacked left-handed Los Angeles lineup.

Maddon walked out from the dugout with two runners on and one out in the third inning. Adrian Gonzalez loomed next, trying to extend a 3-1 lead with one big swing. Maddon summoned Rob Zastryzny from the bullpen and watched the rookie lefty get two groundball outs.  

“I didn’t even pitch today in my mind,” Hammel said. “I barely threw 40 pitches, so this is a side day for me.”

Zastryzny looked extremely impressive, retiring 11 of the 12 batters he faced, eight days after getting called up from Triple-A Iowa and making his big-league debut, showing that he could become an X-factor for October.

“He was not happy with me taking him out that early,” Maddon said of his conversations with Hammel. “I can understand why, because it’s happened in the past. But I just didn’t see the game straightening out.

“Watching them one time through, it looked like they were on him a little bit. And I thought that was a great lineup for ‘Rob Z.’ One of the things with bullpen arms – I want to put them in a meaningful spot. 

“I didn’t see it happening for ‘Hammer’ today, and that’s cool, because he didn’t throw that many pitches. He’s going to be very well-rested for his next start. But it also illustrates ‘Rob Z’ and what he can do for us in the future.” 

No, Hammel didn’t look all that sharp, giving up five hits to the 12 batters he faced, including a first-inning homer to Corey Seager and three consecutive hits to begin the third. But Hammel is also a respected veteran teammate who helped the Cubs transform into a playoff team last year and build baseball’s top-performing rotation this season. 

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Who cares? The Cubs are still 36 games over .500 and began the day with huge leads over the St. Louis Cardinals (14) and Pittsburgh Pirates (16.5) in a watered-down division. 

Well, Hammel is a guy who feeds off confidence and positive reinforcement. The Cubs might need him in October, especially if John Lackey (shoulder) experiences a setback before coming off the disabled list or another starter gets hurt down the stretch.  

“It is what it is,” Hammel said. “The guys fought hard. ‘Z’ did a hell of a job coming out of the ‘pen.”

Then again, the Cubs already think Mike Montgomery could develop into a good big-league starter – the lefty swingman got a longer leash given this particular Los Angeles matchup on Friday night – and thought enough of Zastryzny to make him a second-round pick out of the University of Missouri in 2013.

But for now, Maddon allowed Hammel to take advantage of his open-door policy and vent.

“I want them to be able to do that,” Maddon said. “I have a reason why I did it. I’m not going to hide about anything. It’s not like I just picked that out of the hat and chose to do it today. 

“You just got to shoot them straight back. And hopefully they can deal with it. There’s a great line: ‘Honesty without compassion equals cruelty.’ So at some point, you got to understand your audience, too.”

Joe Maddon defends bunt decision after Cubs can’t knock out Dodgers phenom Julio Urias

Joe Maddon defends bunt decision after Cubs can’t knock out Dodgers phenom Julio Urias

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs had Julio Urias and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the ropes, but couldn’t knock out the young lefty from Mexico who’s drawn comparisons to franchise icon Fernando Valenzuela and could be the next star to burst from this pitching-rich pipeline.  

The Cubs created their “you go, we go” sense of momentum on Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium with Dexter Fowler drawing a leadoff walk and MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hitting back-to-back singles into right field to generate the game’s first run.

Urias had already thrown 17 pitches in the first inning when manager Joe Maddon instructed cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist to try to bunt for a hit. It became an easy out for Urias, who then struck out Addison Russell and Jorge Soler looking and began to find his rhythm during a 3-2 victory in front of 49,522 at Chavez Ravine. 

“Second and third was kind of a nice spot to be,” Maddon said. “(Zobrist) could have hit into a double play. He’s the one guy who’s heavy groundball against that particular pitcher. 

“I actually like the bunt for the hit right there, (because) we had (already) scored (and) Addison’s been a pretty good RBI dude. I thought it was a nice move right there (to) at least get one (run) out of that. 

“You got him and Soler coming up versus a left-hander who’s a little bit shaky right there – I kind of liked it.”

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The Cubs had roughed up Urias during his second career big-league start on June 2 – or two-plus months before his 20th birthday – by hitting three homers and scoring six runs off him in five innings at Wrigley Field.   

But Urias – who pitched at four different minor-league levels last season – clearly has an accelerated learning curve. He managed to last six innings this time and didn’t allow another run after that early flurry, finishing with eight strikeouts against two walks.  

Urias has gone 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his last six games (four starts), helping bail out a $250 million team and a fragile rotation that’s used 14 different starting pitchers. If the Dodgers (72-57) can get Clayton Kershaw back to full strength, keep Rich Hill healthy and continue to bring along Urias, then the Cubs might have some matchup nightmares in October. 

“(Urias is) all of what they think he is,” Maddon said. “The kid was outstanding. He knows how to elevate against the guy you’re supposed to elevate against. He knows how to throw the ball down against the guy you’re supposed to throw the ball down to. He’s got a nice move to first base. He handled himself well at the plate. And he’s 20 years old. That’s pretty good.”