Dear Mr. Fantasy

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Friday, December 18

As you might expect, me being a bartender, Im expected to help fulfill fantasies. Tough work, but somebody has to do it. The unfortunate part is its usually (?) only to provide advice to fantasy sports geeks. The rock-star lifestyle of a high profile bartender never ends! Ill admit that for years, I didnt quite get the guys who obsessed over fantasy sports. They talked a foreign language, kind of like back in college, those guys who used to play Dungeons and Dragons. (Thats one fantasy world I never understood: Sit around a basement table, casting charm spells? Why dont we go to a bar, and try to cast real charm spells?)

As the years passed though, my fascination with the numbers of sports and the ease of getting into a league on the computer, combined to get me started. Oops.

Once youre in, its hard to get out. I think the thing that hooks you is the fact that, for the most part, that it doesnt make sense. Until its over, then it makes complete sense. Most times. Churchill described fantasy football the best when he was asked about it and responded: Fantasy football is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. That dude was ahead of his time, because he couldnt have described all fantasy sports any better.

As much as you think you know, you dont know. But I know that I know more than most of the guys in my leagues. What do they know? (And by leagues, Im using a plural to represent different sports, not playing 5 football leagues at the same time. There is nothing more annoying than the guy who has every stud or surprise player because he plays in 11 leagues! Stop talking now!)

Another part of the intoxicating effects are the definite results. They might not always be indicative of what happened, but they are there none the less. This is in contrast to most bar discussions that usually dont have a definitive beginning or end. Fantasy sports give you a result. My favorite part of these results is, if they go against you, they dont matter anyway, and if they go in your favor, they cement your genius.

And isnt what its all about? 99.9 of sports conversation is about proving that youre right or at least understand whats going on. Fantasy sports, or shall I say, prowess in them, give you credibility. Doesnt it? In a word, NOT!

While they are based in fact, their results are not. The results are based on luck, in most situations. If you have Larry Fitzgerald, and he only has 3 catches because hes a decoy or the Cardinals are running against an inferior opponent, does that make him less of a weapon? Of course not, but if his lack of production comes at the wrong time, it can cost a fantasy owner a game, or heaven forbid, a championship. Great play- bad result. It depends on so many variables. Over the course of a season, Fitz on your team will give you great results, but for one game? Flip a coin. Isnt that awesome?!

Im writing this blog during one of the biggest weekends of the year, for me the biggest, for just about every fantasy football format. Its the 1st of two rounds of playoffs and I think this is the most important because, lose this weekend and all of your work is down the drain. Loser Bowl? Thats for losers! If youre playing for a little more than just pride, the big payoff is for the top 2 teams so you need to get to that game. But its a definite be careful what you wish for scenario, because my brain is being twisted into a pretzel. Ive examined every option I have for my team, and the other 250 or so free-agents that are out there that I can acquire. Im not kidding. I have serious issues!

This is especially where that luck thing comes in. Study all you want. Examine every match-up. One of your studs has a bad game and youre done. Have two Indianapolis Colts who have helped carry your team all year questionable because they have nothing to play for, and you roll the dice. Go for it Caldwell, go for it!

Anyway, I think that this fantasy adventure that Ive been on these last couple of years (football, and the root of all evil, baseball) have taught me something. Ive learned that fantasy is a lot like real life. You can study and prepare all you want, but just when you think you have it all figured out, something happens that you were never expected. Good or bad. What that teaches you is that, as much as you want to be in control, most times you have none at all. Just like being married!!

And the most important thing it teaches you, if you take it, and yourself, too seriously, theres never going to be a happy ending. And whats the fun in that? Its supposed to be fun, right??

So enjoy the weekend my fantasy brethren, and may the bounces go your way, (Unless, youre in my league!!) and remember: Jamaal Charles is my Boy!

After winter of taking heat, Cubs still have Joe Maddon's back

After winter of taking heat, Cubs still have Joe Maddon's back

MESA, Ariz. — It only took 21 minutes into spring training — or the first press conference on the day pitchers and catchers officially reported to Arizona — before Joe Maddon listened to another question about all the heat he took for his World Series Game 7 decisions.

More than 2,000 miles away at Yankee camp in Florida last week, Aroldis Chapman told the Chicago Sun-Times that he "was just being truthful" when he used the conference call to announce the biggest contract ever for a closer — five years and $86 million — to inform the New York media that Maddon misused him during the playoffs. Nothing lost in translation there.

Miguel Montero finally declared a ceasefire on Monday night, getting the sit-down meeting the Cubs felt should go longer than the standard meet and greet after the veteran catcher's jarringly critical comments on WMVP-AM 1000 (if only because it happened on the same day as the championship parade and Grant Park rally).

"It's such an unusual situation," general manager Jed Hoyer said, "because we won the World Series, and theoretically you think that people would be really happy."

As ex-Cub manager Dale Sveum might say: "Ya think?"

Ending the 108-year drought might lead Maddon's Hall of Fame plaque someday, but it also led to waves and waves of second-guessing and speculation about how it might impact his clubhouse credibility. But with Maddon and Montero declaring their Andreoli Italian Grocer summit a success, gonzo strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss cruising onto the field in a Ferrari for the first wacky stunt of 2017 and Cactus League games beginning on Saturday, it's time to remember that the Cubs still have their manager's back.

"Everyone says they don't see or read anything," pitcher Jake Arrieta said. "We see and hear a lot of the stuff. But I just think that critics are going to find holes in something always.

"Joe was our leader all year last year. He obviously set the tone in spring training and gives us all these freedoms that help us play the way we played. So the people that matter — and know what Joe's about — are on the same page with his philosophies.

"The way he expresses himself to us is the most important thing. And we stand behind him. We trust that he's going to do what's in our best interest. And we know that any decision he makes is geared towards trying to help us win."

Within the last two seasons, the Cubs have won 200 games, five playoff rounds and their first World Series title since the Theodore Roosevelt administration. Maddon readily admits that the scouting and development wings of Theo Epstein's front office did most of the heavy lifting and credits the strong coaching staff he largely inherited. Spending more than $475 million on free agents like Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist certainly helped.

But all this doesn't happen without Maddon and the environment he created. The Cubs Way absolutely needed a ringmaster for this circus.

Arrieta developed into a Cy Young Award winner. Kyle Hendricks transformed into an ERA leader. Kris Bryant burst onto the scene as a Rookie of the Year and the National League MVP. Addison Russell became an All-Star shortstop by the age of 22. Maddon didn't prejudge Javier Baez, immediately appreciating the dazzling array of skills and super-utility possibilities.

Surprised by the Maddon backlash?

"Yes and no," All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "Because there needs to be a story. But what he did — people who are real involved know that since Day 1, he came in and he set the tone.

"He completely flipped the way people think, the way we believe, and everyone has bought into it. The credit he deserves — he gets a lot of it — but I don't think he gets enough of it. Because he lets me be me. He lets Javy be Javy.

"Willson (Contreras), Kris and Addie — everyone has their different personalities. He understands that. And it's not easy to do."

It's such an impossible job, at times, that even Cubs officials and players have acknowledged their frustrations with some of Maddon's in-game decisions and communication gaps. This can't just be written off as a media creation. But imagine the grumbling if the Cubs didn't have a leader with seven 90-win seasons and three Manager of the Year awards on his resume.

"We have a competitive group of guys," Hoyer said. "Every guy wants to be on the field at the right time. Every guy wants to be on the roster. Every guy wants to pitch in winning games.

"That's not realistic sometimes. It comes from a great place. It doesn't come from a place of selfishness. It comes from a place of: 'I want to contribute to winning.'

"The meetings we've had have been awesome. Our camp is unbelievably focused. We are just as focused as last year. I really don't look at it as a negative."

The last word from Maddon, who turned 63 this month and has a $25 million contract, a wide range of off-the-field interests and the championship ring that will make him a legend in Chicago forever, no matter what kind of heat he took this winter.

"Stuff like that doesn't bother me at all," Maddon said. "Regardless of what people may have thought — like any other game that I worked all year long — I had it planned out like that before the game began. So it wasn't anything I tried to do differently game in progress. Had I not done what I thought I was supposed to do — then I would have second-guessed myself.

"So, no, I have no problem with that. I really don't mind the second-guessing from anybody. I kind of encourage it. Please go ahead and do it, because I'll take that kind of second-guessing after winning a World Series on an annual basis. Thank you very much."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Jonathan Toews' the Blackhawks' MVP?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Jonathan Toews' the Blackhawks' MVP?

Chris Emma (670TheScore.com), Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and national college football analyst Anthony Herron join Kap on the panel.  The guys discuss if Jonathan Toews is the Blackhawks’ MVP so far this season, whether a Jimmy Butler trade to the Celtics makes sense and why Rob Manfred is focused on shaving seconds off of the length of games.

Plus with Jay Cutler heading out the door, who will replace him?  And should Northwestern be on the NCAA Tournament bubble after losing again to the Illini?