Frankie O's Blog: Three Wise Men

Frankie O's Blog: Three Wise Men

Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010
2:14 PM

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Of course when doing a blog before a holiday, you have to use it for a theme. Dont you?! For me, this one was easy. Although, I could have titled it: WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES, but wheres the feel of the season with that? You can argue with me later over which is more accurate.

Upon looking at what I wrote at this time last year, besides wincing at the many 5th grade grammatical errors, I noticed a theme: There was utter dismay in this town about the state of the Bears. Actually, thats not enough. There was actual anger in every fan that I talked to at the bar. Three years of not making the playoffs, after a Super Bowl appearance, had ignited the fan base and not in a good way. Add to that the bitter crash of the buzz from Cutlermania from the summer of love in 09, (Liken it to the crash from his sugar and caffeine buzz that Frankie O suffers in the middle of his shift each night!) and that made for a volatile mix for the fan base. Fire Angelo!! Fire Lovie!! Can we trade Jay Cutler back for the neck beard?! O.K., so I didnt hear that third one as much, but you get my point.

Fast forward to now, and a 2010 NFC North title, and how do the three objects of scorn look now?

Jerry Angelo was under fire for his trade for Cutler. He had gambled the future of the organization on the chance to acquire what he felt was a franchise quarterback. 26 interceptions later, some of which were so awful they should have counted for two, the populous were questioning why the general manager had a job. They wanted him stopped so that he could no longer inflict his talent judging acumen on their beloved Monsters of the Midway. At the very least, if he had to stay, he needed to get rid of his choice for coach. So what happened? He kept the coach, and made his best free-agent move: the signing of Julius Peppers. My favorite part of the Peppers signing was that the bonus money was not paid all at once, that the contract could be voided after one year. For a player whose motivation to give his all was sometimes questioned, this would provide the inspiration to have a monster year and he has.

As far as Angelos franchise QB, this has been a different Jay Cutler. His seeming indifference with possession of the football last year infuriated many. His indifference to how everyone felt about his performance infuriated even more. As Ive talked here many times, I dont think that there has been a more scrutinized athlete in this town since Ive been here than Cutler. For many, it is not just about what he does, it is how he does it. That is never going to change. His personality is such that hes going to rub people the wrong way. I think he is starting to understand how his behaviorals are being interpreted, not that I think it matters to him. He understands that the bottom line to him being loved in this town is all about winning. Not throwing 26 picks helps also. His 20-13 TD-INT ratio is acceptable as is his 89.6 passer rating. But more importantly, his 9-4 record and the fact that he is in the playoffs for the first time are going to provide the answer to the question of whether he was worth the kings ransom that was paid to acquire him.

And then there is Lovie Smith. Following in the footsteps of Poppa Bear Halas and Da Coach ensure that the position of coach of the Bears is going to come with ultimate expectations. Not winning it all is not good enough. Being a flashy personality wouldnt hurt either. Well, the last three years had been as excruciating for us as it was for him. Many in this town were baffled as to why he was given another chance to lead this team after three consecutive failures. The most popular conclusion was that the team was too cheap to eat his contract and that we all would have to suffer the consequences. Whether that would be to watch his team or to listen to him describe their performance afterward. What has happened is his best coaching effort since he arrived here, in my opinion, starting with the compilation of his staff. A lot of guys would not feel comfortable with three former head coaches working for them, especially when they knew their head was on the chopping block. But, desperate times call for doing whatever it takes. There is no mistaking the imprint of the coaching staff on this team, from the offensive line play, the play calling and the play of the QB, the additions of the Two Mikes: Martz and Tice, has revitalized offensive football in this town known for just the opposite. Defensively, Rod Marinelli seems more suited to the defensive coordinator position to the guy that was over-matched leading the Detroit Lions. (Whose fault that was is another debate for another day!) Any quality team is going to have a quality leader who is going to do whatever it takes to put every person who is under his charge in a position to succeed. There is no one who has done that better this year than Lovie, and he has an unlikely division title to show for it.

So as we enjoy this holiday season, I say we do so with an eye towards what can happen in the future that is beyond our wildest dreams. Good things can happen in places that we never expected. To prove it we only need to look at the local football team and the three wise men who provided gifts for us all. What a difference a year makes indeed!

Joe Maddon has no choice but to ignore noise and put his faith in young Cubs lineup

Joe Maddon has no choice but to ignore noise and put his faith in young Cubs lineup

LOS ANGELES – Right around the time Theo Epstein was asked when the Cubs might consider sending Kyle Schwarber down to Triple-A Iowa, Ian Happ became the new shiny object for fans and the Chicago media.

In less than 200 at-bats, Schwarber went from World Series legend to dropping from the leadoff spot to being a platoon player to getting shipped away in a fantasy-baseball trade for pitching. 

Unless the Cubs moved Javier Baez, because Gold Glove-caliber middle infielders on a 25-homer, 90-RBI pace just fall from trees. Not to mention someone already proven on the biggest stages as a National League Championship Series co-MVP and World Baseball Classic star.

Even Happ is coming back down to earth as the league adjusts to him. Still, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has no choice but to block out the noise, trust all this young talent and believe in the players who delivered last October.    

“The best I can do is talk to the player himself, which I’ve done with ‘Schwarbs,’” Maddon said before Sunday’s game at Dodger Stadium, staying upbeat and in character after back-to-back shutouts. “That’s just the nature of the industry. That’s a part of it that makes it so much fun, too, for the fan, the fact that they can interact and throw out their conjecture like that. 

“Internally, it has nothing to do with how we react to anything. And you have to talk to the player, because he’s always feeling these outside sources pressing down on him. He really shouldn’t, but they’re human beings. 

“How do you prevent that from really infiltrating? It’s just conversation with the guys themselves. That’s about it. You ask the player to really not pay attention and listen to that. 

“But, again, with all the tablets and the different sources available to follow what’s going on, it’s almost inevitable they’re going to hear or read something. So you got to stay positive with them. And we have to have that conversation with them to maintain their confidence.”

The Sunday lineup constructed to face Clayton Kershaw featured eight position players between the ages of 22 and 27: Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Happ, Jason Heyward, Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and Albert Almora Jr.

A team built around offensive firepower woke up that morning ranked eighth and ninth in the NL in runs scored (231) and OPS (.736). A .222 batting average with runners in scoring position placed the Cubs 15th out of the NL’s 15 teams. “The best explanation I can offer is that we’re hitting young,” Maddon said. “You look at the end of last season and how well a lot of the guys that are struggling right now performed under those circumstances. I believe we’re going to come back and do that.

“In the meantime, they need our support. They need our conversations, so nobody’s left in the dark or wondering what everybody’s thinking about around here. They need openness. And if you get that, they’ll come back.” 

[MORE: The learning curve for Ian Happ]

The Cubs have bigger problems, like an inconsistent rotation that has kept this team hovering around .500 and prevented any real sense of momentum. This is still largely the same group of hitters that beat Johnny Cueto, outlasted Madison Bumgarner, eliminated Kershaw and wore down Corey Kluber during last year’s World Series run.

“They’ll get it together,” Maddon said. “We haven’t even come close to hitting that real offensive ‘go’ moment. We haven’t been there and we’re still paddling pretty well. That moment’s coming. 

“Whether it’s Happ making adjustments, Contreras making adjustments, Addison making adjustments, these guys were pretty good at the end of last season in some really difficult moments, so they’ll be back.”

The learning curve for Ian Happ and how long Cubs will stick with the rookie

The learning curve for Ian Happ and how long Cubs will stick with the rookie

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs tried to downplay expectations at first with a top prospect, framing Ian Happ’s promotion from Triple-A Iowa as a short-term solution for a roster facing multiple injury issues.  

And then Happ blasted a two-run homer off Carlos Martinez – an All-Star/Opening Day starter for the Cardinals – in his big-league debut on May 13 and kept hitting to the point where he made it an easy decision for the Cubs to keep him around.

After the initial burst – seven extra-base hits in his first eight games – the Cubs have watched Happ go 2-for-16 with eight strikeouts in his last five games against the pitching-rich Giants and Dodgers.

How much patience will the Cubs have with a rookie learning on the job? And what is manager Joe Maddon looking to see now?

“How he reacts to bad moments,” Maddon said before Sunday’s game at Dodger Stadium, where the Cubs had been held scoreless for 18 straight innings. “If a guy starts kind of losing his mind a little bit, then you might have to back off of him. But if he’s able to handle the adversity well, then you kind of stay with it.

“I expect them all to struggle at different times. He’s probably done as good of a job adjusting over the last couple days to the way we’ve been pitched at as well as anybody.

“I have no preconceived notions of how long to stick with somebody or not. I think it’s up to the player and how you react to the bad moments.

“Because everybody looks good when they’re going good. How do you look when you’re going badly? That’s what really sets a guy apart. So far, I think he’s handled it really well, and he looked good at second base, too. The arm strength really plays there.”

This hasn’t changed Happ’s stone-faced expression or stopped him from making an impression with his athleticism on the bases and that ability to move between the infield and multiple outfield spots.  

[MORE: With Ben Zobrist sidelined by sore wrist, Cubs move Ian Happ to second base]

Happ is also a good student who analyzes video and notices how teams have gone from challenging him with off-speed stuff during his first week in The Show to firing more elevated fastballs in the second week.  

“With all the information that’s disseminated these days, the league adjusts to you quickly, and it’s your job to adjust back,” Happ said. “It’s just always being on top of the way that you’re being pitched and constantly making adjustments to continue improving.”

As Maddon likes to say, all the shiny new toys and Big Data breakthroughs have favored pitching and defense, making it harder than ever for young hitters. 

“Obviously, the ability to scout the other team and break him down is much greater than it ever was,” Maddon said. “Back in the day, it was like a dude back there with a chew goes back to his room tonight and he recaps his notes that he took during the course of the day: ‘Down and away, up and in. Play him with a step to the pull side.’ That was the advance scouting reports. Now it’s broken down to the point where you actually have pertinent information.

“My point is Happ shows up on the scene. They start jumping in there and they probably could gather some intel from the past. And all of a sudden, they got a much better game plan. Now it’s up to him to adjust.”