It is alive!

It is alive!

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Coming back from my two-week hiatus, I of course find it appropriate to reference one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite actors. Much to John Wingers chagrin, Sergeant Hulka re-appeared in Italy to help run the EM-50 through its paces. And maybe to some others chagrin, Im returning to your computer screen. Whatever!

While Ive been away a lot has happened locally in the sports world and not all of it good. The Bears fall from 7-1 to out the playoffs and their head coach out of work as you would expect is the main topic.

During their free fall, Lovie Smith and Jay Cutler dominated the conversation. The local faithful were more than done with the Lovie regime. My response to that was: Do you think the McCaskeys would eat the five million left on his contract? Not to mention the money owed to his assistants who were resigned last year?

So needless to say, I was quite surprised that he was sacked after a 10-win season. But again, how many chances do you get to fail? Lovie had as many as Ferris had days missed at school that his parents didnt know about. Nine times? Nine times! Unlike Ferris though, he was not going to get a tenth one to make it count. No worries for him though as he still is owed that 5 mildo and can buy as many red Ferraris as he wants and now has plenty of free time to hang out with Abe Froman.

So along with the new head coach search, the Cutler topic becomes front and center. As Phil Emery approaches the halfway point of his seeming goal of interviewing 50 candidates, (No truth to the rumor that yours truly is on that list. As much as I know, even I would admit that the head job might be a bit of a stretch. But, Andy Reid keeps calling me, and since he hired a fry cook to run his defense in Philly, who knows? Maybe my density is on the sidelines of Kansas City! (Free beer if you get that reference!))

As we discussed last week on CTL, I feel Cutler is at the heart of this coaching decision. Since it is very obvious that Emery feels that Cutler is a franchise quarterback it would figure that his new coach feels the same way. (I guess I am out!!) (Sorry, I had to take that. I apologize to any Cutler apologists that I may have offended!) (Seriously, Im not drinking. I usually dont start until Im halfway through one of these! For those of you doing the math, that right, Im on my way to another 2000 word opus. Hold on!)

So for me, you can take any defensive name out of the mix. For that matter, I cant see anyone with prior NFL head-coaching experience either. Im thinking of an existing NFL offensive coordinator. To be specific, Colts assistant Bruce Arians. Arians is an it guy now for the job he did with the Indianapolis Colts, stepping in for Chuck Pagano as head coach as Pagano fought his inspiring battle against leukemia. The Colts 9-3 record under Arians, for the team with the worst record in the league last year, was nothing short of astounding. Arians is a career coach who has spent nine years in the NFL as an offensive coordinator. He was Peyton Mannings first QB coach in the NFL. (I know this means he served under Manning, but who better to learn from?) He also had a successful 5-year stint in Pittsburgh with Ben Rap, excuse me, I mean Ben Roethlisberger, winning two Super Bowls. His downfield type of attack would fit with Cutlers gunslinger mentality. I also think he is smart enough to understand that Jay needs to roll out more to take advantage of his cannon arm and avoid his sometimes awful pocket throwing mechanics. Maybe its just me, but Jay always seems better on the move. Since his career numbers bear that out, you would think at some point his Bears OC would incorporate that into his repertoire.

For all his experience, and success, you have to wonder why, at 60, that Arians hasnt been offered a head coaching job before. You would also have to think, at 60, that he would be amendable to any parameters put on him. That would include my guess that the Bears hierarchy, read that how you want, would like to maintain the coaches on the defensive side of the ball. That would offer defensive continuity to a unit getting a little long in the tooth, not to mention offset some of the Lovie paid vacation costs. Having a new coach that only has to worry primarily about the offensive side of the ball as a 1st time head coach would seem like a no-brainer. Offering a four-year deal as opposed to a three-year one would be one way to ease the pain of forcing coaches on him.

Naturally, Im probably way off base with my thinking, but we know that wouldnt be a first now would it? At least though, I dont think Ive veered off as far as Brent Musburger did during the national title game on Monday. Or was that an Alabama scrimmage? Anyway, as Im finding out, the older you get, the smaller the filter. I cant wait to hear what he says next. Oh, and buy the way, for all of those who are feigning outrage, they could have heard 20 times worse on just about any other channel on TV at that time, so lighten up Francis.

The other big news is the end of the NHL lockout. What? You didnt know about that? Trust me, youre in the majority. Ive had about two conversations a week about in the bar. What the NHL doesnt understand is that its niche entertainment, kind of like the WWE. If its there, people will watch, but in this day and age there are too many other options to fill the sports fans plate. This is especially true in a world where NFL coverage is 247 during the season. Wake me when its over. It is? OK, Ill watch. Funny, but for the real fan, this might work to the better. With the compressed schedule, playoff style hockey, which is what we all watch for anyway, will come sooner since every game will mean that much more. Were going to get 5 months of games anyway, so what was lost or gained? The owners implement a salary cap and then try to find every way to circumvent it? The problem is that there are too many teams, plain and simple. And these lower rung teams are bringing down the leagues financial stability and product quality. Contract teams and keep the 48-game schedule. Now that would be a product that fans would watch, and miss.

Another thing that we could not miss this week was the baseball Hall of Fame vote, or lack thereof. What a big shock. As Ive written many times the ripple effects of the Selig Steroid Era in Major League Baseball are going to be felt for a long, long time. The point this week is that in addition to the lack of any competent oversight of drug enhancement abuse at the major league level, the same can be said for the criterion of baseball writers making the decisions of who gets in or not. I dont know about you, but I find it ironic that many who turned a blind eye during the career of these abusers are now becoming holier than thou.

One argument that gets me going is the blaming of the union for this mess. Of course they are going to protect their own. Duh. But where they ever really pressed on the issue in any negotiation besides the last one? Was there any mention of this during the 94 lockout? Was there? Do you remember Lenny Dykstra back then? And Im only pulling one guy out of a hat. Tons of guys were juicing. Roids in baseball didnt start with McGwire and Sosa in 98. As always the issue was money, not integrity. If the owners pushed the topic as hard as they did financials, this wouldnt be as bad. But in a management culture that had turned its attention away from amphetamines and cocaine until it absolutely had to deal with it, what did you expect? Bonds and Clemens were players for the ages. Unfortunately, besides being abusers, allegedly,(LOL) they played the role of all-time jerks to the hilt. Its easy to accept them not getting in since most fans dont like them anyway. But that isnt whats being judged. As much as it pains me, if there is no proof beyond the smell-test, how can they be denied? Furthermore, if they can be denied on suspicion or unusable evidence, who should be let in? I know Frank Thomas and Jim Thome would appear as non-abuse guys, but can you say thats 100 true? Who knows? Its doubtful for sure, but isnt our judicial system built on that word? Doubt. When everything a fan hears is that most guys were doing it, wouldnt it stand to reason that guys we would never expect would be among them. I would think that to be very reasonable. So how do you just put those two in when they come up with a clear conscience?

What this leaves us with is one big mess. I dont know that Ive heard one cure-all solution that everyone can feel good about. There should be a fair, equitable solution. But that would take some people in very high places taking a public stance that they dont want to be put in. So they leave it to the writers to decide, and so far they are an apprehensive judge and jury coming from some of the things they are writing and saying. This is a time that again calls for decisive leadership and once again in MLB that seems to be sorely lacking.

Thankfully though, this weekend will bring our focus back to where it should be: The NFL playoffs. Divisional weekend is the best of the year with the potential for four great games. Ive been wrong all year, but Ill still give it a go. Ive been rooting for Peyton Manning all year and the genius of John Elway to get him there. Add to that, my now sports-crazed 10-year-old son just bought a Manning jersey with his own holiday bounty as Im typing this and you can guess who Im picking there. In San Francisco, I know that the Niners man-handled New England a couple of weeks ago in the most impressive road win of the year and pounded the Packers in the season opener in Green Bay, but its hard for me to bet against Aaron Rogers with the way he has been playing lately and in the playoffs for his career. Is this the year that Atlanta finally ends their playoff misery? Nope. Once again they run into this years buzz-saw in the form of the Seattle Seahawks. Trust me, that does not make me happy and for once, I hope Im wrong. And in the finale, your choice is Matt Shaub or Tom Brady at home. Is that a choice? Sorry Houston, hes your problem.

And, to leave on a high note, did you know that there is such a thing as Pinterest? Neither did I, but Sammy Sosa does. Judging from what I saw, hes fine without the HOF after his name and, like his choice of bats, he sometimes also makes mistakes with his sweaters.

Rule 5 pick Dylan Covey takes advantage of showcase as White Sox down Indians

Rule 5 pick Dylan Covey takes advantage of showcase as White Sox down Indians

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — If Carlos Rodon starts on the disabled list as expected, the White Sox won't turn to any of their vaunted top prospects in the interim.

The news on Rodon has been encouraging so far as no structural damage has been discovered. Still, the White Sox won't clear Rodon until after he receives a second opinion on Monday. While the length of Rodon's absence won't be determined for several days, the White Sox are certain of one route they won't take — they don't want to disrupt the development of their young starting pitchers. Were a DL trip for Rodon necessary, the White Sox would likely select either Saturday's starter, Dylan Covey, or minor leaguer David Holmberg over their top prospects. Covey made a strong impression on Saturday afternoon with 3 2/3 scoreless innings pitched and the White Sox rallied for a 10-7 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark.

"When you have an opportunity to stabilize action or movement for players it serves them better," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "They get a little more comfortable where they're at. They get comfortable with the staffs they're working with and the information they're gathering, being in a routine. It is a little disruptive going from team to team to team. It happens, but it's not the most conducive (to learning)."

The White Sox are all about development this season. Therefore, they have no plans to call upon Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carson Fulmer or Michael Kopech unless they're A) ready and B) throwing every fifth day in Chicago. Renteria's comments Saturday reiterated Rick Hahn's earlier message, saying the club doesn't want to disrupt the development path.

That puts Covey, a Rule 5 draft pick in December, with a decent opportunity to make the club out of camp. Covey commanded the strike zone on Saturday only hours after Renteria said he hoped to see the young right-hander replicate an Arizona Fall League performance that initially warmed the White Sox up to him.

Aside from a two-out walk in his final inning, Covey was sharp the whole way. He allowed three hits and struck out three.

"My last couple of outings I was definitely feeling the stress," Covey said. "I was kind of pitching a little passive, pitching to not make a mistake instead of just going right after guys. So today and yesterday I just thought I'm just going to throw every pitch with conviction and see what happens. I got a lot of weak contact today and some swings and misses, so I felt good."

Covey threw 44 pitches, 27 for strikes. He potentially could stay in Arizona on Thursday and make an additional minor league start to build arm strength, which would get him to roughly 60 pitches before the regular seasons started.

The White Sox don't officially need a fifth starter until April 9 and they're off the following day. That break could allow the White Sox to start Covey as part of a bullpen day. Covey said he recently changed his mindset after lackluster results in relief this spring. The right-hander has a 6.94 ERA this spring in 11 2/3 innings.

"Obviously my last two outings out of the pen I wasn't getting crushed, but I just wasn't commanding the ball or commanding the count as much as I would like to be," Covey said. "The mistakes get hit a little harder when you're falling behind in the count. Today I wanted to have the mindset of attacking hitters, throwing everything down in the zone and going right after them, and it worked out."

The White Sox blasted six home runs in the contest, including a majestic, go-ahead grand slam by first baseman Danny Hayes in the top of the ninth inning. Hayes is hitting .351/.400/.595 with two homers and is tied for the team lead with 13 RBIs this spring. Jose Abreu, Nick Delmonico, Cody Asche, Everth Cabrera and Jacob May also homered for the White Sox. 

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."