Chicago Cubs

Nick

Nick

Thursday, November 20th

Unfortunately in life, friends leave us. No matter when it is, its never easy. A legendary Chicago sports figure that a lot of fans might not know passed this week. One of the best things, no make that, the best thing about what I do for a living, is the vast array of people I get to meet because Im behind the bar at Harry Carays. Im always asked by people, Who have you met at the bar? Im always perplexed, and amused, by this question, because the inference is, who would they know? Like having someone famous at the bar validates it as the place to be. Or, because its not a name your familiar with, its not that exciting. For me, I get a kick out of anyone thats interesting, and few were more so than Nick Kladis. Nick was 81, and like anyone his age he had a long list of accomplishments.

A star on the Tilden Technical High School basketball team in the late 1940s, he has been described by his long-time friend Marv Levy as one of the best basketball players I ever saw. In 2005, he was inducted in to the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. His left his basketball mark though as a collegian as a star for the Loyola Ramblers in the early 1950s. Nicknamed Nifty Nick, his signature moves on the court were a one-handed jump shot, and a gravity defying left-handed hook that he was known to launch from anywhere. He perfected these to the point that he was an All-American in the 1952 season. His honors from the university were many: Named to Loyolas All-Decade Team of the 1950s, inducted into the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame, and my favorite, having his 3 retired and hanging from the rafters of the Gentile Center overlooking the current generation of Ramblers hoopsters. Something he was very proud of was being a volunteer assistant coach for the 1963 Loyola team that won the NCAA National Title. In fact, I remember not too long ago, him having a meal with some of the players from that team in the restaurant, the twinkle in his eye that night was unmistakable. He loved his school. So much so that he is one of the forces behind the construction of a new Intercollegiate Athletics Center adjacent to the Gentile Center. I know he will be missed at the groundbreaking in January, but upon completion Im sure his presence will be immortalized in its Hall of Fame Room.

After his senior year he was drafted by the NBA, but unlike todays climate of millionaire status, the NBA was not the path for many to instant riches. At an early age, his business acumen was spot on. It would continue for the rest of his life. He started with working with the family grocery business, but his love of sports was always there. This led him to, among other things: Being a part owner of the White Sox from 1975 1980. An original investor in the East Bank Club. A co-owner, along with former New York Knicks star, Dave DeBusschere, of boxing bible, The Ring magazine. And currently, a minority owner of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Life has many ironies, and among them is that, a minority owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, was one of the original investors in the Home plate of the Cubs and what many fans think of as the ultimate Cubs bar, Harry Carays in downtown Chicago.

Invariably during the last 3 years, when Nick would be at the bar and get into conversations with Cubbie fans seated near him, I would make sure to tease (No, not me!) by saying to them, You cant be nice to him! Dont you see that ring hes wearing? At this point, Nick would let them see, or hold if they like, his World Series ring from the 2006 Championship. I used to get the biggest kick out of that, and I know he did too. Not in a malicious way, the thing that we had in common was, we were fans of our teams, and there was nothing wrong with having fun with fans of others. Nick loved his Cardinals. When they played any game, he was into it, but playing the Cubs was something altogether different. He loved going to the games and coming to the restaurant afterward with players or manger Tony LaRussa or others associated with the team. Often he would bring one of his dinner guests up to the bar to meet me.

I remember meeting former Cardinals second baseman Fernando Vina and being very impressed. Go figure, hes now a baseball analyst for ESPN. Another introduction from Nick that Im very fond of is when he introduced me to former Tribune columnist Mike Downey and his wife Gail. What nice people. I remember one night Nick and Dutchie Caray having a group of friends they were dining with in the bar for cocktails. As many milled around, I found myself in a conversation with Dutchie and Gail in the front corner of the bar about gambling on NFL football games. (I have a very boring job!) When I told Gail I surprised by her incredible knowledge on the subject, she told me she learned all about it from her father. Her father's name was Dean Martin. Yes, that Dean Martin! I could only imagine the conversations at dinner, but you know that table was never boring.

A favorite table, for me, was when Nick and Dutchie would be having dinner. They frequently had dinner in the restaurant, or an occasional lunch at the bar on Friday, when I work my only day shift, over the last 10 years. I dont know what it was, well maybe you can guess, but often I would visit their table, get engrossed in conversation, then realize: Wait! I was just going to say hello. I have a bar full of people waiting for me! Gotta go! I often thought after my sometimes sudden departures that they thought I was a crazed, caffeinated mad-man. But I digress.

Theyre two of the nicest people Ive ever met and Im sad that I wont be able to accost their table anymore. The last time I saw Nick, they were in with a friend, and it was the first time I had seen him since the Cardinals were, to me anyway, shockingly beaten in the playoffs by the L.A. Dodgers. I told him that I felt bad for him, but that I knew that the World Series ring that he was wearing would keep him good company during the long off-season. Well, it just got a lot longer for me, but I feel so fortunate that I got to share that moment with him.

The thing that we shared the most, was a passion for sports and our teams, but at the same time realizing that there are more important thing in life. Family, friends and helping others should be ones priorities and they were certainly his. I know this for a fact. Im only one of many, many people who have experienced his generosity. Being able to have shared life experiences with him is something Ill never forget. One of those experiences he shared and a reason that I know that many of us feel regret about, is that he wont be able to see his grand-son, Nick, play basketball again. Nicks a sharp-shooter, doesnt fall far, for Hinsdale Central and was the apple of his grandfathers eye. I would look forward to the updates of his games or tournaments. I know young Nick would do right by following in his grandfathers footsteps. Using athletics for all of the good they can represent, and keeping them a part of your life forever.

For Nicks family and friends these next few days are going to be difficult as we mourn his loss and lay him to rest. But there will be a warm feeling in all of us, that wont go away. Thats the many memories we share and the privilege of knowing our departed friend.

Oh, and who was that team that drafted Nick into the NBA, the one he turned down? The Philadelphia Warriors! Nick was supposed to play his pro career in Philadelphia, no wonder I liked him so much.

The Streak ends as Cubs watch Wade Davis finally blow a save: ‘It’s definitely on me’

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USA TODAY

The Streak ends as Cubs watch Wade Davis finally blow a save: ‘It’s definitely on me’

MILWAUKEE – The efficient, emotionless way Wade Davis did his job helped the Cubs stay afloat during the disappointing first half of this season, a time when late-inning losses could have really damaged the clubhouse and the defending World Series champs might have collapsed.  

Standing at his locker, Davis had the same stone-faced expression on his bearded face after Saturday afternoon’s 4-3 walk-off loss, the third straight 10-inning game the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers have played at Miller Park. Because Davis had been 32-for-32 in save chances this year, the Cubs could appreciate all the heart-pounding action and how this compared to October.  

“We 100 percent won that game today, it seemed like,” Davis said in his monotone voice. “The offense and everything was incredible, coming back twice. It’s definitely on me.”

It was jarring to watch Travis Shaw drive a hanging curveball over the fence in left-center field and into the Milwaukee bullpen. Teammates waited for Shaw at home plate with Gatorade buckets after that game-winning two-run homer, showering him and tearing his jersey apart amid the mosh pit, the Brewers still clinging to their hopes in the National League wild-card race.

The perfect season already ended for Davis in the ninth inning, when Orlando Arcia hammered a misplaced 92-mph fastball that stayed just inside the left-field foul pole and landed in the second deck.

The crowd of 44,067 watched Davis blow his first save since Sept. 2, 2016, which also happened to be his first game back in the Kansas City Royals bullpen after spending more than a month on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right elbow.

“There’s nothing to lament right there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Another intensely good baseball game. And they got us at the end. But there’s no way, shape or form to point a finger at Wade.”

Davis wasn’t pointing a finger at Maddon and doing an Aroldis Chapman impression, but the All-Star closer did admit: “My arm was dragging a little bit.”

The Cubs had used Davis five times within the last eight days, including a back-to-back-to-back last weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals and then asking him to get five outs in Thursday night’s 10-inning comeback win over Milwaukee. Until Saturday’s comeback, the Brewers had been 0-54 when trailing after eight innings.  

“I just made a lot of bad pitches,” Davis said, who had converted his last 38 save chances and set a new franchise record to begin his Cubs career/set him up for a big contract this winter as a free agent.

Maddon, who will face another round of bullpen-management questions when the playoffs begin, had Hector Rondon warming up in the 10th inning, but the right-hander threw a scoreless inning on Friday night, his first appearance since Sept. 8 after getting treated for a sore elbow.

“If we did not score when we scored, I would have brought Rondon into the game,” Maddon said. “But once we scored, I put him back out there. It was a pretty easy equation.

“He’s your best guy. There’s no second-guessing whatsoever. He was fine to go back out there.”

What did The Streak mean to you?

“Not much,” Davis said. “I obviously wanted to win today’s game and put us in a better position than we were yesterday. So it kind of stinks, but, you know, move on from it.”

That summed up the entire mood inside the visiting clubhouse, the Cubs pointing to a dominant Kyle Hendricks start (one run in six innings), Justin Wilson auditioning for a trusted role out of the playoff bullpen (four outs) and a resourceful lineup that manufactured offense without hitting home runs.  

“It’s been a hell of a series so far,” Hendricks said.

The magic number to eliminate the Brewers from the division race remains four, while the Cardinals were at five heading into their Saturday night game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs can’t wait to unleash Davis in October.

“There’s no difference between these three games and the games that are going to occur the next month,” Maddon said. “They were absolutely that intense.”

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

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USA TODAY

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

It’s been more than two weeks since Carlos Rodon was shut down for the season, one day after he was scratched from a start with shoulder inflammation.

And while we know Rodon won’t pitch again in 2017 — a season with just a little more than a week remaining for the rebuilding White Sox — the team still doesn’t know, or still isn’t ready to say, exactly what’s wrong with the former first-round draft pick.

“We’re just trying to get it right,” Rodon said before Saturday night’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals. “Still trying to figure everything out and take everything we can and put it all together to get the most information and do what’s best for me and for this team.”

That kind of non-update might raise some red flags in the minds of White Sox fans, curious as to what is the latest ailment for a pitcher who missed three months this season while recovering from biceps bursitis.

Rodon was slated to get reevaluated shortly after that early September injury. He was, but no news came of it, at least not yet.

“Pretty similar to what our doc said,” Rodon said of that follow-up evaluation. “Like I said, we’re trying to still gather all the information and figure out what we’re going to do from there.”

Rodon ended his third season in the bigs with a 4.15 ERA in 69.1 innings of work. And while the White Sox still believe he’ll be a huge part of their starting staff moving forward, it’s plenty acceptable to wonder what kind of effects this season of injuries will have on Rodon as the franchise’s rebuild chugs along.

“He continues to be a big part of what we believe is the future of the organization,” manager Rick Renteria said after explaining several times that the team is still trying to figure out what’s wrong with Rodon. “Unfortunately, this year he's been down quite a bit. So assuming he comes back in a good situation and is healthy and is capable of going out and performing, he fits into one of the five guys that are going to be out there for us next season.”

For his part, Rodon is 100-percent confident he’ll be good to go for next year’s campaign.

“I just know that I’ll be ready for next season,” Rodon said. “The goal is to be ready for next year and be healthy through all of next season.”

That, though, will be the million-dollar question as the White Sox starting rotation of the future begins to take shape. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are already penciled in for 2018, and Michael Kopech’s 2017 campaign in the minors was so sensational, he could potentially pitch himself into that starting five, too. With younger names like Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning also doing work in the minors, someone’s going to be the odd man out.

Rodon still has the confidence of his organization. But will he have the health to make that confidence pay off?