Chicago Cubs

Talking Turkey

Talking Turkey

Wednesday, November 25th

Thanksgiving, the best holiday of the year. No pressure, no stress, just family, food and football. Two things are constant in my house: The smell of turkey, putting me in a constant state of hunger and the sounds of the football games on the television, making everything right with the world. Well, almost everything.

For as long as I can remember, there were two NFL games on Thanksgiving. The games were aired by the networks that had the rights to each conference. Because of the size of the audience the networks would put their number one announcing team on the broadcast. The two lead analysts for the two big networks for the last five years are Troy Aikman for FOX and Phil Simms at CBS. While I didnt like either of them as players, (they both played in the NFL East. You do the math!) I had immense respect for them. They both are Super Bowl champions and deservedly so. They were successful at the ultimate level because of their physical and mental abilities. The understanding of the game they needed to play the game at its highest level is the reason they are on TV. What makes them great announcers is that they are able to convey what they see to us fans in a way that is detailed, accurate and entertaining. The combination of having great football knowledge and having used it to win gives them credibility. For most of us fans this credibility is very important. I mean, do you want a bartender describing the action? (I know, I do too, but the networks wont return my calls!) While I know a certain bartender would be very entertaining, these two have me beat. They both have established themselves as being among the best at what they do. When their network has a big game, they are going to be the ones analyzing it.

Then in 2006 the dessert of a 3rd game was added. But this game was put on the NFL Network and their broadcast has, to say the least, not quite had the big network feel to it. (Consider them the WB of NFL broadcast networks.) Now this is kind of odd considering their analyst for the first 3 years, Chris Collinsworth, is someone whom I enjoy listening to. But for two long years, he was paired with Bryant Gumbel and their partnership was not very compelling. Not quite fingernails on the chalkboard, but not quite Summerall and Madden either. Then, thankfully, Gumbel was let go and Bob Papa took his place. The pairing seemed to work well together, even though I didnt still feel that they were near the elite.

What happened next is something I still cant fathom. When John Madden, my favorite analyst in any sport all-time, decided to retire from NBC, Collinsworth was hired to take his place on the most watched NFL game of the week. Good for him, bad for us. Because in its lack of infinite wisdom the NFL Network decided to hire Matt Millen to be their new lead analyst. Now if this was 2000, I would applaud the move, since back then Millen was considered to be Madden Lite. He was a rising star at FOX and was very entertaining to listen to. As a player he had made the Pro Bowl and had FOUR Super Bowl rings. His rep was that of a working class, gutty linebacker and he brought that mentality into the booth. In fact he was so knowledgeable and entertaining that the Detroit Lions hired him as their G.M. Oops!! What followed is probably the worst tenure of any NFL executive EVER! Now you could argue about some others being in his league, but just about all of them OWNED the team, they werent about to fire themselves! The Lions during his stewardship were 31-97! Think about that. 66 games under five hundred. People here are calling for Lovie and Angelos heads and theyre 2 games under this year, 2 games under for the last 2 12 years. What do you think the people of Detroit think of his ability to analyze football? (I read something that I didnt know while I was reading up on Mr. Millen. Last year when he was on air as part of NBCs Super Bowl pregame show, Channel 4 in Detroit ran a scroll at the bottom of the screen every time his face appeared on camera: Matt Millen was president of the Lions for the worst eight-year run in the history of the NFL. Knowing his history with the team, is there a credibility issue as he now serves as an analyst for NBC Sports? Ouch! That is funny. Can you imagine? Can you imagine the anger that this guy has generated?) I wont even get in to the fact that someone let him have that job for EIGHT years, I mean it wasnt that bad for us in Chicago, two easy games a year for the Bears are good for everyone!

It seems though, that TV execs still love this guy like nothing ever happened. Because, since he was fired 3 games into the first 0-16 season ever last year, one that had his hand and footprints all over it, hes worked for NBC, ESPN and now the NFL Network. Does he have pictures? How does this guy keep getting hired? Now dont get me wrong, this is not personal, since when he was a player, I was a huge fan, especially since hes a Nittany Lion. Hes one of my boys. And I was one of those who thought he was great as an analyst before his misadventures as a G.M. But isnt TV about what have you done for me lately? I dont understand how anyone can take anything he has to say about football seriously, considering the fact of how close we still are to the wreckage.

For us hard-core fans, credibility matters. TV usually understands this, since in every sport, they repeatedly hire winning coaches and players as analysts. These people have names that are easily recognizable and bodies of work that can be admired. I cant think of any other guy, other than maybe Dick Vitale, (Detroit! Coincidence?) that had such a bad experience, then had the privilege of explaining the actions of others to us afterwards. And thats the point. He has to explain the actions of others to us. What? Not only that, he has to stand in judgment of these actions. Can you imagine the reactions of those around the league? Forget us fans, is there any peer who thinks he just had a run of bad luck, for 8 years? What a joke.

I think that if you are the NFL Network, you should act like it. Your broadcasts should be beyond reproach, you should set the standards. The league takes hard-line stances with everything else, why would they open themselves up for this issue of credibility? Wouldnt fans rather listen to someone like Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan? Theyve had success. They know what it takes to win, during a game and over the long haul. Oh well, Ill be in a tryptophan stupor by the time the game is on anyway. Maybe in that state, what he has to offer will make sense and when I roll my eyes, it will be because Im falling asleep, not because of the keen insight of Mr. 31-97. Gobble, Gobble!!

Anthony Rizzo, the greatest third baseman ever?

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo, the greatest third baseman ever?

Look out, Kris Bryant: Anthony Rizzo might be coming for you.

After Bryant suffered a left hand contusion in the top of the eighth inning during Tuesday's 13-9 win over Cincinnati, Joe Maddon shuffled his infield by moving Rizzo from first to third base for the first time in his career to replace the reigning NL MVP and it didn't take long for the Cubs to take advantage of the rare occurence on social media:

Pretty amazing that in one season he's been dubbed the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time and best third baseman ever.

Here's another cool fact:

Earlier this season, Rizzo became second-base eligible in ESPN and CBS Sports fantasy leagues because of a weird rule that allows him to switch positions with how the Cubs defend certain bunt situations. 

At this rate, he may become eligible for every infield position. Next up, shortstop?

Lucas Giolito's White Sox debut drew rave reviews

Lucas Giolito's White Sox debut drew rave reviews

Lucas Giolito’s first outing may not have netted the outcome the White Sox hoped for, but the look and feel was most definitely there.

The team’s sixth-ranked prospect showed just how much progress he’s made the over the entire season and in particular the last six weeks in his White Sox debut on Tuesday night.

Giolito was promoted from Triple-A Charlotte early Tuesday and looked poised and confident for six innings despite a heavy reliance on the fastball because his curve wasn’t where he wanted. While he yielded three home runs in a 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins, Giolito and the White Sox liked what they saw.

“Excellent,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I thought it was a very positive outing.

“Lucas I thought threw the ball very, very well. Fastball was very good. He was using his breaking ball. He threw some that were a little short. But all and all, I thought his mound presence, his attack of the strike zone -- I don’t think he walked anybody, he threw a lot of strikes -- he looked very, very good to me. Very pleased.”

Once the top pitching prospect in baseball, Giolito had lost a little bit of the shine even by the time he was traded to the White Sox last December in the Adam Eaton deal. He struggled at times during a nomadic 2016 campaign with the Nationals -- he was moved seven times in all -- and saw a dip in fastball velocity as his mechanics got out of whack.

Though excited by the trade to the White Sox, Giolito admitted in spring training he wasn’t quite where he yet wanted to be. He struggled early this season at Triple-A Charlotte, posting a 5.40 ERA in his first 16 starts and often failed to pitch deep into games.

But along the way Giolito found his confidence, rediscovered his curveball and began to pitch more consistently. That was the pitcher the White Sox saw on Tuesday night, the one who despite not having his entire arsenal didn’t panic.

Working almost entirely with his fastball -- 69 of his 99 pitchers were four-seamers -- Giolito pitched at a quick pace and got into a rhythm. Giolito got 10 swings and misses, including eight with the fastball, and didn’t walk anyone.

“I felt relaxed,” Giolito said. “I felt confident the whole time.

“I feel like tonight I was able to control the game a lot better. Last year my time in the big leagues the game would speed up on me a lot. I’d walk a guy, give up a couple of base hits and start to kind of get out of control. Tonight, I felt under control, I was able to trust my stuff, it was just those mistakes.”

Giolito’s outing wasn’t perfect. He tried to go inside with fastballs three times and left them over the middle. Jorge Polanco blasted a game-tying solo homer off Giolito in the fourth, Kennys Vargas hit one off him in the fifth and Eddie Rosario hit a two-run, opposite-field shot in the sixth.

[MORE: White Sox may have discovered 'diamond in the rough' in Juan Minaya

But that he was effective enough to keep the White Sox in the game in spite of his offense, which blew bases-loaded opportunities in the second and third innings, and minus all of his pitches wasn’t lost on Omar Narvaez. Narvaez liked how Giolito competed and the way he spotted his fastball in and out, up and down.

“I think he’s going to be one of our best pitchers,” Narvaez said. “His fastball is kind of sneaky and he has a great changeup. He uses it whenever he wants to and he has a really, really good curveball.

“He made a lot of good pitches (with the fastball). Every time we worked behind he just came back with the fastball.”

Giolito threw his curveball 12 times and used the changeup 16. While he induced a few groundballs with his curve, Giolito wasn’t as effective in two-strike situations, spiking the pitch in front of the plate. Even so, Giolito felt good about what he accomplished and that’s great for the White Sox.

“I feel like I belong,” Giolito said. “I feel like my stuff plays. I’m happy I didn’t walk anyone tonight. I was able to command the fastball pretty well, but fastball-changeup was pretty much all I had. I wasn’t throwing the curveball as well as I would have liked, but I’m going to work on that for the next start and hopefully be able to command that pitch a little better.”