5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Len Ziehm

146956.jpg

5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Len Ziehm

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of Communications
CSNChicago.com Contributor

April 7, 2010

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeka man who defines the term veteran sports journalisthes been a fixture in the sports pages of the Chicago Sun-Times for over 40 years who has recently covered the Blackhawks and now the Fire, plus, his favorite passion - the sport of golf -- for more years than he cares to mentionhere are 5 Questions withLEN ZIEHM!"

BIO: Len Ziehm has been a member of the Chicago Sun-Times sports department since 1969 covering hundreds upon hundreds of local and national sporting events, including the Chicago Blackhawks, soccer and, of course, golf. He was an assistant sports editor for eight years and combined writing with editing duties until going full-time as a writer in 1985. In addition, hes been the Sun-Times beat man on Northwestern University sports (11 years), tennis (5 years), running and fitness (ongoing, covered the Chicago Marathon for 25 consecutive years, 1979-2004) and Illinois college sports for five years.

1) CSNChicago.com: Len, with golfs crown jewel, The Masters, coming up this weekend, the entire world will no doubt be focused on the return of Tiger Woods. It goes without saying the enormous amount of pressure he will be under, but it has been stated one of the reasons hes choosing his return to golf to take place at The Masters is the controlled atmosphere at Augusta National. Can you explain to us how this controlled environment at The Masters differs from other PGA Tournaments?

Ziehm: The big thing is the ticket policy there. The same people go year after year. It's the toughest ticket in sports because so many tickets are passed on from generation to generation. That minimizes the number of fans who might create a disturbance. Masters crowds are also known for behaving themselves (at least to a large degree). The security at Augusta National has been fine-tuned over the years as well, so anybody who acts up gets removed from the grounds pretty quickly. It was clearly the best place for Woods to return to the tournament scene.

From the pure golf fan'' standpoint, though, it's unfortunate that the year's first major tournament will turn into a Tiger sideshow. I take strong issue with those sports fans (including some of our local columnists) who have contended golf is boring without Tiger. It isn't. He grows the sport's fan base, to be sure, much like John Daly has. If you're really into the sport of golf, though -- and I am -- watching a PGA tournament is enjoyable and entertaining with or without Tiger playing.

2) CSNChicago.com: Speaking of Tiger, if he doesnt perform well at The Masters and, even worse for him, fails to make the cut, do you think this will destroy his personal & professional state of mind going forward anda follow-up questionif he does win this thing, do you think it will make the whole lurid sex scandal thing finally go away?

Ziehm: Nothing will make the sex scandal'' issue go away, ever. That's now a sad but significant part of his history, a part that won't be forgotten. In some circles, it'll overwhelm the big victories he's had and the extensive charity work he has done. That's unfortunate, but that's just the way it is. I don't expect him to miss the cut or play poorly at Augusta. His concentration level is extraordinary -- very much like Michael Jordan's in his glory years with the Bulls -- and Woods NEVER plays when he doesn't feel completely well prepared. That is a big reason he's competed as well as he has over the years; he ONLY plays when he's prepared to win. The fact that he hasn't played in any tournaments to get himself back in a competitive mode is a valid consideration when assessing his chances of winning but, in his case, it's probably an overrated consideration. I don't think, in the long run, that it'll matter much that he hasn't played in a tournament since 2009. Then again, I predict he WON'T win at Augusta, just compete well and get his golf career moving again.

3) CSNChicago.com: Lets talk Blackhawks for a moment. Is it safe to say you would rank this years team, at least to this point, as the greatest Blackhawks team youve ever covered? If not, tell us which Blackhawks season you would rank at the top and why.

Ziehm: The way the current Hawks are playing since the Olympic break, I'd say last year's team was better. It finished strong and played really well in the playoffs -- much better than I and most others would have predicted. Time will tell whether the current Hawks regroup in time for a postseason run. At the moment, though, I think the emotion spent in the Winter Olympics by all those Hawks who participated has damaged the team's chances as far as the Stanley Cup goes.

Overall, I've covered the Hawks for nine seasons. The first team (2001-02) had a great regular season, but was banged up when the playoffs started and was quickly eliminated. After that came some really sorry seasons and a lockout to boot. So, these last two seasons have really been invigorating. As for the Hawks' chances in the upcoming playoffs, I'm not nearly as optimistic as I was before the Winter Olympics. In my mind, the goaltending question has never been resolved. Antti Niemi may look the better option now, but he is still a rookie without postseason experience. That's going to be a factor down the road, I'm afraid. It's also interesting to me how much the Hawks seem to miss Brian Campbell. He hasn't been fully appreciated since signing his big contract with the Hawks, but they'd be much better off now if he was still on the ice.

4) CSNChicago.com: Youre now on the MLSChicago Fire beat for the Sun-Times. What are your thoughts on this years team and does the absence of an international superstar like Cuauhtemoc Blanco hurt the Fire come playoff time?

Ziehm: The Fire have done some interesting things over the years, and the recent decision to go with two VERY young, inexperienced goaltenders ranks right up there with those I'd question. Unless it was purely a salary question (which the club won't admit to), the decision to drop Jon Busch less than a week before the season started doesn't make any sense. The Fire should be able to replace Blanco from the competitive side. Chemistry goes a long way in soccer, and Frank Klopas should be able to put together a lineup that can win eventually. It might not be as entertaining without a superstar, though, and right now the Fire doesn't have one (Brian McBride certainly was one in his prime, but he's 37 now and could well be playing his last season).

I like the addition of Collins John. He's going to score a lot of goals. I also like the new coach, Carlos de los Cobos. I'm amazed at how quickly he's learned English. When he was first hired, I wondered what the Fire management was thinking. The head coach has to be a communicator with the media and fans, as well as his players, and that'd be awfully hard to do in Major League Soccer without being conversant in English. De los Cobos comes from a different background than virtually every other coach in MLS, having been successful in the Mexican league first and with the El Salvador national team more recently. He has some adjustments to make in coming to MLS, which is much different than other leagues around the world for a wide variety of reasons. My suspicion is it'll take a good portion of the season for him to get his team (and himself) tuned in to the task of winning. I expect a slow start but, hopefully, a strong finish that will get the Fire into the playoffs. Hiring de los Cobos was, in many ways, a risky move and dropping the proven, popular Busch was as well. Under a recent rule change (announced last week) the Fire can now sign as many as three designated players -- top stars whose acquisitions won't severely affect the MLS salary cap. If the Fire, without a designated player since Blanco left, moves in that direction my prognosis of the season ahead could change quickly.

5) CSNChicago.com: As mentioned earlier, you truly define the term veteran sports journalist for your four-plus decades of rock solid local sports coverage. With that said, now that traditional sports journalism is changing in this new digital age, what adjustments, if any, have you made in events you cover for the Sun-Times?

Ziehm: Interesting question. In many ways, things are much better now. Information gets out more quickly and comes from a broader array of sources. While print space in newspapers is shrinking, space to pass on information, analysis and opinion via the Internet is unlimited. All that's a good thing. I do feel the personal touch in journalism is getting lost, and that's not good. One-on-one interviews aren't as frequent or as fruitful as they once were. So, in some ways the job has become easier, but in some ways it's become harder as well. I guess, to give you a more concise, specific answer, we're now more into notebooks and columns than we are into straight game reports. That varies from sport to sport and event to event, though. It's an interesting transition period that we're all going through.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Back to golfa two-part question: whos the most famous person youve ever golfed with and whats your personal best 18-hole score to date?

Ziehm: OUCH! Best golf score was 83 many, many years ago at the Bonnie Dundee course in Carpentersville. I've been within a stroke one way or the other of a 19 handicap for years, so that tells you my abilities as a player. But I have had a hole-in-one (not many can say that) and have three career eagles spread over a 48-year period. I guess -- if nothing else -- that shows my interest in golf hasn't been of a fleeting nature. I've played in a lot of pro-ams over the years and, without question, the best player I've played with was Kenny Perry at the 2007 BMW Championship at Cog Hill. He was a very nice guy, as well. A few years back I played a couple of informal rounds with Michael Jordan at Lakeshore Country Club. So, he was probably the most famous person I played with. I'm just grateful for the chances I've had to play with lots of interesting people, famous or not so famous, over my years on the golf beat.

Golf, as well as beat coverage of it, has changed dramatically over the years. I remember covering my first Western Open, at Olympia Fields in 1968, we'd conduct interviews over a small table with Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer having a beer or cigarette while fielding questions from five or six reporters. I recall another time, not at a tournament, when Sam Snead held court for a few of us at Beverly Country Club and offered one interesting anecdote after another -- some of them of an off-color nature. Now, to put it mildly, interviews with the big-name players are much more crowded, chaotic affairs that I'm sure will reach new heights now that Tiger Woods is back in action.

Ziehm LINKS:

Chicago Sun-TimesLen Ziehm Chicago Fire page

Len Ziehm on Facebook

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Could the Bulls go after Chris Bosh for next season?

Could the Bulls go after Chris Bosh for next season?

The basketball world woke up Friday morning to a report from ESPN senior writer Marc Stein saying the Bulls may go after Chris Bosh for the 2017-18 NBA season.

It's surprising and intriguing for multiple reasons: 

1) Bosh was believed to have played his last days in the NBA due to blod clot issues.

2) The Bulls are at something of a franchise crossroads, sitting as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference following Thursday's games and still determining what the right step is for the near future and the long term. 

3) Bosh will be 33 in March and hasn't played in an NBA game in nearly a year (last appeared with the Heat Feb. 9, 2016).

But Stein said the Heat are not planning on waiving Bosh before March 1, so he wouldn't be eligible to join the roster of a playoff contender.

Stein then says: If Bosh does return to the hardwood, "word is that the Chicago Bulls are already plotting a run and will be at the front of the line to try to sign him."

Bosh is an 11-time All-Star who has averaged 19.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game throughout his career. He helped the Heat win several titles as part of the Big Three with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

Bosh was also just in Chicago visiting Wade earlier this month:

Could he form another Big Three with Wade and Jimmy Butler, this time in Chicago?

It's worth noting Wade just turned 35 earlier this week and will be in his 14th NBA season next year.