Chicago Cubs

Time to take bounties seriously

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Time to take bounties seriously

Bounties, however you want to define them, have been part of football since leather helmets and checkerboard gridirons.

However, political correctness aside, in the wake of stunning revelations stemming from the NFL's investigation into the New Orleans Saints' alleged bounty system, it is time to take the issue seriously.

"From youth football to high school to college, look at the back of a kid's helmet," said East Aurora coach Kurt Becker, a former two-time All-America offensive lineman at Michigan who played for eight years with the Chicago Bears.

"What do you see? Stickers. Rewards for hits, tackles and big hits. They have been around forever. The only difference is they put money on it in the pros."

And because of NFL rules, they aren't allowed to put stickers on the backs of their helmets.

In high school, coaches reward players with silver or gold helmets and establish "Hitters" or "Maulers" clubs for exhibiting brute force and over-the-top aggressiveness on the field...as in a ball-carrier who runs over a linebacker or a defensive lineman who sacks a quarterback, knocks a running back off his feet or separates him from the ball.

"Nobody is asking a player to deliberately injure another player," one coach said. "Football is a contact sport. At times, it gets very violent and very personal. It's all about hitting. It's all about blocking and tackling. Ask a kid why he enjoys playing football and he'll say he likes to hit people. But he isn't out to break somebody's leg."

Apparently the New Orleans Saints have been out to do just that, according to tapes of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. NFL officials are looking into reports that the Saints aren't the only team that uses bounties as a motivational tool. An Illinois High School Association official said his organization was on the alert for reports of such behavior among its members.

As athletes have gotten bigger and stronger and faster over the years, the game has gotten more physical and more violent by its very nature. Becker said bounties weren't an issue when he played but it was obvious that some players approached the game with a more aggressive attitude than others.

"Every play for Dick Butkus was a bounty. That's the way he played the game and everybody understood that. He was respected and feared for how hard he tackled opponents. They made an entire NFL film on the subject," Becker said. "But when you create paid bounties (as the Saints allegedly did), then it takes you out of the framework of the game."

Are helmets safe? Do they protect athletes from concussions?

"Helmets protect you superficially. But no helmet, no matter how well it is constructed, will prevent concussions. There isn't a helmet that will protect you from getting a concussion," Becker said.

He recalled how former Bears teammate Doug Plank and former All-Pro cornerback Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders, whose violent hit left former Marshall star Darryl Stingley paralyzed for the rest of his life, had reputations for hitting with their heads. Some coaches were known for teaching and encouraging spearing.

"That's the way the game was played then. We didn't know better," Becker said. "Today, we must coach the game differently. We must be aware of keeping the head out of the game."

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?