Results tagged ‘ Vine Line ’
(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
The Cubs claimed left-handed pitcher Joseph Ortiz off waivers from the Rangers Monday, moving the team’s 40-man roster to 40 players.
The 24-year-old Ortiz went 2-2 with a 4.23 ERA (21 ER/44.2 IP) in 32 relief appearances for the Rangers in 2013 before being limited to only 15 minor league appearances last season due to a fractured left foot. The southpaw began the 2014 season on the 60-day disabled list and made two rehab appearances with the organization’s Rookie League club in Arizona in July before completing his campaign with 13 relief outings with Double-A Frisco (0-2, one save, 4.50 ERA).
A native of Venezuela, Ortiz originally signed with Texas as a nondrafted free agent on August 28, 2006. He is 18-15 with 31 saves and a 2.44 ERA (87 ER/320.2 IP) in 217 relief appearances covering eight minor league seasons.
A lot of eyes will be on the Cubs’ top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards this fall. (Photo by Roger C. Hoover)
The prospect-laden Arizona Fall League kicks off Tuesday. Be sure to follow the Vine Line blog all AFL season for recaps on how the Cubs prospects fared the night before. The following story can be found in the October issue of Vine Line.
The Arizona Fall League has always been a launching pad for major league careers. Every fall, organizations send their top prospects to the offseason showcase. Javier Baez hit four home runs in 14 AFL games in 2012, and Kris Bryant took home league MVP honors in 2013.
This year, the Cubs will send a new batch of up-and-coming farmhands to Arizona to see how they fare against the best players the minor leagues have to offer.
Addison Russell will headline the group—and could very well headline the league, as he’s baseball’s No. 6 prospect, according to MLB.com. Despite missing the early part of the season with a hamstring injury and adjusting to an early-July trade, the 20-year-old never missed a beat, hitting .295/.350/.508 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 13 homers over 68 games, all while playing elite defense at shortstop. This will be his second appearance in the AFL, as he represented Oakland last year.
Injuries derailed much of right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards’ Double-A season, but he was lights out once he returned to action in late July. Baseball’s No. 56 prospect finished the year with a 2.35 ERA in 58.2 innings, striking out 54 batters.
First baseman Dan Vogelbach got off to a slow start, but picked things up as the season progressed. The slugger, who slimmed down in the offseason, hit .268/.357/.429 with 16 homers and 76 RBI for High-A Daytona.
Right-handed pitchers Ivan Pineyro and Zach Cates, lefty Gerardo Concepción, and athletic outfielder Jacob Hannemann have also been invited to the AFL. Outfielder Bijan Rademacher will serve as a member of the taxi squad, which means he’s available to play only twice a week.
It’s not always easy to stick to your guns. Especially if the decisions you’re making aren’t all that popular.
When Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod first came aboard with the Cubs, they were hailed as conquering heroes who could do no wrong and would soon (and inevitably) carry the organization to the promised land. The Chicago Sun-Times even ran a tongue-in-cheek image of Epstein walking on water.
The new baseball operations men quickly laid out their plan, set a clear course of action and got to work. Their stated goal was to hire the best people in the business, stockpile young talent and build a player-development machine to get that young talent on the fast track to Wrigley Field.
Once the brain trust started making their first moves, the fan base gave them the benefit of the doubt. Not everyone loved seeing favorites like Andrew Cashner, Ryan Dempster and Sean Marshall go, but people figured everything the front office touched would turn to gold. On the plus side, the Cubs picked up first baseman Anthony Rizzo, signed Cuban free agent Jorge Soler and drafted outfielder Albert Almora, among other, less-heralded moves. Despite finishing 2012 with 101 losses, baseball ops stayed the course.
By the time the 2013 campaign came to a close, the voices of dissent were growing louder. The Cubs traded Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano and fired manager Dale Sveum after a 96-loss season. Yet, the front office remained steadfast. While people grumbled, the team acquired players like Jake Arrieta, Corey Black, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm and Pedro Strop; drafted Kris Bryant; and locked up Starlin Castro and Rizzo with team-friendly long-term deals.
Though the win-loss record didn’t improve dramatically in 2014, the Cubs’ collection of young talent—augmented by players like Billy McKinney, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber—hit critical mass. Now it’s undeniable the Cubs are coming fast, and people around baseball are taking notice. National columnists, local pundits and sports pages across the country are lauding the organization’s elite system.
For the past several years, if you were unwilling to look beyond the team playing at Wrigley Field, it was hard to see what the Cubs were building. When the major league team was losing, the idea of “top prospects” was too nebulous to provide much comfort. But once those same prospects started arriving in the bigs, it was hard to deny their energy, enthusiasm and raw talent.
Not every call-up posted huge numbers, but they all made strong impressions. Kyle Hendricks was occasionally dazzling, Jorge Soler demonstrated impact potential, and guys like Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Eric Jokisch all showed flashes.
Through everything—all the losses, all the complaints, all the stories about the Cubs’ struggles—the front office never wavered from their plan, even when it would have been easier (and much better PR) to hold onto some of their veteran talent and/or throw money at risky free agents. Now that patience is starting to pay off.
I’m in no way saying the Commissioner’s Trophy should be on its way to Clark and Addison next season. Baseball is far too random to guarantee anything like that. But it’s undeniable the Cubs have built a formidable foundation of talent that is the envy of the baseball world.
In the October issue of Vine Line, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma examines the work the front office has been doing to assemble the top system in the game. We also give readers a sneak peek into a true baseball treasure, as we take a tour through the famous Wrigley Field manual scoreboard with the men who work inside. Finally, we go back to June 23, 1984, when Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg made the entire baseball world and a national TV audience take notice with two memorable home runs in the fabled Sandberg Game.
You can always find news on Wrigley Field, the Cubs’ storied past and the organization’s bright future in Vine Line and on Twitter at @cubsvineline. And stay tuned this offseason—things are about to get fun.
Few people had a better summer than Chris Pratt, who is currently preparing to host Saturday Night Live‘s season premiere tomorrow night. The affable actor seamlessly made the transition from television star on Parks and Recreation to silver screen action hero with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy. He also has a history with baseball (well, baseball acting), having played former Athletics infielder Scott Hatteberg in the movie Moneyball. We caught up with the 35-year-old at Wrigley Field in early September when he was in town shooting an episode of his sitcom.
When the Cubs hired Rick Renteria as their 53rd manager in franchise history last November, much was made of his fluency in both Spanish and English.
While bilingual talents are an asset to an organization rich in Latin-American prospects, Renteria’s communication skills transcend language. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and Executive Vice President and General Manager Jed Hoyer knew that when they tapped the now-52-year-old baseball lifer to replace ousted skipper Dale Sveum.
“The No. 1 challenge we gave him was to provide a good atmosphere for the young players to develop and drive to the big league level,” Epstein said. “That is easier said than done, and he has done a fantastic job at it.”
Under Renteria, shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo have both rebounded from 2013 seasons in which the former hit .245 and the latter .233. Their regression from strong 2012 performances distressed management, especially considering the Cubs had committed $100 million to making them franchise cornerstones.
“My goal was to create a positive atmosphere,” Renteria said of his first season as a big league manager. “And we wanted the message and the way we dealt with these young men to be consistent.”
Reflecting on 2013, management accepted blame for trying to make Castro a more patient hitter. Still, after evaluating Sveum for two seasons, Epstein and Hoyer acknowledged they might have missed the mark with the hire.
The former manager batted a slumping Castro everywhere in the lineup in 2013, excluding cleanup. The relationship hit a wall on Aug. 20 with Castro’s move to the No. 8 slot. He was switched to leadoff the next day, reportedly following conversations among Castro, his agent and the front office.
In 2014, Renteria promised Castro would be a key to the offense. The manager batted the shortstop third in the first two games of the season and second in the next three. Then Renteria dropped him to sixth.
“Ricky told me he needed production in the middle of the lineup and that I was his best chance,” said Castro, who collected five RBI—including his first career two-homer game—in his initial two games batting sixth.
On April 25, Renteria made his most significant move with Castro, shifting him from the No. 5 spot to cleanup, behind Rizzo. Both players went on to make the All-Star team.
“I was hopeful coming into this job that in time we would build trust,” Renteria said. “We wanted to motivate and encourage our players while still holding them accountable. Teaching was the next step.”
After Renteria lost two-fifths of his starting rotation (Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel) in a July 4 trade with Oakland, the Cubs dropped 11 of their next 13 games. But they played above .500 in August behind a rebuilt lineup. Jake Arrieta and rookie Kyle Hendricks lifted the rotation, while position prospects Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler freshened the roster.
“Ricky has done a very good job with a roster that has been young and constantly in flux,” Hoyer said. “He and his staff have created an environment that allows young players to develop while still competing every night. This is not easy. Our team has continued to play hard and well through the most mentally challenging parts of the season.”
Though Renteria has a reputation as being easygoing and even-keeled, he’s definitely not a softy. Epstein noted Renteria has been supportive without being enabling.
“When guys make mistakes, he holds them accountable, but he still stays positive by asking them to go out and do it right the next time,” Epstein said.
Renteria, a big league utility player from 1986-94 and a San Diego Padres coach for six seasons before the Cubs came calling, accepts praise cautiously.
“Time will tell what we’ve accomplished as a team,” he said. “We just hoped, with our help, the core of players would create something they wanted to be part of in the culture here.”
Like any rookie manager, Renteria has experienced bumps in the road, including the struggles of Junior Lake and Mike Olt. The skipper sought proper matchups for the two right-handed hitters, but ultimately both were returned to the minors prior to late-season call-ups.
Renteria also experienced the challenge of developing, yet protecting, young arms—all while trying to win games. His rugged bullpen use, especially early on, had the Cubs carrying eight relievers for most of the second half—limiting in-game maneuvers involving position players.
“He’s been everything we hoped for, especially with the priorities we gave him,” Epstein said. “X’s and O’s and in-game stuff, he’s growing into that. It’s kind of nice he can grow with this team.”
Amidst the praise, the first-year big league manager is still hard on himself.
“I’m not one who strays from my own accountability if things don’t work out,” Renteria said. “I’m comfortable in my own skin and hope that translates to our players.”
A longtime scout in another organization agrees the Cubs have found the right manager.
“[He’s] a tremendous baseball man,” the scout said. “He’s always positive and low-key. Yet, one on one, he’ll get his point across and won’t back down when it comes to players hustling or making repeated mistakes. He’s fair, smart and tough.”
And those qualities project well in any language.
—By Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig
Jack Brickhouse, the longtime face and voice of the Chicago Cubs on WGN broadcasts, was eternally and unapologetically an optimist. From 1941-81, including 33 years in the television booth, Brickhouse “Hey-hey’d!” the Cubs’ highs and rallied fans through the many lows. In the doldrums of team history, during a decades-long span when it was exceedingly easy to bail on the downtrodden North Side nine, Brickhouse remained steadfast.
Of course, that might have been by necessity.
“He saw a lot of bad baseball,” said Bob Vorwald, director of production for WGN-TV. “He called over 5,000 games through rose-colored glasses.”
While 5,000 baseball broadcasts may seem like a lot, that only scratched the surface of what Brickhouse accomplished during his career. He also called games for the crosstown White Sox, the NFL’s Chicago Bears and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. On top of that, he covered political conventions, interviewed politicians (including four presidents) and contributed to the evening news. At one point, he even interviewed Pope Paul VI. But through it all, it was his work with the Cubs that made him a broadcasting legend and earned him a well-deserved spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“His was the voice people aligned with the Cubs,” Vorwald said. “He was also a voice of endless enthusiasm and optimism.”
Brickhouse’s fans credit his unflinching positivity and unconditional love for the Cubs with the creation of a devoted and unshakable fan base. His omnipresence in the WGN-TV broadcast booth also aided in the formation of a nationwide patchwork of Cubs boosters as the television era was dawning and WGN was increasing its reach.
“He was as much a part of the team as Ernie Banks and Billy Williams,” said Cubs historian Ed Hartig. “You remember broadcasters. They’re the first ones you learn the game from.”
* * * *
The truly classic tales always seem to include humble beginnings, and Brickhouse’s early years certainly fit the mold.
“He was very proud of [that],” said Jack Rosenberg, Brickhouse’s longtime sports editor and friend. “He was a phenomenal guy who came up the hard way.”
Born in 1916 in Peoria, Illinois, Brickhouse lost his father when he was just a toddler, according to Hartig. His mother remarried, but the family’s financial outlook was bleak. In high school, he played basketball and acted in the senior play while cutting his reporting teeth at the school paper. His college days ended after only one year when the family coffers ran dry, but other promising opportunities emerged.
In 1934, a teenaged Brickhouse got a part-time job at the local WMBD radio station working the switchboard and forming the foundations of his on-air personality. But he never grew up dreaming of making a name for himself on the airwaves. His first foray into radio was actually entering—and losing—an announcing contest. The prize was a $50 watch, which the young man planned to sell for cash to give to his mother, said Jack’s widow, Pat Brickhouse.
While the watch ultimately went to a more seasoned entrant, the station manager heard something in the kid’s voice and hired him anyway. While in Peoria, Brickhouse ran the gamut from news to sports, but he also covered every barn dance and variety show in between. He pushed to expand coverage of Bradley University basketball, and later became the voice of Big Ten football, boxing matches and minor league baseball in the area.
Chicago broadcasting stalwart and longtime White Sox announcer Bob Elson brought the young broadcaster to WGN in 1940 to work Cubs and Sox games, as well as Notre Dame football. Though Brickhouse was already an experienced radio man by this point, the national pastime was still a bit outside his comfort zone.
“If asked, [tell them] you know everything about baseball,” Pat Brickhouse recounted of the wire message alerting her late husband of his new position. “He didn’t know dibbledydook about baseball.”
But, clearly, he managed. Brickhouse jumped around and filled in for the next several years as World War II beckoned Elson away from the booth (childhood tuberculosis kept Brickhouse a civilian). Brickhouse eventually became the lead broadcaster for all Sox and Cubs games. He also covered political conventions, and later briefly worked for baseball’s Giants in New York on WMCA. Brickhouse’s career seemed to be taking off, but Pat Brickhouse said her future husband’s year in New York was the worst of his life. He loved Chicago and was desperate to get home.
In 1947, a new medium beckoned him back to his beloved city. WBKB in Chicago was televising Cubs home games courtesy of local sponsors and needed a personality to anchor its broadcasts. Brickhouse jumped at the opportunity and worked alongside Joe Wilson until the following year when WGN-TV rehired him. The fledgling television arm of the radio giant would be broadcasting all Cubs and White Sox home games, which Brickhouse called in addition to serving as sports service manager.
Along with baseball, Brickhouse worked college and pro football games and some wrestling, which Hartig said irked the broadcaster initially. But he later learned to appreciate the sport’s over-the-top theatrics.
* * * *
WGN-TV, Channel 9 in Chicago, broadcast its first Cubs game, a crosstown affair with the White Sox, on April 16, 1948, from Wrigley Field. The South Siders bested the home team 4-1, and Brickhouse’s legendary 33-year tenure as the station’s televised baseball ambassador was off and running.
“Jack was on his own in that regard,” said Len Kasper, WGN-TV’s Cubs play-by-play announcer. “He was so ingrained here for so many decades.”
The station gained exclusive rights to Cubs games in 1952, with Jack Brickhouse and Harry Creighton taking television-owning Chicagoans out to the ballgame every summer—and it shouldn’t be taken for granted just how novel that experience was. While every baseball game is now broadcast, stations were still scrambling to figure out the medium around the time of Brickhouse’s television debut.
No longer did an announcer need to paint the picture—the picture was already being beamed into living rooms—so the call had to be more deft and data-driven. Broadcasters weren’t groomed for telegenics either. They simply made the jump from radio.
“This was all brand new, the idea of [baseball on] television,” Hartig said of the early broadcasts. “How do you cover this [sport]?”
The first major league game was televised in 1939 from the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ebbets Field, but by the end of the 1940s, most teams were getting on board. Yet no broadcaster had a presence quite like Brickhouse’s, and none was calling as many games, Kasper said. The sheer volume of work he did, the knowledge he gleaned about the American and National leagues, and the time he spent behind the mic were, and continue to be, without equal.
Though Brickhouse became a Chicago institution, his reach extended beyond the city’s borders. He called five All-Star Games as well as four World Series games—all while publishing his Jack Brickhouse’s Major League Record Book and working to get pro golf televised, Hartig said. Brickhouse began 20-plus years as the radio voice of the Chicago Bears in 1953; he became the first announcer for the Chicago Bulls in 1966, a role he held until 1973; he served on the Cubs’ board of directors for 11 years; he interviewed presidents and dignitaries; and he occasionally popped up on the local Chicago news.
But it was at Wrigley Field where he felt most at home, his widow said. While the 40 years of his Cubs tenure witnessed more blight than bliss, Brickhouse saw, and delighted in, several no-hitters and Ernie Banks’ 500th career home run. In the archived broadcast of the latter event, his voice cracks and bellows with unfiltered joy.
“He was a homer,” Hartig said. “No Cub was ever in a slump. They were always overdue.”
The broadcaster called his unprecedented 5,000th game in 1979 and retired from announcing Cubs baseball in 1981. As Pat Brickhouse put it, he wanted to go out at the top of his game.
“Forty years as a broadcaster is never going to be topped,” she said. “People don’t stick around that long.”
Brickhouse didn’t exactly spend his retired years enjoying the quiet life. He wrote two books, made various speaking engagements and played a great deal of gin rummy. In a fitting cap to his esteemed broadcasting career, he was given the Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.
In March 1998, Brickhouse died of cardiac arrest at the age of 82, after surgery to remove a brain tumor. His beloved but beleaguered Cubs finished the 1998 season in second place in the NL Central with a 90-73 record, and went to the postseason as the Wild Card winner. It would have been one of the finest seasons on Brickhouse’s watch.
* * * *
“I think everybody over the age of 40 can do a Jack Brickhouse impression,” said Vorwald, striking a delighted, high-pitched “Wheeeeee!” to demonstrate.
Brickhouse’s signature “Hey-hey!” call following each Cubs run—a phrase now emblazoned on the foul poles at Wrigley Field in the legendary broadcaster’s honor—was typical of the man who unabashedly root, root, rooted for the Cubbies, even when they weren’t winning.
“They were dreadful,” Vorwald reiterated. “He always found a way to never let it show on the air. “The fans’ optimism—that comes from Jack.”
Brickhouse’s cheery, glass-half-full style earned him his detractors, but largely drew more fans into the Cubs fold.
“That’s just how the man was. He was optimistic about life,” Pat Brickhouse said. “And about his beloved Cubs.”
A 1970 letter to the Chicago Tribune sports editor came to Brickhouse’s defense after a column suggested the city’s broadcasters should consider “shutting up.”
“If [the columnist] doesn’t expect the sportscasters to get excited during a hockey or baseball game, then he must not get very excited himself,” wrote the reader, signed P.A. Mueller. “With Lloyd Pettit yelling ‘A shot and a goal,’ and Jack Brickhouse yelling ‘Hey-hey!’ it all adds to the excitement of the game. I think they do a marvelous job of reporting the action.”
Ed Hartig credits Brickhouse with turning the historian—and native South Sider—into a lifelong Cubs fan.
“Every day, Jack Brickhouse was there,” said the 49-year-old Hartig.
Rosenberg, whose tip-tapping typewriter can be heard churning out production notes in the background of his friend’s old broadcasts, said he hears stories like Hartig’s all the time.
“What they remember was that he was like part of the family,” said Rosenberg, who penned Brickhouse’s Hall of Fame speech. “People grew up with us.”
A statue of Brickhouse, which his wife was instrumental in securing, now stands on Chicago’s famous Michigan Avenue. Notes in hand and microphone poised, he appears mid-call—his eyes cast ahead and mouth turned up in a smile.
“‘I hope I never have to go to work for a living,’” Pat Brickhouse recalled her husband saying. “He just loved what he was doing so much.”
People around the game were surprised when the Cubs selected Kyle Schwarber with the fourth-overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. In some scouts’ eyes, he was taken a half-round too soon. However, the catcher/outfielder quickly dispelled the notion he was a reach, playing at three levels and finishing his first professional season with a .344/.428/.634 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line and 18 home runs in 311 plate appearances. In the September issue of Vine Line, we caught up with Schwarber to discuss his whirlwind of a season, his first experiences as a pro, and whether or not he can stick at his original catcher position.
The Cubs agreed with Eugene (Ore.) Friday on a new Player Development Contract to become the organization’s Single-A Northwest League affiliate. Eugene previously was affiliated with the Cubs in 1999-2000. The contract runs through the 2016 season.
“We are looking forward to working with Allan Benavides and the entire Emeralds organization, and are eager to begin working with the local community,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development. “The Eugene ballclub offers a first-class facility at the University of Oregon—one of the most impressive facilities in short-season baseball.”
The Eugene Emeralds have been an affiliate of the San Diego Padres since 2001. The club began play as an independent team in the inaugural Northwest League in 1955, and has since partnered with nine major league organizations in its 60-year history. A three-time Northwest League champion, the Emeralds moved into their current ballpark, PK Park, in 2010.
“The Emeralds could not be happier to announce this new partnership with the Cubs,” said Emeralds General Manager Allan Benavides. “We are excited to introduce a new brand of baseball at PK Park and look forward to a long-lasting relationship as the Cubs Northwest League affiliate.”
Clayton Kershaw is one of the game’s best pitchers. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Despite some inconsistencies and a lot of trade deadline rumors, the best team in the NL on paper has proven to be one of the best on the field as well. The Dodgers have dominant pieces both on offense and on the mound, and they should be well represented when baseball enters its awards season come November. However, the Dodgers clearly have higher goals, and a championship appears to be well within reach. Last year saw Los Angeles within two wins of its first World Series appearance since 1988. Given the dollars the Dodgers have thrown around, anything less is likely to be considered a failure.
(3.7 RA/G, 6TH IN NL)
Led by perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, the Dodgers’ staff is definitely formidable—even after losing a resurgent Josh Beckett to injury. Despite missing a large part of the early season, Clayton Kershaw (Friday’s starting pitcher) is back and a virtual lock for another Cy Young Award. Thursday’s starter Zack Greinke would be the ace of most rotations, but he seems to embrace the shadow cast by Kershaw’s limelight. Add in the consistent Hyun-Jin Ryu, who’s currently nursing shoulder soreness, and waiver wire pick-up and Saturday’s starter Roberto Hernandez, and Los Angeles looks primed to play deep into October.
(4.2 RS/G, 4TH IN NL)
The Dodgers offense boasts an All-Star at almost every spot. Drama tends to follow Yasiel Puig off the field, but he’s well worth the trouble on the field given his unique skill set. But Puig, who has been struggling lately, isn’t alone in helping the Dodgers offense go. Matt Kemp is finally healthy and having an impact with the bat, and Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez—recently off the DL with a shoulder strain—are still dangerous hitters. Once an afterthought, Dee Gordon now has his OBP well above league average. Thanks to his elite speed, he’s a terror to contend with when he gets on base.