Stewart McVicar: Philanthropist and Founder of Club 400

Stewart McVicar at his Club 400

“Like so many Cub fans across the country, media personality and philanthropist Stewart McVicar first became aware of the team through the reach of television superstation WGN. However, the discovery was completely accidental. In a telephone interview, McVicar described the childhood moment that would permanently change the course of his life:

‘Whatever I was into as a kid, I was pretty passionate about it. I was a big Superman fan and loved the cartoon, which was on Channel 9 [WGN-TV] back then. I went to turn on the show one day, but it was a Cubs game instead.’

After recovering from brief disappointment, the founder of the Club 400 venue, charitable foundation and podcast found himself mesmerized by another type of superhero – one with big glasses, a microphone and a booming voice. He said:

‘All of the sudden I hear an old guy say, “There’s a drive down the line…one run is in…two runs are in, and here’s another runner coming around third…Here’s the throw…He is safe!” I wondered, “What is this guy so excited about?” Harry Caray’s passion and love for the game radiated out of the TV, and into my soul.

‘He is still my idol. When his health went downhill, it killed me. Harry loved baseball. He loved to have a good time. He was the life of the party and it changed the Cubs – and me – forever.’

Read the full chapter at Wrigleyville Nation.

Cubs Pay Moral Cost for Tendering Contract to Russell

“Maybe the move shouldn’t have come as a surprise given management’s recent familiarity with dubious character trades, but for a number of Chicago Cub fans (including myself) it did. Last week, and five months before he is eligible to return from a Major League Baseball-mandated suspension for violating its domestic-violence policy, the Cubs tendered a contract to shortstop Addison Russell.

Yes, baseball is a business but the Cubs of this era have built a reputation for being the good, fun-loving guys – zoo days for the players at Wrigley Field, bullpen dances, “Try not to suck,” Anthony Rizzo’s 2017 Roberto Clemente Award, “#EverybodyIn.” The Cubs care about the community, each other, their fans. Not everything is about winning and the budget, right? For many female die-hards, however, as well as members of Wrigleyville Nation who belong to the LGBTQIA community, the team’s self-propelled narrative of moral rectitude is wearing a little thin.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Edwards’ Erratic Performances Point to Huge Post-Season Bullpen Challenges

Carl Edwards Jr.

“Somehow, according to MLB.com, Carl Edwards Jr.’s ERA is a mere 1.80 in his last seven appearances. This, assuredly, does not tell the story of the lanky young right hander’s recent awfulness. I’ve been playing closer attention to the reliever these last two weeks, and he’s a strong example of the sometimes misleading nature of statistics.

It is a running joke at home between my husband Bob and I that Edwards is only bad when I’m looking. My spouse, a rabid Cubs fan and huge proponent of numeric measurement, believes that a career ERA under 3.00 points to looming greatness. However, that confidence has been mightily tested over the last fortnight. Edwards has put 10 extra men on the bases in 15 games. Most egregiously, he has done so with the bags somewhat to almost full, giving the lie to that old Earned Run Average. Most of the runs that have followed from Edwards belong to the dude who came before. He’s been undependable at home vs. the Mets, in Milwaukee, and as of last night’s very disappointing loss, Washington D.C.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Cubs Ready with Hot Bats to Avenge Reds’ June Sweep

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With a day off before the Chicago Cubs welcome the Cincinnati Reds to Wrigley Field for a three-game series, it’s clear our Cubbies are hot in more ways than one. Last weekend’s home series versus the Minnesota Twins saw heat indices inside the park reach nearly 110 degrees Fahrenheit. While the boys in blue suffered little more than Albert Almora Jr.’s swelter-induced leg cramps on June 30, the Twins had three men brought down. Eddie Rosario, Bobby Wilson, and Max Kepler all exited early, receiving intravenous fluids to recover from extreme game conditions.

The standings have been even hotter than the weather. The Cubs have won six games in a row, and seven of their last nine, since being skunked by the same Reds club in a four-game, late June sweep. The team will be looking to avenge the Great American Ballpark massacre at the Friendly Confines, with game one starting at 1:20 PM tomorrow afternoon. There’s good reason to believe the Cubbies will in fact fare better against their last place, National League Central Division rivals this time around. Right now, everything seems to be working – on the mound(ish), at the bat, and in the field.

While sweeping the Twins last weekend was enjoyable, as winning always is, Cubs pitching left much to be desired. The squad allowed a total of 25 runs in the three-game series from June 29 to July 1. In today’s Chicago Tribunereporter Mark Gonzales wrote of the beleaguered staff:

“The need for starting depth is glaring, especially in light of the inconsistencies of Kyle Hendricks, Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana….Any contribution from Yu Darvish should be perceived as a bonus, considering the time he has missed and the time needed to rebound from his triceps strain.”

It was the Cubs’ bats that saved them in the Twins series. Happily, this week’s two-game set with the Detroit Tigers featured better quality starts from Hendricks and Quintana, and good bullpen work from Pedro Strop. Mike Montgomery, who has been a solid rotation filler throughout the team’s mound struggles, will take the field tomorrow to continue making the case that he deserves a regular slot.

While the Cubbies search for starter and bullpen reliability remains a challenge with an improving outlook, there’s no mixed messages at the plate. Simply put, the bats are swinging, and making all kinds of contact. It’s not hard to win six games in a row when the players collaborate for 56 total runs. As of the time of this writing, the Chicago Cubs have eight regular guys hitting .280 or better. In reverse order, they are Tommy La Stella, Kris Bryant (who should be coming off the DL any minute now), Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Javy Baez, Jason Heyward (finally looking worth that huge contract), Ben Zobrist and of course, Albert Almora Jr.

Almora, whom Joe Maddon refuses to start everyday, to the great frustration of many fans, is currently hitting .329. That’s good enough for second place in the National League, a mere two points behind Scooter Gennett. This guy should be making a trip to the All-Star Game. But I digress…

Finally, the Cubs recent defensive game is cause for great optimism as Chicago takes on the Reds at home this weekend. We are gifted with some of the best fielders in baseball. On June 20, Michael Cerami of Bleacher Nation wrote:

“Take the ‘Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF)’ stat, for example. It measures a player’s defensive value relative to league average and adds in a positional adjustment to compare defensive value across multiple positions…9-10 runs of DEF (above or below the league average of ‘0’) is equal to one win. So by that measure, the Cubs are not just the best defensive squad in baseball this season, but they might just owe as many as four wins to their defense.”

The baseball fundamentals are strong as the Cubs approach the mid-season break. As opposed to this same time last year, we look like a team ready for a strong playoff chase. And we stand ready to vindicate June’s humiliation in The Queen City.

After a Winning Holiday Weekend, Is Maddon Finally Ready to #FreeAlmora?

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The Chicago Cubs had a very nice Memorial Day Weekend. After winning two of three at home against the San Francisco Giants, the boys in blue (or rather green, in holiday honor of our military) took a late Sunday night plane ride to Pittsburgh in order to be at PNC Park for today’s 12:35 PM start time. With bullpen stalwart Mike Montgomery called to the mound in place of an ailing Yu Darvish, and the players working on so little rest, anything could have happened. Instead the Cubbies treated their hosts to a 7-0 rout, led by good stuff from Montgomery and a key fourth inning, two-run homer off the bench from Addison Russell.

At the time of this post, the Cubs sit four and a half games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. That’s not ideal but we’ve got two-thirds of a season left to play. Starting ace Jon Lester has been on fire, which bodes well for tomorrow’s second game of three in Steel City. There’s been some trouble with the non-Lester part of the rotation and Anthony Rizzo is still struggling at the bat. But the end of May is no time for panic. Hell, I’m even coming around to Schwarber as a permanent left fielder. If he’s going to smoke Francisco Lindor at second base like that, I may have been hasty in my season-opening judgment (yes, Internet, I can admit it).

However, nestled within my late-March outfield castigation of Kyle Schwarber was another complaint. One that remains as disappointingly active as it was during Week 1 of the 2018 MLB season. That particular column marked my first public use of the #FreeAlmora hash tag. It appears destined not to be the last. On May 23, Danielle Sauers of Locked on Cubs wrote:

“There’s no doubt that Albert Almora Jr. is a fan favorite. If he doesn’t start for more than a few days in a row, the #FreeAlmora hash tag is bound to be out in full force. He’s young, charismatic, and has been flashing serious leather in recent games, so it’s easy to see why the fans love him. But can he continue to contribute at a high enough level to justify regular starts?”

The answer, Ms. Sauers, is in the question. Almora has continuously done more than enough to justify his regular place in the starting lineup. He’s hitting a team-leading .324, a solid 34 points ahead of 2016 MVP Kris Bryant. And compared with Ian Happ’s (forgive me) hapless fielding, my guy Almora regularly robs opposing players of extra base hits. Treat yourself to another viewing of his May 27 leap into the right center field gap at Wrigley, cheating Giants’ third baseman Evan Longoria of at least a double. Even if Almora Jr. wasn’t a terrific hitter (he is), I tend to side with the stereotyped middle-aged male crowd. Defense DOES win championships.

So what gives? Why does Joe Maddon so maddeningly (there I go again) refuse to give the 24 year-old the regular starting lineup love he’s earned? Writer Tony Andracki of NBC Sports Chicago calls it the Ian Happ-Albert Almora Jr. lineup conundrum. And Sauers continues in her piece:

“The Cubs rarely have to ask ‘who’s on first?’ but the question of who will start in the outfield is a hotly debated topic. Some do not agree with Joe Maddon’s regular changes in the lineup… Almora’s marked improvement is hard to ignore.”

Yet ignore it Maddon does. He may find the Almora versus Happ topic a “poor discussion,” but I’m not sure stubbornness becomes the leader of a team barely clinging to second place in the National League Central.

Come on Joe. There’s plenty of baseball left to play in 2018. But it’s hard to imagine the sustained surge needed to take and maintain first place, unless we #FreeAlmora.

Schwarber’s No Good, Very Bad Day in Left Field

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I made my husband Bob giggle yesterday as we went through our morning routines, which in his case, features sports talk radio. After months of MLB season 2018 anticipation, excitement turned to anger as the Cubs opening day lineup was announced. As I’m prone to doing, displeasure was immediately expressed in colorful language. It was of some comfort to learn I wasn’t alone in condemning Manager Joe Maddon’s strategy. Julie DiCaro of the WSCR-AM 670 is behind the creation of my new favorite Twitter hashtag, #FreeAlmora.

The consistently raw deal shown to my man Alberto Almora Jr. is another rant for another time. The 23 year-old outfielder batted a cumulative .298 during the 2017 season and made but one fielding error. And throughout a depressing National League Championship series, Almora was one of only two players who batted above .222. The other, unbelievably, was pitcher Jose Quintana. To those tempted to look at these stats and argue that Almora Jr. didn’t play every day, I say that’s exactly my point. Whose fault is it that a young and exciting player too often rides the bench?

Kyle  Schwarber’s, or more accurately, Joe Maddon, who continues to put the 2016 World Series star on the field – with disastrous results. By any measure, Schwarber had a rough 2017 season. Things were so bad that the Cubs sent the young player to the minor leagues for a stint intended to help him get his act together. The ploy did not work very well. The 24 year-old batted an anemic .211 on the season, and was a constant source of stress in the outfield. Let us pause to briefly reflect on the two errors Schwarbs made during Game 3 of the 2017 NLDS – in the same play. Brutal.

It’s not as though irritated fans like myself don’t have affection for the guy. His personality is immensely likeable. And of course, the one-time Boy Wonder had a lot to do with finally bringing a World Series trophy to Wrigleyville Nation. Schwarber’s comeback from a season-ending knee injuryto help his teammates end the sporting world’s longest losing streak is a story that deserves to be told for generations.

But this isn’t 2016 and Schwarber no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt at Albert Almora Jr’s expense. Especially in the field. Throughout the offseason, Bob and many other diehard Schwarber fans made much of the player’s dramatic weight loss, ostensibly an effort to lighten his feet in left field. On February 22, Bleacher Nation Tweeted out side-by-side photos of Schwarbs’ physique from Spring Training 2017 versus 2018. The difference is indeed striking, and led the writers to observe:

“This is what incredible hard work and discipline looks like. Anyone want to bet on Kyle Schwarber not having a big season? I’ll take that bet.”

Well Bleacher Nation, I hope your offices are near an ATM, because if Day 1 of the MLB season is any indicator, you’re going to need some cash. Yes, yes I know Schwarbs hit a home run. And that’s just swell. When he hits the long ball, it’s an objectively beautiful sight to behold. However Chicago Sun-Times writer Satchel Price hints at the overall loss resulting from a Schwarber cost-benefit analysis:

“[The 2018 season opener] wasn’t always the prettiest game, including two errors by each team and a brief outing from Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester, but the Cubs have to be thrilled to come away with a 1-0 record.”

Who committed the two errors from The Cubs side? Let’s read on…

“Joe Maddon…made a couple changes entering the bottom of the seventh, bringing in relief pitcher Pedro Strop and replacing Kyle Schwarber in left field with the defensively superior Albert Almora. Schwarber finishes his day at the plate 1-of-3 with one walk and one home run.”

It’s worth mentioning that the two errors from left field resulted in two of four total Marlins’ runs. So while it’s great that Schwarber contributed to the offense, his defense more than erased the gift. The Cubs won 8-4 and if Maddon is going to continue to put Schwarber’s stone glove in the outfield, we’re going to need dominant bats and solid pitching all season long.

Let’s not risk it. Given the Chicago Cubs’ exciting offseason personnel moves, we have a real shot at bringing home our second trophy since 1908. We can’t afford outfielders giving away free runs, especially against teams stronger than the Marlins.

#FreeAlmora

The Cubs Care: More Than Great Pitching at Spring Training 2018

“Those lucky enough to get to Mesa, Arizona for Cubs Spring Training action can expect to see lots of A-list talent on the mound. I’m hard pressed to think of a more exciting starting rotation in any Cubs era. Bruce Levine of CBS 2 Chicago wrote last week:

‘The Cubs added the best pitcher available in free agency in right-hander Yu Darvish over the weekend after signing right-hander Tyler Chatwood back in December. They’ll join left-hander Jon Lester, left-hander Jose Quintana and right-hander Kyle Hendricks as starters who could all produce 180 to 200 innings. Beyond them, left-hander Mike Montgomery is a valuable swingman plenty capable of filling in the rotation.’

And Jake Arrieta still hasn’t found a new home. A girl can dream…

Speaking of dreams come true, the Chicago Cubs demonstrated this week that Spring Training 2018 has much game – and heart. The local Fox affiliate in Mesa reported that four children, patients from Advocate’s Children’s Hospital here in Chicago, were treated to a special up close and personal experience.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.