The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Chicago Cubs

         Carrie Muskat, who started covering the Chicago Cubs in 1987, has written The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Chicago Cubs (Triumph Books 2021; $16.95).

         “Really there are more than 50 moments because it was hard to limit them so it’s 50 plus,” Muskat tells me in an early morning phone interview. “I always say I’m bad at math.”

Totally immersed in baseball and the Cubs, Muskat’s latest book has an introduction by Anthony Rizzo, the first baseman for the Chicago Cubs and a three-time All-Star who in 2016 helped the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908. Her other books include Banks to Sandberg to Grace: 5 Decades of Love & Frustration with Chicago Cubs.

Carrie Muskat

Described as “the perfect primer for new Cubs fans and an essential addition to a seasoned fan’s collection,” the book recounts the living history of the team and features such greats as Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Anthony Rizzo, and Ernie Banks among others.

 Muskat, who has conducted numerous interviews with players, at times takes a different approach in her book by not only relying upon her own interactions but also by talking to people who worked behind the scenes about the moments included in  The Big 50. It was a way to gain a new perspective on some of the players such as Sammy Sosa that she knew so well.

“I talked to broadcaster Craig Lynch about Pat Hughes, the radio play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Cubs and got his insights,” she says, as a way of giving an example.

In some ways, the those decades covering the Cubs was like being part of a large family.  In her time writing about Major League Baseball—she started in 1981—Muskat says she’s watched players like Kerry Woods, the two-time All Star former Cubs pitcher who is now retired, grow. The same goes for Anthony Rizzo.

“I’ve enjoyed talking to people’s families, like Anthony’s, just talking about things,” she says. “I covered Shawon Dunston and then his son.”

In her book, Dunston shares his insight on Andre Dawson in Moment 16 of  titled “The Hawk.” Dunston recalls having a locker between Dawson and Ryne Sandberg, who he describes as the quietest guys in the world. “Combined, they didn’t say more than 20 words a day, and I’m not exaggerating.”

At the time, Dunston says he was “talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.” But by being between them, he learned to be quiet and think about the game before the game. “I learned how to be a professional because of Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg.”

These scenes from the book support Muskat’s contention that players are really just people.

“That’s one of the biggest things,” she says. “Even if they’re superstars, they’re just people when you get to know them.”

There have been changes. Reporters used to sit in the dugout but not anymore.

“It’s not as relaxed,” she says. “My favorite time is spring training which is more relaxed.”

Muskat is freelancing now but she still is on the sports beat.

“There’s always a story, every player has one,” she says.

Signed Copies of Derrick Rose’s New Book Available at Anderson’s Bookshops

While supplies last, Anderson’s Bookshop locations have autographed copies of I’ll Show You, by former Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose. A unique gift for any Bulls fan!

I’ll Show You was written by Rose with award-winning sportswriter Sam Smith. From a kid raised in one of Chicago’s roughest neighbors, Derrick Rose showed himself to be capable of ruling the basketball universe! D-Rose’s inspiring story is candid, difficult at times and illuminating.

About the Book:  In 2012, Derrick Rose was on top of the world.

After growing up in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, Rose achieved an improbable childhood dream: being selected first overall in the NBA draft by his hometown Chicago Bulls. The point guard known to his family as “Pooh” was a phenom, winning the Rookie of the Year award and electrifying fans around the world. In 2011, he became the youngest MVP in league history. He and the Bulls believed the city’s first berth in the NBA Finals since the Jordan era was on the horizon. Rarely had a bond between a player and fans been so strong, as the city wrapped its arms around the homegrown hero.

Six years and four knee surgeries later, he was waived by the Utah Jazz, a once surefire Hall of Fame career seemingly on the brink of collapse. Many speculated his days in the NBA were over.

But Derrick Rose never doubted himself, never believed his struggles on and off the court were anything other than temporary setbacks. Rather than telling the world he had more to give, he decided to show them.

I’ll Show You is an honest, intimate conversation with one of the world’s most popular athletes, a star whose on-court brilliance is matched only by his aversion to the spotlight. Written with New York Times bestselling author Sam Smith, Rose opens himself up to fans in a way they’ve never seen before, creating a document that is as unflinching—and at times as uncomfortable—as a personal diary.

Detailing his childhood spent in one of his city’s most dangerous neighborhoods; his relationships with both opponents and teammates; the pain and controversies surrounding his career-altering injuries; his complicated relationship to fame and fortune; and his rise, fall, and reemergence as the player LeBron James says is “still a superhero,” I’ll Show You is one of the most candid and surprising autobiographies of a modern-day superstar ever written.

About the Authors: Derrick Rose currently plays for the Detroit Pistons of the NBA. He played one year of college basketball for the Memphis Tigers before being drafted first overall by his hometown Chicago Bulls in the 2008 NBA draft. After being named the NBA Rookie of the Year, Rose, at age 22, became the youngest player to win the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in 2011.

Sam Smith has been covering the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for more than three decades, as reporter and columnist for the Chicago Tribune for 28 years, and currently for Bulls.com. Recipient of the prestigious Curt Gowdy Media Award from the NBA Hall of Fame, he also received the Professional Basketball Writers Association Lifetime Achievement award in 2011. He is the author of the classic bestselling book The Jordan Rules, for which he had unparalleled access to Michael Jordan and 1991-92 Chicago Bulls. He has written extensively for media outlets around the world, including ESPN.com, ESPN Magazine, NBC Sports, Basketball DigestThe Sporting News, and for major publications in Japan and China.

Anderson’s Bookshops are located at 123 W. Jefferson Ave., in the heart of Naperville (630) 355-2665; 5112 Main St., Downers Grove (630) 963-2665; or 26 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange (708) 582-6353. On visit online at   www.andersonsbookshop.com.

The page-turning book about how Rocky Wirtz turned the Blackhawks into winners

I’ve only been to a few hockey games — always under duress — but that didn’t keep me from reading “The Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Wirtz Family Business and the Chicago Blackhawks,” well into the night.

Typically I don’t expect sports books to be page-turners, but Bryan Smith, a two-time winner and six-time finalist for the National City and Regional Magazine Association’s Writer of the Year award, never intended “The Breakaway” to only chronicle the rise of the Blackhawks from a team that couldn’t even fill one-sixth of the United Center, to a three-time Stanley Cup winner under the leadership of Rocky Wirtz.

“I’m not a sportswriter, never was,” says Smith who chatted on the phone between book events — he was on his third in two days.

“What really attracted me to the story was the almost-Shakespearean family dynamics of three generations. It started with Arthur Wirtz, founder of the family fortune, and then follows his son, Bill,who was famously or I should say notoriously famous for his management of the team and refusal to allow the games to be broadcast on television — to his oldest son, Rocky, who led the team to what Forbes magazine described as ‘the greatest turnaround in sports business history.’”

Arthur Wirtz, the son of a Chicago cop, had the foresight to scoop up real estate during the Depression, buying buildings such as the Bismarck Hotel and the Chicago Stadium (where the Blackhawks, a team founded in the1920s, played) as well as other arenas and halls in Chicago and around the country.

He next had to figure out how to fill his arenas. One of his creative ideas was forming the Hollywood Ice Revue to showcase Sonja Henie, a Norwegian figure skater who won three gold medals in three consecutive Olympic games.

The shows were a success, Smith says, citing as an example one night in 1940 when a Henie performance in New York City raked in $80,000.

Besides real estate and entertainment, Arthur Wirtz moved in to other areas, and currently the privately held Wirtz business portfolio consists of liquor distribution, insurance, banking, real estate, some smaller things and, of course, the Blackhawks.

Why Bill Wirtz, who took over the business after his father’s death, didn’t try to take the Blackhawks to a higher level is difficult to understand, Smith says. Arthur’s first-born son had a pugnacious style in general and in particular even toward his own family, so that Arthur disinvited Rocky and his children from Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and once came to blows with him.

When Rocky took over after Bill’s death, like their father, the rest of the family weren’t interested in seeing the Blackhawks change direction and were instead content to let the team, which was losing $30 million a year, continue on in the same manner.

“The team was hurting other parts of the Wirtz business,” Smith says.

“It was a no-brainer, but in the last years of Bill’s life, it was an issue of stubbornness; he dug in, and it really alienated the fans. It was like he was sticking a fork in their eyes. It’s amazing that (Rocky) was able to turn it around and even more so, when you remember that it was 2007 when Rocky took over the team; at the time, the whole nation’s economy was cratering.”

Smith says that Rocky doesn’t take the credit for the team’s success.

“He credits John McDonough,” says Smith about the Blackhawk’s president and CEO, who Wirtz hired away from his position as president of the Chicago Cubs in 2007.

Family feuds and dysfunction can run deep, and Rocky Wirtz is estranged from many family members, even though the Blackhawks are now revered by fans and not draining funds from other family businesses. Wirtz, it seems, lost his family while trying to save them.

If you go

What: Reading and book signing with Bryan Smith

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 14

Where: The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave Chicago

Cost: Free

FYI: (773) 293-2665; bookcellarinc.com

The Joe Maddon Story: “Try Not to Suck”

In a Zen-like move that baffled many in the sports world, Joe Maddon, then the new manager of the Chicago Cubs, enacted a “less is more” philosophy by almost completely eliminating  batting practice. What went against a long time baseball tradition as well as causing intense angst among the Cub fans and head scratching from pundits, now is credited with being one of factors helping the wonderful losers win their first World Series in 108 years.

“For over a century of baseball, the belief was if you’re struggling then the answer was to work harder,” says Jesse Rogers, who with Bill Chastain, authored Try Not to Suck: The Exceptional, Extraordinary Baseball Life of Joe Maddon (Triumph Books, March 2018) with a foreword by Ben Zobrist.

Maddon’s beginnings in baseball weren’t promising. A Minor League catcher for Los Angeles, after four seasons, with only 180 times at bat and three home runs, he hadn’t advanced further than Class A. Obviously it was time for a change and so he segued into management, working in a variety of positions for the Angels including minor league manager, scout and roving minor league hitting instructor, bench coach and interim manager.

“His 31 years in Anaheim were an apprenticeship,” says Rogers, a television, internet and radio reporter for ESPN since 2009 who was  an insider covering the Cubs in 2016 (Chastain, who covers the Tampa Bay Rays for MLB.com and knew Maddon from his days there). “He saw a lot of things there that he thought should be done differently, but he couldn’t challenge it. But he was able to take what he learned to Tampa Bay where he could put some of that in place. He very much believes in less. If you’re struggling, don’t work more instead cut back. ”

One of the positives from that strategy is players retain more energy as the long season progresses—an advantage over other teams who hew to conventional wisdom.

“Joe’s surprised that more people aren’t doing this after seeing how successful he’s been,” says Rogers.

But though he upended some traditions, Maddon has his superstitions just like most of those in the business.

When rain called a temporary halt during Game 7 of the Series  with Chicago and Cleveland tied at 7-7, Maddon headed to his office and, spotting his bag, recalled thinking “it was time for my dad.” Grabbing his dad’s hat which he kept in the bag, he stuffed it down the back of his pants.

“I said to myself ‘Let’s go’,” he is quoted saying in the book. “I took him back there with me and during the course of the next inning I kept touching it back there.”

The title of Chastain and Rogers’s book s from one of Maddon’s oft-quoted maxims. Others include “don’t let the pressure exceed the pressure” or “do simple better.”

“Probably my favorite one in general is ‘Embrace the target,’” says Rogers. “Joe says he’s really a big believer of running towards the fire as opposed to running away. I think that’s a good lesson for all of us.”

 

 

 

 

 

If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Blackhawks: Stories from the Chicago Blackhawks Ice, Locker Room, and Press Box

Walls Blackhawks COVER (1)“It was like chronicling the Dark Ages of hockey,” says Mark Lazerus, a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks since the early 2000s when the only way players could get people to attend games was to hand out free tickets at bus stations among other places.

“Back then, with 23 on the team, 20 would be out getting drunk the night before a game,” recalls Lazerus, a sportswriter who lives in Highland, Indiana. “I knew they were young and crazy but that was really something.”

Growing up on Long Island, New York, Lazerus has long been a serious hockey aficionado, rooting for the Long Island Islanders since he was young. A graduate of Northwestern University, he continued his passion for hockey by avidly following the Blackhawks. But even such a seasoned and dedicated fan was amazed by the big change in the team and their fortunes.

“The players are all very different now,” says Lazerus, author of If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Blackhawks: Stories from the Chicago Blackhawks Ice, Locker Room, and Press Box (Triumph Books 2017; $16.95). “I was surprised by the complete turnaround. These guys are now finely tuned machines.”

Going behind the scenes including on the team plane, players’ homes and, of course, in lots of bars, Lazerus interviewed present and former team members collecting stories which he shares in his book. These include reminiscences of how Blackhawk players celebrated after winning their first Stanley Cup victory in almost a half century, dialogues with such greats as Adam Burish, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews and stories on sharing the bench with Head Coach Joel Quenneville. The book’s forward is written by Hockey Hall of Famer Denis Savard who played for the Blackhawks.

“It was fun watching the city fall in love with the Blackhawks,” says Lazerus. “And for me, writing the book was great. It let me talk to people about hockey and that’s all hockey fans like me want to talk about.”

 

If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Bears: Stories from the Chicago Bears Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box

How hard was it to transition from football super-stardom to everyday life? I ask Otis Wilson, #55 of the Super Bowl XX
winning Chicago Bears and front row performer in the famed Super Bowl Shuffle which even now trends high on You Tube with 21,238 views in the last three months alone.

“You have to have a goal, a plan,” says Wilson who seems to have accomplished many goals since the Bears won in 1985 including a film career and his founding of the Otis Wilson Charitable Foundation which focuses on health, education, fitness and after school programs for children in disadvantaged neighborhoods, similar to the one where he was raised. Now Wilson can add author to his list of post-football career achievements with the recent release of If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Bears: Stories from the Chicago Bears Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box (Triumph Books 2017; $16.95).

Co-authored with Chet Coppock, an Emmy Award winning sportscaster who was inducted into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame, Wilson, a natural born storyteller, is both philosophical and humorous in telling stories about his former teammates including those they called the Marquee Players such as Walter Payton and Jim McMahon.

Wilson, an outside linebacker was known as one of the most feared pass-rusher on the grid-iron but his demeanor off the field is genial and full of the homilies that helped shape him.

“My grandmother and mother told me to treat people as you’d want to be treated,” says Wilson. “If you give people respect, they’ll respect you.”

Another driving force for Wilson is to set a good example for his own children. But none of this means that Wilson can’t tell a good story including insight into the stars of the 1980s team, his upbringing and his insight into the changes of professional football since he played. He also likes to share his interactions with Mike Ditka, Buddy Ryan, Mike Singletary and William “Refrigerator” Perry.

The book, written as a conversation between Coppock and Wilson, has an authentic voice. Crediting his mother who worked and raised six kids and a grandmother who was an entrepreneur and owned her own record store, with helping him achieve his success by teaching common sense and an appreciation for hard work and discipline.

Though initially Wilson says he blew a lot of money on expensive cars, big homes and $800 pairs of shoes, he now has learned simplicity (though there’s still that addiction to $3000 suits). He doesn’t need a two-million-dollar house, he’s happy living on the South Side of Chicago where he’s near his foundation where he spends five days a week or more.

“We’ve reached over 10,000 kids,” he says. “That’s success.”

Ifyougo:

What: Meet former Bears player Otis Wilson. Otis will sign autographs and pose for pictures.

When: October 12, 6-8PM

Where: Binny’s Beverage Depot, 3437 W. 95th, Evergreen Park, Il

Cost: Free

FYI: 708-237-7660; evergreenpark@binnys.com

Sportscaster pens book about the winning Cubs ‘plan’

With his team unable to win a World Series in over a century, the new owner and president of the Chicago Cubs came up with a radical way of transforming the most lovable losers into a powerhouse of a team.

His audacious plan was to tear down and rebuild the team. Many in the sports industry as well as avid fans were skeptical, but not Chicago sportscaster David Kaplan, a true believer from the very start.

In his recently released book, “The Plan: Epstein, Maddon, and the Audacious Blueprint for a Cubs Dynasty” (Triumph 2017; $24.95), Kaplan shows how the Cubbies went from perennial losers to the ultimate champs.

“I have been doing pre- and post-games since 1996 and I saw the real problems with the infrastructure of the Cub,” says Kaplan, a three-time Emmy winner, current host of “Kap and Co.” on ESPN Radio 1000 and co-host of “Sports Talk Live” and the Chicago Cubs pre- and post-game shows on Comcast SportsNet.

The plan began when the Ricketts family bought the Cubs and then were willing to spend the megabucks it would take to build the team into what at the time seemed unachievable — winners of the World Series.

The first step was hiring Theo Epstein, credited with turning around the Red Sox when he was their general manager, as the new Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations. Along with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, the two added new players such as Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, creating a powerhouse team.

But it wasn’t without pain — a whole lot of pain.

“They needed to do it,” Kaplan says. “It would have been like taking a really nasty house and just doing cosmetic changes instead of taking it down to the studs. It was a rare thing to have an owner like Tom Ricketts who bought into what the two wanted to do.”

Kaplan, who played football and baseball in college and then worked for years as a basketball coach and then scout f

or the NBA, says he grew up going to Cubs games with his father.

 

“I grew up a Cubs fan, I am a Cubs fan, and I’ll die a Cubs fan,” says Kaplan, who believes that unlike most teams, Cubs’ love is intergenerational.

When Kaplan got a call from his agent saying a publisher wanted him to write a book on the 2016 Cubs, he turned down the offer.

“My agent said, ‘You’ve got to do this; you have the access,’ ” recalls Kaplan, who didn’t want to write a typical fan book. “So I said, ‘Get the publisher on the phone.’ ”

But the publisher wasn’t sure about Kaplan writing a book about “The Plan.”

“He said no one will want to read about ‘The Plan,’ if the it doesn’t work,” Kaplan says.

But Kaplan saw similarities with other teams who had turned around and won a championship and so convinced the publisher they should go for it.

Did Kaplan, while writing the book and watching the 2016 series unfold, ever have doubts? Not for a moment, he says.

The day after the final game, Kaplan went out to the cemetery to tell his father the Cubs had finally won the World Series — a happening he says was an end to “108 years of insanity.” While standing at his father’s grave he noticed something amazing.

“There had to be 300 graves with “W” flags or Cubs pennants on them,” he says. Driving back to work he spotted other cemeteries as well filled with homages to the team’s victory.

“It was unbelievable,” he says.

But then, in ways, so was the Cubs finally winning the World Series.

If you go

What: Reading and book-signing with David Kaplan

When: 7 p.m. July 12

Where: The Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave., Chicago

Cost: Free

FYI: 773-293-2665

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