January 2010

1/6/10 Cubs or Expos?

The Hall of Fame will meet with Andre Dawson to discuss the issue of which cap he will wear in Cooperstown. Dawson played 11 seasons with the Expos, six with the Cubs. The HOF decides, with the player’s input. When asked on Wednesday, Dawson said he was going to enjoy the moment and settle the issue of the cap later.

I covered Dawson in 1987 when he arrived in Chicago. He had his best days with the Cubs. During an interview before Christmas with me, Dawson was asked which cap he’d prefer to wear into Cooperstown.

“I think you know the answer to that,” he said, chuckling. “And for a lot of obvious and personal reasons.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/6/10 Dawson to attend Cubs Convention

New Hall of Famer Andre Dawson will attend the 25th Cubs Convention next week at the Hilton Chicago. Dawson, elected to Cooperstown today, is the 46th former member of the Cubs organization to earn baseball’s highest honor.

“The Chicago Cubs congratulate Andre Dawson on his long-deserved election to Baseball’s Hall of Fame,” said Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts.  “‘The Hawk registered six outstanding seasons on the North Side, none finer than his 1987 MVP season when he paced the league with 49 home runs and 137 RBI. 

“An eight-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner, Andre created countless memories for our fans and, along with fellow Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, helped bring playoff baseball to Chicago in 1989.  We look forward to celebrating Andre’s election with him and our fans when he attends next week’s Cubs Convention.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/6/10 Congrats to the Hawk

Go ahead, Cubs fans, and bow for Andre Dawson just as you did when he patrolled right at Wrigley Field. He’s finally in the Hall of Fame.

Dawson made it on his ninth try, receiving 77.9 percent of the vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Last year, he missed the cut with 67 percent. The slender outfielder with the rifle arm known as “The Hawk” will be inducted July 25 in Cooperstown along with manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey.

Dawson was the only player selected by the BBWAA.

Mel Didier, who was the Expos scouting director and originally drafted Dawson, was giddy.

“This is one of the greatest moments of my life because he’s one of the best persons to ever walk,” Didier said Wednesday. “And the work he put in to be great — oh man!”

Dawson won eight Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger Awards in a career spanning 21 seasons with the Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins. He won both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player, finished second in the MVP race two other times, was a seven-time All-Star starter, won eight Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers. He finished with 438 home runs and 314 steals. Barry Bonds and Willie Mays are the only other players in the 400-300 club.

He totaled more hits than Ted Williams, more RBIs than Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey.
Of the 18 players eligible for the Hall of Fame who have 1,500 RBIs and 400 homers, all are in Cooperstown except Dawson.

A .279 career hitter with 438 home runs, 1,591 runs batted in and 314 stolen bases, Dawson was the Rookie of the Year with the Expos in 1977 and the MVP in 1987 with the Cubs. The eight-time All-Star underwent 12 knee surgeries during his career but ended up with more than 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases, a feat achieved by only two other players in history, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds.

What cap will Dawson wear? When I talked to him before Christmas, and asked Dawson that question, he laughed, and said, “You know which one.” I’d bet it’s a Cubs cap.

— Carrie Muskat

1/6/10 Cubs Caravan update

Lou Piniella, new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, pitchers Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny and Jeff Samardzija will take part in the two-day Cubs Caravan next week.

The caravan consists of two tours of Cubs players, coaches and front office staff who will visit seven cities, six elementary schools, two Boys and Girls Clubs, Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a charity luncheon benefitting Chicago Cubs Charities. The tour also will include stops at the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Ill., the USO of Illinois, and the Class A Peoria Chiefs’ charity fan fest.

On Jan. 13, Piniella and Jaramillo will join Cubs TV broadcaster Bob Brenly, player development director Oneri Fleita, bench coach Alan Trammell, plus players Koyie Hill, Micah Hoffpauir, Andres Blanco, James Adduci, Welington Castillo, Brett Jackson, Elio Benitez and Hector Fabregas for a visit at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

After a charity luncheon at Harry Caray’s restaurant in Chicago, all but Piniella and Brenly will then stop at De Duprey/Von Humboldt Schools in Chicago and the Elgin Boys & Girls Club.

The second group on Jan. 13 will include assistant general manager Randy Bush, pitching coach Larry Rothschild, third base coach Mike Quade, bullpen coach Lester Strode, Samardzija, Wells, Justin Berg, Esmailin Caridad, Andrew Cashner and TV broadcaster Len Kasper.

They will stop at Alexander Hamilton Elementary School in Chicago; the Uplift Community High School in Chicago; Harry Caray’s for the charity luncheon; Crispus Attucks Elementary School in chicago, and the Northwest Indiana Boys & Girls Club in Gary, Ind.

On Jan. 14, the first group will include Bush, Fleita, Jaramillo, Quade, Strode, Hill, Hoffpauir, Wells, Berg, Blanco, Adduci, Cashner and television broadcaster Dave Otto. They will travel downstate to the Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield and attend the Peoria fan fest. Tickets for the Chiefs’ event may be purchased in advance at O’Brien Field or various outlets in the Peoria area.

The second group on the second day of the caravan will include Piniella for the morning session, plus Rothschild, Trammell, Ryan Dempster, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Gray, Caridad, Castillo, Jackson and WGN Radio broadcaster Pat Hughes. They will visit James Blaine Elementary School in Chicago; Hawthorne Scholastic Academy in Chicago; Waukegan (Ill.) School District; and and a private event for the USO at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

— Carrie Muskat

1/6/10 Mesa update

The city of Mesa was expected to decide whether to spend $684,000 to build covered batting cages at the Cubs’ Fitch Park facility by the end of the week.

City manager Chris Brady told the Arizona Republic a decision should be made by Thursday at the latest and that if approved, the work could still be done in time for 2010 Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report to Mesa on Feb. 18.

The city is still waiting to hear if the Cubs will keep their Spring Training headquarters in Mesa or move to Naples, Fla. Brady met with Cubs officials on Dec. 18 in Chicago and came away from the meeting optimistic that the team would remain in Arizona. Officials connected with the Naples proposal still plan on having a rally sometime this month in Collier County.

The Cubs were expected to make a decision this month.

— Carrie Muskat

1/5 Batting around with Jeff Baker

MLB.com: When you were growing up, was there a player you idolized?

BAKER: My family’s from Ohio, and I would watch Barry Larkin. I loved watching him. Chris Ianetta went to the [World Baseball Classic], and I said, ‘Dude, see if you can get a ball signed by Larkin.’ He was really really cool. I was a shortstop growing up in college. My game is not comparable to his — he’s a different type of player. I just always followed him and followed the Reds.

MLB.com: If you could trade places with someone in baseball, who would it be?

BAKER: Joe DiMaggio — I’d love to see what it would be like during his hitting streak. Going to the yard every day, knowing you’re going to get a hit — I think that would be unbelievable. You’re looking at one-third of the season, you’re getting a hit every game.

MLB.com: This offseason, when do you start your workouts?

BAKER: I always go home and take about a week off and don’t do a whole lot. About four, five days into that week, I’ll get in touch with the strength coach and make up some goals for what I want to accomplish, what I want to work on, whether it’s working on strength, flexibility, whatever it is. During that week off, I prepare for what I want to do in the offseason. When Jan. 1 rolls around, then you start fine-tuning the baseball stuff up and basically you roll.

I normally start hitting about the middle of December. I’ll do tee work then. I work out with a lot of guys at George Mason University. I like helping those guys out. They’re good guys. I always try to get in the fieldhouse and work out with them. It’s great having a workout partner every day. It’s good being around those guys in December, which is when you start to miss it, miss the camaraderie of the team and being around the team.

MLB.com: You’ve traveled quite a bit because of your family. Any favorites?

BAKER: The coolest place I remember was the UAE [United Arab Emirates]. Being in the Middle East is pretty neat. My father was an ambassador over there and we had a whole villa and we could play catch on the second level. It was ridiculously huge. It’s one of those things I’ll never forget. That was probably the coolest place I remember. I was in second, third grade then. There was no baseball. The fathers started a T-ball league there. We were excited about that because all we saw was soccer.

I have a pretty decorated [passport]. I’ve never been to Europe — of all the places we’ve been, I’ve never been there. I’d love to go to Rome and see all the history there. I’ve been in Amsterdam for baseball stuff, but never as a sightseer.

MLB.com: Is there a comfort food you crave?

BAKER: I don’t know if I have a “go to.” My mom makes great chicken cordon bleu, and I”m a fan of that. Anything grilled, to be honest. If it’s on a grill, it’s great.

— Carrie Muskat 

1/4 Cotts to Pirates; Sheets to Cubs?

The Pirates agreed to terms Monday on a Minor League contract with Neal Cotts, who is coming off Tommy John surgery in July. Cotts appeared in 19 games with the Cubs in 2009, his third season with the team. He never did match his 2005 numbers when he posted a 1.94 ERA in 69 games with the White Sox. The left-hander was the only arbitration eligible player who was non-tendered by the Cubs.

Cotts blew a save May 25 against the Pirates, and was sent down to Triple-A Iowa after that. He appeared in 12 games and had a 2.84 ERA before he was sidelined. Cotts moved his family to Arizona so he could focus on his rehab.

“I enjoy it over here and I’ve enjoyed the organization,” Cotts told me in an interview in October in Mesa, Ariz. “I know in terms of performance and in terms of staying up there, it hasn’t been as planned for by either side. I’d like to be up there to help the team.”

Now, he’ll be trying to make the roster of one of the Cubs’ division rivals.

* Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports predicts the Cubs will sign free agent Ben Sheets, who missed all of last season recovering from elbow surgery. Rosenthal says teams may need to see Sheets throw before deciding whether to make an investment in the right-hander. He was 13-9 in 31 starts in 2008 with the Brewers.

— Carrie Muskat

1/1/10 Happy new lineup

Now that Marlon Byrd is in the mix, let’s see what the Cubs’ projected 2010 lineup will be. What do you think? I’ve seen this combo:

RF Fukudome

SS Theriot

1B Lee

3B Ramirez

CF Byrd

LF Soriano

C Soto

2B Fontenot

— Carrie Muskat