Cheryl Raye-Stout has been covering Chicago sports for 32 years, so she’s seen a few things.
She broke the story of Michael Jordan’s return to basketball in 1995. She was also once kicked out of the Bears locker room (but then-quarterback Jim Harbaugh got her back in, she says).
“I was one of the first women to go in the locker rooms in Chicago,” Raye-Stout said. “I don’t know if that’s a badge of honor or dishonor.”
Naturally, we asked Raye-Stout for her analysis on the biggest Chicago sports stories of 2018. Here’s what she said.
Confident Cubs ‘ran out of gas’
Did you forget the Cubs finished the 2018 season tied for the best record in the National League? So did many fans still languishing over their quick exit in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for Chicago, the Milwaukee Brewers went on a tear to end the regular season, winning nine of their final 10 games to tie the division in the season’s final weekend. The Brewers then defeated the Cubs at Wrigley Field in a playoff-like game 163, and the Cubs then lost the Wild Card Game — their sole playoff game of the year — to the Colorado Rockies.
So what went wrong?
“Here’s a key that happened at the end of the year that people may not remember,” Raye-Stout said. “They had 30 scheduled games consecutively. Now some of them they didn’t play because of rainouts, but they had to be at the ballpark. So they were at the ballpark 30 straight days right at the end of the season. And so you could probably say they ran out of gas.”
Raye-Stout also cited critical injuries to pitchers Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow, and third baseman Kris Bryant — as well as lackluster play from free agent acquisition Tyler Chatwood — for the Cubs’ unsatisfying season.
“And when you lose two-fifths of your starting rotation, it was kind of a symptom of what was wrong with the team.”
‘Rebuilding’ White Sox lose 100 games
The White Sox haven’t lost this many games since Richard Nixon was in office (administrations of long-dead presidents serve as great baseball time delineators). The Sox finished the season at 62-100 and fourth (but not last!) in the A.L. Central.
Raye-Stout said there were a couple interesting stories — albeit scary ones — from this rough season worth remembering.
On a Friday night in April, White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar collapsed in the dugout after a brain aneurysm.
“That was scary,” Raye-Stout said, “and it was really something to watch how quickly the Sox reacted and got him to the hospital.”
“Fast forward to June, and we got to watch Danny Farquhar and his wife and children throw out a first pitch before a game. That was a huge relief to see him out there.”
The other big story?: When the White Sox brought up pitcher Michael Kopech from the minor leagues.
“I’m telling you, at the ballpark it was just electric,” Raye-Stout said of Kopech’s major league debut in August. “I’m not kidding you.”
Kopech underwent Tommy John surgery in September and will miss the 2019 season.
Blackhawks’ arrow ‘is trending downward’
Last season, the Blackhawks missed the NHL playoffs for the first time in 10 years.
This season, they’re near the bottom of the league standings again, and a rebound seems unlikely.
“It’s kind of sad after 10 really glorious years,” Raye-Stout said.
The two biggest stories for this team were repeat concussions for goalie Corey Crawford — the latest of which occurred earlier this month and has sidelined him indefinitely — and the unexpected firing of head coach Joel Quenneville in November.
“Joel Quenneville is the reason why they won three Stanley Cups. He is the second-winningest head coach in the history of the NHL,” Raye-Stout said. “[It’s] very wacky.”
For the Bulls, it’s feast or famine (and mostly famine)
Last year the Bulls finished 27-55. This year, they’ve won only 10 games nearly halfway into the season.
Raye-Stout said injuries have hobbled what could’ve been a promising mid-tier team.
“A lot of experts felt that they could’ve won one of the last playoff spots. They were in a good position for that, but when you have these injuries so early, the problem is you don’t get off to a good footing,” Raye-Stout said, referencing injuries to Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, and Bobby Portis.
Like the Blackhawks, the Bulls also fired their head coach this season after just a few games — most of them losses — replacing Fred Hoiberg with associate head coach Jim Boylen.
How did that change go?
“In his first week, Jim Boylen and the Bulls got a big win against Oklahoma City,” Raye-Stout said, “and then the next night, they had their worst loss in team history, a 56-point deficit to Boston.”
“Look to them possibly getting another lottery pick,” she added. (Lottery picks go to the 14 worst teams in the league.)
“Not possibly. More than probably. I could go to Las Vegas and bet on that and I’d be OK.”
The Bears are the most exciting team in town
Finally some good news!
The Bears ended their eight season playoff drought this month when they defeated the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. It’s one of the few redeeming storylines in Chicago sports this year, and it marks quite a turnaround.
“Think about it: Jan. 1, 2018 was when [head coach] John Fox was fired after the Bears won only five games,” Raye-Stout said.
“Fast forward to now, the Bears have won the NFC North division with a new head coach in Matt Nagy, with some new players, and they are now the most exciting team in Chicago sports. Period.”
Yep. @52Mack_ just sacked Aaron Rodgers… with his BACK 😯— NFL (@NFL) December 16, 2018
📺: FOX #DaBears pic.twitter.com/Ei9h9pHxnN
Raye-Stout attributes this season’s success to smart hiring moves in the coaching department and the signing of a few weapons, including MVP-caliber linebacker Khalil Mack who, until Sunday, had more sacks than his former team did collectively.
But can this team make the Super Bowl?
“They have an opportunity because of their defense,” Raye-Stout said. If quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can manage his playoff games, “with this defense, it’s a possibility.”
Loyola Basketball (and Sister Jean) captured national attention
“To me that was the feel-good story of the year,” Raye-Stout said of the men’s basketball team from Loyola University on Chicago’s North Side.
The Ramblers were the cinderella story of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Ranked an 11 seed, they beat sixth-seeded Miami, third-seeded Tennessee, seventh-seeded Nevada, and ninth-seeded Kansas State before losing to third-seeded Michigan in the Final Four.
“It was a great run, but the star was Sister Jean,” Raye-Stout said, in reference to Jean Dolores Schmidt, the team’s chaplain, who turns 100 in August. “She was on every morning show across the nation. A bobblehead was made for her. It kind of took the heat off the team.”
But the deep March Madness run also reinvigorated college basketball in the city of Chicago, which hadn’t seen a men’s team reach the Final Four since DePaul did in 1979.
“It was really fun to see the campus of Loyola capture the moment of what college basketball is all about,” she said.