In 2016, Chicago sports fans had one big reason to celebrate – and many others to close their eyes.
The Cubs snapped their 108-year World Series championship drought, but the Blackhawks got an early dismissal from the playoffs, the Bulls traded Derrick Rose, the White Sox underachieved and the 3-12 Bears are just dreadful.
WBEZ contributor Cheryl Raye-Stout and Jim Litke of the Associated Press broke down 2016’s biggest sports stories – both in Chicago and nationwide.
On the World Series champion Chicago Cubs
Jim Litke: What impressed the daylights out of me, and why I think it was even easier to watch this thing unfold: The genius of this club is they are built (so that) the longer you play (them) the wider their advantage grows. In other words, when you’re into your third or fourth reserve player, (the Cubs) are into their second, and they’ve got three more guys that can play that position if they need to move them into it at the last minute. That was one of the smartest moves by both (manager Joe) Maddon and (president of baseball operations Theo) Epstein: Come up with a handful of guys - core guys - that could play almost anyplace on the field. That gives you all kinds of options.
Cheryl Raye-Stout: When you see a Jake Arrieta throw another no-hitter, when you see Kris Bryant having three home runs and two doubles in a game - I mean there were all these unbelievable, magical moments. And the way that the coaching staff, from Joe Maddon all the way through, was able to just get the best out of everybody.
On the most over-reported sports story of the year
CRS:The Chicago Bears and their quarterback situation. I don’t care anymore. “Is it Jay Cutler? Is it Brian Hoyer? Is it Matt Barkley? Is it David Fales?” Time and time again. And we know that they don’t have a quarterback for next year. And think about this: If they finish with only three wins … this will be the worst record in a 16-game season for them.
JL: The Adam LaRoche thing made me bat-crazy. That smelled like a mutiny right from the very beginning. You knew that (White Sox pitcher Chris) Sale and (White Sox outfielder) Adam Eaton and a bunch of guys hated (White Sox executive vice president) Kenny Williams … That whole thing made me crazy.
On the biggest surprise in sports this year
CRS: My biggest surprise would have to be the suicide of (former Chicago Bear) Rashaan Salaam. I knew the young man. He won the Heisman Trophy (in 1994), was a first-round pick for the Bears, he had all this in front of him and it never happened … It just was really - it shook me, to be 42 years old and that was it.
JL:Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe dying. When you’re a kid, you don’t think guys like that are ever going to die. They seem like they’re made out of granite or something. Both of them were so integral in me growing up that I just - I was surprised. I knew both of them were ill and I knew it’d been going on for years, and yet the day you sit down to try to write something about them, it felt like emotions pouring out all over again.
On their favorite sports scandal of the year
CRS:Edward Scissorhands Chris Sale, when he cut up the jerseys with a knife. What happened was in spring training he had told the marketing department he does not like the 1970s throwback uniforms because they’re big, they’re blousey, they’re uncomfortable. He thought that that situation was handled, and then he comes into the locker room and what was hanging in his locker? The White Sox 1976 jerseys. He goes into Robin Ventura’s office. They disagree. He comes out with a knife and he rips up all the jerseys.
JL: Yeah I thought it was a Project Runway audition or something. That was my favorite local thing too.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.