Bruce writes the daily stories you see in the Daily Herald about Cubs baseball. He's shared some thoughts with me about himself, about writing, about the team, and yes, about the guy who used to play right field for us.
Q. Where are you originally from, where did you go to school, how did you get into the sports reporting business... and what team(s) did you grow up rooting for?
I am a lifelong Chicago or Chicago-area resident. I lived on the South Side until I was 12. Then my family moved to the northwest suburbs. I loved sports from the time I was a young kid - I got to meet Ernie Banks in the dugout when I was 5 in 1962. Couple my love of sports with a love of reading and writing, and that's how I got interested in the news business. I attended Loyola University in Chicago and graduated in 1979. I was a stringer for the Suburban Trib from 1979-81 and hooked on as a stringer for the Daily Herald in '81, covering high schools. I moved up to college sports, got a full-time job on the sports desk and eventually moved into writing full time. I started traveling with the Cubs in 1998.
I grew up as one of those rare birds who followed the Cubs and Sox in the summer. I was able to listen to Jack Brickhouse do both of the teams' games in the 1960s. I followed the Bears in the fall and the Blackhawks in the winter, listening to the legendary Lloyd Pettit. I've always been a casual basketball fan. Baseball and hockey are the sports I like best.
Q: People say that the Cubs lost too much offense lost when Alou and Sosa were let go. Is this true, in your opinion, and how is the team going to retool?
Yes, the Cubs lost plenty of offense, but I don't think it's anything from which they can't recover. Remember, Nomar is a superstar player when healthy. Aramis Ramirez is just coming into his own. Derrek Lee is very consistent. The key will be for Corey Patterson and Todd Walker to have good on-base percentages at the top of the order. If that happens, I don't think you'll notice too big a drop-off.
Q: Do you think Mark Prior will finally have that break-out season that everyone is waiting for and win the NL Cy Young? Or is Carlos Zambrano this pitcher?
If he's healthy, there's no reason Prior can't have that breakthrough season. I don't think it's a question of Prior OR Zambrano. I think Prior AND Zambrano can break through and be dominant. To me, Zambrano has the best pure stuff on the staff.
Q: What do you think of Dusty Baker as a manager? There's been a lot of talk about him abusing pitching staffs that have led to the injuries. Do you think that's the case, especially considering what happened to Kerry Wood yesterday?
I don't believe Wood's injury in spring training this year or the triceps strain last year necessarily are the results of how he was used by Baker. On balance, I believe Dusty is a good manager. That said, I do think he needs to pay closer attention to pitch counts, something I believe he started doing last year. I'd like to see him value OBP and walks more than he does.
Q: What is your perception of Cub fans as compared to fans of other teams?
Cubs fans take a lot of heat for being cell-phone using socialites. That may be true of some casual fans, but the true fans are as knowledgeable as any in the game. I know. I get e-mails from them all the time. The best atmosphere on the road is Busch Stadium, whether you like the Cardinals or not. Their fans are knowledgeable and appreciative of good baseball by both teams. New York fans are very tough. Philly fans are tough, and they sometimes border on the unfair and the cruel. But they do know their sports.
Q: Who's your favorite current Cub player to interview? Who are some of your favorites from other teams, and also past Cubs?
I enjoy Todd Walker quite a bit. He's bluntly honest. Mark Prior is highly intelligent and a good guy. Kerry Wood also is a class act. Michael Barrett is extremely friendly. I've covered Corey Patterson since they drafted him, and I think he's a special young man. He's the kind of kid you pull for because he's a good person. Nomar has been very cooperative. I think he really enjoys the change of scenery. I'm also glad to see Joe Borowski doing well. He's back to being his old, friendly self. His story is one of the best in baseball.
Some of my favorites from years past include Rondell White, maybe the nicest guy around. He'd always stop and say hello first, not something a lot of athletes do. Rod Beck was terrific. If he blew a save, he was always there. Mark Grace knew all the reporters' names. My dealings with him were great. Terry Mulholland is one of the classiest guys in the game. I enjoyed Eric Young. I stopped by the Brewers locker room a year or so ago to talk with Brooks Kieschnick, and EY came over just to say hello and shoot the breeze. Kevin Tapani had one of the sharpest wits around. Jose Hernandez always made time to talk. He was a pretty valuable guy in 1998. I'm sure I left out some good guys. Overall, my dealings with the players over the years have been very, very good.
Q: What's your feeling about the Cubs this year? Is this the year? Where will they finish, and why?
Health is always the big X factor. If the Cubs' health holds up, I see them winning their division. If that happens, there's no reason they can't go far because of their pitching. But they'll need a big year from the bullpen.
Q: Finally -- are you sick and tired of writing about Sammy Sosa? After all, he's an Oriole now. Will the Sosa story die down?
Yes, I'm very tired of writing about Sammy. I think it's already started to die down. It's only natural the story was going to have "legs" for the first few days of spring training. After all, the guy did a lot for the Cubs, and his bad behavior came on the last day of the season, which means the story had all winter to "ferment." The focus now is on this year - until Sammy comes to town with the Orioles.