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BCB After Dark: Crosstown traffic

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if you think José Abreu will be a North Sider in 2023.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s another cool Wednesday night here at BCB After Dark: the after-season after-party for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Please come on in out of the cold. We can check your coat for you. Come on in and relax for a spell. There are still a few tables available. No cover charge. Bring your own beverage.

BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.

The Mesa Solar Sox got walloped by the Glendale Desert Dogs today, 10-4. Glendale clinched a spot in the semifinal play-in game on Friday with the win. On Thursday afternoon, the Solar Sox will play the Peoria Javelinas in what is essentially a playoff game. The winner takes on Glendale in the play-in semifinal. The loser’s season is over.

Last night, I asked you if you thought my offer of 2 years and $24 million with an option was a good offer for the Cubs for left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly. Fifty percent of you felt that was a fair offer that both sides should accept. Another 11 percent thought that the Cubs would have to offer more to get the job done and the exact same 11 percent thought that offer was too generous. Finally, 29 percent of you think the Cubs should just let Smyly walk.

Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Sometimes I feel like I give the impression that jazz is the music of the elderly. It is true that jazz musicians tend to have much longer careers than pop musicians. Wayne Shorter released his first album in 1959 and he’s still making great music today, for example.

However, 22-year-old Samara Joy is the hottest vocalist in jazz these days. She just released her first album, Linger Awhile, last month and it’s getting a lot of airplay. She even sang on the Today Show last month.

Here she is signing “Can’t Get Out of This Mood” in the studio. Ben Paterson is on piano, David Wong on bass and Kenny Washington on drums.

Call Northside 777 is a 1948 drama about a newspaperman for the Chicago Times who leads a crusade to free a man unjustly convicted of murdering a policeman 11 years earlier. It’s based on the true story of Joseph Majczek and was directed by Henry Hathaway in a semi-documentary way. But while the story of a reluctant crusading newspaperman is fine as far as it goes, what really makes this film is the performances of the first-rate cast.

James Stewart plays P.J. McNeal, a reporter at the Chicago Times newspaper. One day his editor, Brian Kelly (Lee J. Cobb), notices a classified ad in his own newspaper offering a $5000 reward for any information related to the 1932 murder of a Chicago police officer. Kelly wants to know who would offer such a reward for an 11-year-old case, especially since the murder of Officer Bundy had been solved and two men were already serving 99-year sentences for the crime. Kelly figures there’s a story there and assigns McNeal to call the number listed in the ad, “Northside 777,” and find out what is going on.

McNeal discovers an old scrubwoman, Tillie Wiecek (Kasia Orzazewski), who was the mother of Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte), one of the two men convicted of the crime. She’s been cleaning the floors at Commonwealth Edison six nights a week, every week for 11 years to save up the reward money to clear her son.

McNeal tells her she’s wasting her time. Her son was convicted by a jury and his conviction was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court. She responds that if the $5000 reward doesn’t produce information leading to her son’s exoneration, then she’ll work another 11 years and offer $10,000.

McNeal is still convinced that Wiecek is guilty, but he’s charmed by the love this old woman has for her son and her dogged determination. So he writes up a story about her and thinks that’s the end of it.

But it’s not the end. The story was a big hit, so Kelly wants more follow-up stories. McNeal goes to Stateville Correctional Center to interview Wiecek at his editor’s orders. McNeal himself is still reluctant to interview someone he calls a “cop-killer.” But upon meeting him, Wiecek insists on his innocence and says that even the judge who sentenced him said he was wrongly convicted.

Kelly keeps pushing McNeal to dig deeper into the case and write more stories on Wiecek. Eventually, after speaking to several people connected to the case, he comes to believe that there really was something rotten about Wiecek’s conviction. (Wiecek also passed a lie-detector test, administered in the film by Leonarde Keeler, the actual co-inventor of the polygraph.) The rest of the film is McNeal looking for evidence to exonerate Wiecek while the Chicago police and the State’s Attorney Office start to push back against this crusade to help a man convicted of murdering a police officer.

As far as I can tell, Call Northside 777 sticks fairly closely to the events of the actual case of Joseph Majczek, who was freed by the Illinois Pardons Board in 1944. Everyone’s name is changed and the two reporters who worked together on the Majczek story got compressed into one character, Stewart’s McNeal. A lot of the details were changed for dramatic effect, especially the big reveal in the climatic scene. But Majczek’s mother really did take out an ad in the Chicago Times offering a $5000 reward for information that would exonerate her son. She really was a scrubwoman for Commonwealth Edison. The Times really did run a series of stories that increasingly argued that Majczek was innocent and the victim of police corruption. Those stories were popular and caused a popular uproar on both sides of the case.

The newspaper stories mostly ignored the case of Majczek’s co-defendant, Theodore Marcinkiewicz, who was similarly innocent. Call Northside 777 also give short shrift to the other man. Marcinkiewicz, called Tomek Zaleska here (an uncredited George Tyne), is interviewed once in the film and then mostly forgotten. Whereas Majczek got a full pardon from Illinois governor Dwight Green in 1945, Marcinkiewicz would stay in prison until 1950 (two years after Northside was released) before his conviction was overturned.

The story of the case is fine, but it’s nothing gripping. Nowadays it’s a Dateline episode, and Dateline would have told it with more drama. But the performances by the actors in this film are what makes it worth watching. Stewart is at his full leading-man best, playing a slightly-cynical but ultimately honest man who can be counted on to do the right thing when push comes to shove. (Kind of like It’s a Wonderful Life.) He turns on that distinctive drawl of his and intentionally underplays the character through most of the film. That approach means the couple of occasions that Stewart really turns up the part up to eleven hit even harder.

You’d expect that kind of performance out of Stewart, but the supporting cast is terrific as well. Cobb plays Kelly (based on Times editor Karin Walsh) as a kind and supportive boss, but also one who knows how and is willing to manipulate McNeal into doing what both of them know is the right thing for both the case and the paper. Mostly against McNeal’s better judgment.

Richard Conte plays Wiecek as a proud and honorable man who insists on his innocence with firm determination, but without ever losing his dignity. The scenes where Stewart and Conte are on screen together are some of the best in the film. Helen Walker also has a small but well-done part as McNeal’s supportive wife. And the Polish-born actress Orzazewski makes you understand why McNeal would be so taken with Tillie Wiecek after meeting her just once.

The film is shot in a semi-documentary style with some voice-over narration, mostly at the beginning of the film. But what would be of interest to many of you is that the entire film was shot in Chicago and mostly at the very same locations where the Majczek case took place. So if you want to see shots of Chicago of the late-1940s, including the Polish neighborhoods, the Times office building and Stateville Correctional Center with its famous “roundhouse” design, this is the film for you. In that sense, it’s similar to Jules Dassin’s The Naked City, which came out the very same month and shot New York in a likewise manner. Unfortunately, Dassin was a superior director to Hathaway and the cinematography of Naked City is just better. You don’t get the feel of being in Chicago as much as you do New York in Dassin’s opus. But the camera work on Call Northside 777 is not bad, and it will be a fun viewing for those of you into the history of Chicago.

Here’s the trailer for Call Northside 777. It’s a bit corny, but there are a few shots of Chicago and Stateville her that are impressive. The film itself appears to be available in full on YouTube.

It’s no secret that the Cubs are looking for more offense this winter, especially at the first base position. The Cubs struggled to find consistent offense there all of the 2022 season and they need that to change if they’re going to compete for a playoff spot in 2023.

While many of you hope that prospect Matt Mervis will step in and take over the first base job, that’s a risky proposition for the Cubs. Although Mervis had a great season this past year, his track record before that is spotty and there are still questions about his ability to handle major-league velocity. But assuming the Cubs let Franmil Reyes leave after non-tendering him a contract, there is room for both Mervis and a free agent first baseman to share the first base and designated hitter roles.

The name most strongly connected with the Cubs is White Sox first baseman José Abreu. The Cuban slugger has been a fixture on the South Side for the past nine seasons, even winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2020.

But according to reports, the White Sox are prepared to let Abreu leave in free agency. For one, he’s going to turn 36 years old in January. Abreu hit a career-low 15 home runs last year, although he did have 40 doubles and hit .304 with a .378 on-base percentage. But the White Sox have a lot of younger first base/DH-types and they can’t play all of them and Abreu at the same time.

That’s where the Cubs come in. According to Bruce Levine, Abreu is near the top of the Cubs’ priority list and they hope to sign him quickly. While Abreu is older, the Cubs seem to view that as a plus because he wouldn’t be expecting a deal of more than 2 or 3 years. That means if Mervis (or some other minor leaguer) turns out to be a star, Abreu wouldn’t be blocking him for long.

Al already did a piece on the pros and cons of the Cubs signing Abreu last month. There’s no need to go over that again, although you’re free to debate it more in the comments. Instead, I’m going to ask you “Will Abreu be a Cub by Opening Day?”

While Bruce Levine doesn’t out and say it, he certainly makes it sound like it’s likely. For Abreu, there would be a clear incentive to sign with the Cubs. For one, he wouldn’t have to move, although he might have a longer commute to work. (I don’t actually know where Abreu lives during the season. I assume it’s somewhere closer to whatever they’re calling new Comiskey these days than Wrigley, but I don’t know.) He’d continue to be in a city he’s already presumably comfortable with.

On the other hand, Abreu is likely looking at one last payday before he retires. There may be other teams that are willing to offer him more money or years than the Cubs. The Giants and Padres could probably use a first baseman as well and both teams are willing to spend.

So do you think José Abreu will be a Cub on Opening Day?


Will the Cubs sign Jose Abreu?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    (98 votes)
  • 40%
    (66 votes)
164 votes total Vote Now

Thank you so much for stopping by. It’s been a great week around here and we couldn’t have done it without you. (shamelessly panders to the audience) Is Chicago the best city in America or what? Anyway, please don’t forget to tip the waitstaff. Recycle any empty cans and bottles. If you hand us your ticket, we can get your coat for you. Please get home safely. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.