We are just days away from a new year so what better time to look at the year that was in Chicago sports. Some of it was good while some of it was bad. Here are the good things and bad things that I will remember from 2011.
1) The Chicago Bulls Are Relavant Again
For the first time since the late 1990's, the Bulls truly became a contender once again. Yes they didn't win a championship, but they were the top seed in the East and Tom Thibodeau, Derrick Rose, and Joakim Noah were able to get the bad taste of Tim Floyd, Tim Thomas, and Marcus Fizer out of our mouths. It did come to a disappointing finish losing to the Miami Heat, but at least you know the best is yet to come and with Derrick Rose leading the charge.
2) The Cubs hiring Theo Epstein
He hasn't made a significant move yet. The Cubs haven't played a game under his regime. The future however looks so bright on the North Side with Theo Epstein in charge. It may take a few years to get to where they want to be, and that is more of an indictment on the previous regime than a knock on Theo. His hands are a little bit tied with contracts like Zambrano and Soriano still not ready to expire. A franchise that has waited over 100 years to taste the sweet victory of a World Series Championship might have to wait a little longer, but Theo is the man that could lead them there. If one thing was learned this season though, you don't have to be the best team in the league to win the Series. Just ask the St. Louis Cardinals.
3) Ron Santo gets his call to the Hall
It took way to long but the late great Ron Santo finally achieved his lifelong goal, but wasn't around to see it. Good old number 10 is heading to Cooperstown. We all were able to witness the sadness in Ronny's face each and every year when he fell just short in votes. This never effected his love of the game or more importantly his love of the Cubs. It sure is gonna be a magical day in July when Santo gets enshrined. The hills of Cooperstown will most likely be dominated by Cubby blue. The only thing that would have made it better is if Santo himself could have taken the call himself informing him that he had finally made it. I for one know he will be watching from above and he will shed a tear when he hears his name. Way to go Ronny. You deserve it.
4) Jay Cutler's emergence as an elite quarterback
As disappointing as the end of this season was for the Bears and it's fans one positive can be taken from it. Jay Cutler. When the Bears gave up Kyle Orton and multiple draft picks to the Broncos this is the player they were hoping to receive. Weeks 4 through 10 of this NFL season showed just how awesome Jay Cutler can be. He made throws that you would normally see from the likes of a Favre, Rodgers, Manning, or Brady. A franchise that has never had a franchise quarterback now has one. It's too bad Jay's season ended when it did with a broken thumb against the Chargers. To show his value just look at how the Bears have looked the five weeks Cutler didn't play. One can only imagine how good Cutler could be if he actually had some weapons to throw to.
5) The young stars of Chicago
From Derrick Rose to Patrick Kane. Starlin Castro to Jonathan Toews. Chicago Sports fans should be treated to great athletes for many years to come. Rose is as good as they come at point guard and already has an MVP on his mantle. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews already have won the Stanley Cup and have barely reached the legal drinking age. Starlin Casto should play shortstop for the next 15 years at Wrigley and is only getting better. As some franchises like the Lakers and Yankees get older and washed up, take advantage of the chance to watch these young studs before they get old, rich, and washed up.
1) The Ups and Downs of the Bears
What a crazy season it has been for the Bears. It started off with the lockout. Next we had the fiasco that was family night, along with the PR mess that was letting Olin Kreutz go. Things looked bright starting in week 4 and for a five or six week stretch they were were playing as good as anyone. Then Cutler and Forte get hurt , the Bears lose five straight, and the finger pointing begins. Why didn't we have a better backup quarterback? Where is the depth at cornerback? Fire Mike Martz! Fire Lovie Smith! Yes it is frustrating to get to this point, but one change that needs to be made is the removal of Jerry Angelo. His drafting is questionable, his free agent signings are head scratchers, and it's time for a change. Nothing can help this franchise more than a change in general manager and a new evaluator of talent. Come on McCaskey family, please give the fans what they want and find a replacement for Angelo.
2) The "All In" White Sox
There was so much excitement around the White Sox as they headed into the 2011 campaign. Free agent Adam Dunn was the left handed bat they desparately needed. The Sox were all set to compete. Nobody saw what happened this past season coming. Jake Peavy came back sooner than expected but wasn't ready. Dunn was historically bad and had the worst season of his career. John Danks was really bad in the beginning of the season. More arguments occurred between Ozzie and Kenny Williams. A team that was expected to compete was closer to last place most of the season. Now we can just hope that Rios and Dunn bounce back and the rotation survives without Buehrle, and Ventura brings some life to what was turning in to a lifeless team.
3) The Cubs
What a bad season for the Cubs. A team that is notorious with losing seemed to be even worse this season than in recent memories. They couldn't catch the ball, pitch the ball, or get clutch hits. Wrigley Field went from the hottest ticket in town to a place you couldn't give tickets away too. Mike Quade seems like a nice guy, but really had no chance with what was given to him to work with. To add insult to injury their two biggest rivals made the playoffs and the Cardinals took home the biggest prize of all.
4) The Sam Hurd Arrest
One thing about sports is they always seem to mix with the law. Whether it's Pacman Jones or Michael Vick. Athletes are public figures so when they screw up it's gonna make the front page news. The thing that is the most surprising about the Sam Hurd arrest is how large in scope this is. Here we have a major drug dealer playing for the Bears and not many around the situation knew what was going on. What will make this story even more interesting is I don't think we have heard the end of this story. Others will be named. Will they be athletes? How far does this spread? Hopefully we've heard the last of this, but I'm certain we haven't.
5) Carlos Zambrano
Another year. Another Big Z meltdown. When will it end? With Theo now in the charge I'm sure we've seen the last of Zambrano in a Cubs uniform. Eat the contract. Do what you need to do. It has been the same with him every season and what seemed cute and funny at first is now a clubhouse cancer. Remove the problem and move on. This alone would make the Cubs better. Let Zambrano be someone elses problem.