Chicago Cubs beat writer Bruce Miles looks back
The alarm went off at 7 a.m.
The voice on the all-news station in Phoenix said: “Nobody is sure what happened to Harry Caray last night …”
My reaction was: “Please let it be some other Harry Caray.”
That was Day 2 of my first spring training as the new Daily Herald Cubs beat writer on Feb. 15, 1998.
The death of Caray during my first week on the job was a sign of things to come for that year alone: Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game, the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home run race, the death of Jack Brickhouse and the Cubs winning the National League wild card with a Game 163 victory over the San Francisco Giants.
I survived that year and 21 more. And now it's time to ride off, not into the sunset, but into the sunrise of new career adventures.
This is my last piece as a full-timer after almost 31 years at The Daily Herald.
There's nothing quite like being a baseball beat writer. It's exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. That there is a game every day is both blessing and burden, but the blessing far outweighs the burden. I covered the Bears for one season and didn't like having only one game a week and trying to fill the rest of the time.
With baseball, there's the chance for something new every day, a chance to see something you've never seen before. At Miller Park a few years ago, the Brewers' Jean Segura singled and stole second base. Ryan Braun walked.
The fun ensued on a pickoff play, with Segura getting caught in a rundown, ending back at first base with Braun being tagged out. Segura then tried to steal second again and was thrown out trying to steal a base he had already stolen. The play crashed MLB's computer.
If you cover the Cubs, you have plenty to write about every single day. And when you have managers such as Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella and Joe Maddon, you've hit the mother lode.
Dusty brought his California cool to Chicago, but his heart always seemed to be in San Francisco.
Lou was a walking stream of consciousness. One day, I saw him in the concourse on the way home. He called me over.
“What am I going to do with all these left-hand hitters?” he exclaimed.
The next day it was: “What am I going to do with all these right-hand hitters?”
Maddon always will be my favorite, with special mention going to my first Cubs manager, gentleman Jim Riggleman.
Maddon combined the cool of Dusty with the passion of Lou. Like Riggleman, Maddon never belittled a question or a questioner. And whether you liked it or not, he always had an explanation for any move he made.
As I've moved along over the years, the age gap between the players and me has grown wider. When I started helping out with the Daily Herald's baseball coverage in 1989, a good number of players were older than me. Now, I'm old enough to be their father or even grandfather in some cases.
Although you're not friends with the players, you can maintain friendly relationships. During spring training, I'd walk to HoHoKam Park when my family came to town. Twice, players saw me and gave me a ride. One was Carlos Zambrano. The other was Gary Gaetti.
“You know why I signed back here?” Gaetti asked me in the car in 1999. “It's because the players here stay around after games, have a beer and talk baseball. I haven't seen that in years.”
When I first met reliever Rod Beck, he told me: “If I (stink), write that I (stink). Just don't get personal.” He also told me that he never heard of anybody “going on the DL with pulled fat.”
I guess I gravitated toward the old-school types: Beck, Kerry Wood, Mark Grace, Eric Young, Ricky Gutierrez, Kevin Tapani, Jon Lieber, Ryan Dempster and Jon Lester. Don't let Lester's stern demeanor fool you. Behind it is a thoughtful guy who cares about his craft.
As far as regular-season games, nothing will top Wood's 20-strikeout game for me. The only hit of that game was an infield single by Gutierrez. Standing next to Ricky in spring training a couple of years later, he turned to me to say: “I got a hit off that sorry (so-and-so).”
The 2016 World Series is in a class by itself as far as memories. Maddon allowed the beat writers into his office before each game. He was the same guy after the Cubs were down 3 games to 1 to the Indians as he was in the middle of the season. You want to complain about Maddon's handling of pitchers in Game 7, that's fair. But he kept them together after it looked like they were down and out.
My approach to the beat was to cover the news and be a storyteller. When it came time to criticize, my approach was to be firm but fair. Former Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild once said to me: “We don't always agree with what you write, but we'll always talk to you because you're fair.”
Because of the job, I saw cities I had never seen before: San Diego (my favorite), San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
In Kansas City in 2000, manager Don Baylor took us to the Negro League Museum. The wonderful Buck O'Neil took me by the arm and said, “Come on, let's walk and talk.” Buck should be in the Hall of Fame.
And how could you not love it when your bosses allowed you to go to Tokyo to cover the Cubs in 2000? I flew on a military helicopter with Joe Girardi and his wife on the way to a clinic.
One day in Tokyo, I grabbed media-relations guy Chuck Wasserstrom and said, “Let's go to lunch at a place where they don't speak English.” As we paid our checks and got set to leave, the restaurant owner sent us off with a hearty, “Adios!”
So now it's time for my own adios. But I'm not disappearing. My Baseball Writers Association of America card will let me into the ballpark, and I'll branch out into other venues.
While thanking The Daily Herald, I send my biggest thanks to you, the readers. It is for you, and you alone, that I write.