Sports Year in Review
By Benjy Lipsman in News on Dec 20, 2010 6:40PM
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Mark L. Johnson)
As sports fans in this town, we take our fair share of lumps. But every once in a while, we're rewarded. This past year saw one of our teams reach the pinnacle to bring a title to Chicago, while some disappointed and others took us on a roller coaster of emotions.
The Blackhawks brought the Stanley Cup back to Chicago for the first time in almost 50 years, rekindling the city's love for hockey. But just as soon as "Big Buff," Kris Versteeg and Antti Niemi became household names, they were sent packing as salary cap limitations played havoc on the 'Hawks' roster for 2010-11. We'll have a more comprehensive recap in out Year's Top Stories.
With the Ricketts family takeover of the Cubs, fans had high hopes for their team in 2010. But the century plus without a World Series title continued as the Cubs suffered a disappointing season in 2010. Pitching staff ace Carlos Zambrano spent much of the season in the bullpen after Lou Piniella demoted him. He did eventually return to the rotation, but also was suspended and ordered to anger management after a dugout tirade during the Crosstown Classic was caught on tape. Injuries slowed many of the veteran players and the team never got on track in 2010. At the trading deadline, Jim Hendry began unloading salary by sending Derrick Lee to the Braves and Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Dodgers. Lou Piniella announced his retirement effective the end of the season in July, and then abruptly called it quits in August to care for his ailing mother. Mike Quade was named interim manager, and his 24-13 record over a lost season's final weeks won him the job on a permanent basis. Many hopes Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg would get the gig. In December, the Cubs lost another of their legends as former all-star third baseman and current radio broadcaster Ron Santo passed away at 70.
The White Sox's played to expectations, finishing the season with an 88-72 record and in second place, but how they got there was emotionally draining for Sox fans. The team stumbled out of the gate, finding themselves 6 games under .500 in early June before winning 25 of 30 through June and July, claiming first place in the AL Central in mid-July. Having lost ace Jake Peavy to a season-ending torn shoulder muscle, the team acquired Edwin Jackson to shore up the rotation. In a head scratching desperation move, Kenny Williams claimed Manny Ramirez off of waivers after the trading deadline, and ended up paying $4 million in return for one homer and two RBIs. The late season moved by Kenny Williams weren't enough for the White Sox to regain the division lead from the Twins. Meanwhile, Paul Konerko had a resurgent year, finishing fifth in the MVP voting after slugging 39 home runs, driving in 111 runs and hitting .312. After the season, he was rewarded with a new three-year deal. The Sox have also re-signed catcher A.J. Pierzynski and signed free agent slugger Adam Dunn, while they parted ways with closer Bobby Jenks.
The Bears began the year by cleaning house with much of their coaching staff following a 7-9 finish, but Lovie Smith remained as head coach. He eventually promoted Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator and hired Mike Martz to run his offense. On the free agent front, the Bears made a huge splash by landing Julius Peppers and Chester Taylor on the first day. In spite of the free agent signings and the healthy return of Brian Urlacher, expectations for the Bears this season were tempered. The Bears squeaked past the Detroit Lions on week one, and it looked like the naysayers were correct. But the Bears beat Dallas and Green Bay to get to 3-0 and a remained one of the final undefeated teams in the NFL. Their first loss came against the New York Giants, a debacle that saw Jay Cutler sacked 9 times before leaving the game with a concussion at halftime. With Todd Collins under center in week five, the Bears improved to 4-1 by beating the Carolina Panthers. Just as people began to believe the Bears were a legitimate threat in the NFC, they dropped home games to the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins to fall to 4-3. Five wins in a row following their bye week, including an impressive win against the Philadelphia Eagles but also wins over weak teams like Buffalo and Miami with their third string QB starting. A 36-7 mauling at the hands of the New England Patriots in a blizzard tempered fans expectations once again. Even as the team is now a surprising 9-4, there are more doubters than believers in the Bears. They may yet win the division, but don't look like Super Bowl Contenders just yet. The question is whether this year's surprising season is enough for Lovie Smith to hold on to his job.
The Bulls finished up the 2009-2010 season by bowing out of the playoffs in the first round after a 41-41 finish. That the team finished at .500 was a bit of a surprise, especially after management continued to trade productive players for expiring contracts to stockpile salary cap room for the summer. John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas were both unloaded at the trade deadline, for various pieces that did nothing to improve the roster. After the end of their season, the Bulls fired Vinny del Negro and hired Tom Thibodeau to replace him. But the summer's coaching search paled in comparison to the recruitment of the best free agent class in the history of the NBA. Clearing additional cap space by trading fan favorite Kirk Hinrich on draft day, the Bulls had more cap space than just about any team, with eyes on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. Instead, all three ended up in Miami. The Bulls signed all-star power forward Carlos Boozer and a fleet of guards to complement Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. Early in the 2010-11 season, the Bulls have impressed despite a tough schedule, the annual circus trip and Boozer's missing the first month because of a broken hand. No sooner had he integrated into the rotation and helped the Bulls win seven straight, the team lost Noah for up to ten weeks because of ligament surgery on his thumb. But the Bulls still look like they're among the top three or four teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Fire's season was a straight up disappointment. After missing out on a trip to the MLS Championship in 2009 by losing in PKs against eventual champ Salt Lake City, fans were hoping the Fire could clear that hurdle and get just that one PK better in 2010. But coach Dennis Hamlett, a long time assistant before taking the Fire to the Eastern Conference Finals, was replaced by Carlos de los Cobos, an MLS rookie. Offensive leader and persistent sparkplug (for better or worse) Cuauhtémoc Blanco went back to Mexico, and signing Collins John couldn't make up that production. The first half of the season was mired in mediocrity, but after the World Cup, Klopas made some big moves. In came Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo, bringing the total number of designated players on the Fire to a league high three. Here was the big offensive contributors the Fire needed. What could've been the biggest game in Fire history - a sold out summer bonanza against the New York Red Bulls (who had made their own major signing splash, signing French star Thierry Henry and Mexico captain Rafael Marquez) that just REEKED of turning point - ended in a dispirited 0-0 tie. Freddie was brilliant, but Nery was anonymous, and instead of setting the tone for a second half of whizzing offense and momentum towards another playoff run, the game represented a team that was out of sorts, couldn't score when they needed to, and lacked cohesion at both ends of the field. Disappointing result followed disappointing result, and the Fire were eliminated from playoff contention - for just the second time ever - with three games left to play. It for an undeservedly quiet end to Brian McBride's career. Maybe the most influential American soccer player of all time, McBride was seen off at home, surrounded by family and friends. In the end, the Fire fans kept their humor and their swag, but results on the field made this one of the Fire's least successful seasons of all time.