By Nick Shepkowski–
(CBS) Over the last couple of days, I’ve been shocked about the outrage over a horse not winning Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year award in 2015. Horse racing is a sport I’ve never really watched with the exception of about two minutes of entertainment twice a year, maybe three times, depending on if a horse if going for the Triple Crown or not.
I did wonder though, if Secretariat didn’t win this award back in the day, why should this American Pharoah?
Had I had a vote in SI’s award, I wouldn’t have chosen Serena Williams or American Pharaoh. When I think about sports in 2015, the biggest name was Steph Curry.
He was the NBA’s MVP and led the Warriors to a championship. They were a team that just a couple of seasons ago could have been viewed as having one of the worst runs in all of professional sports. Curry has then closed this calendar year by being the most important piece of a team that got off to a 24-0 start to the 2015-’16 season and one that is a serious threat to reach the 72 wins that the 95-’96 Bulls put up as we move into 2016.
I digress. Williams could have easily been called the Sportsperson of the Year (or Athlete of the Year) a number of times in her career, and 2015 was as good of year as she has ever had — so I wouldn’t exactly call myself upset over that decision.
But I did get thinking after the SI cover was released earlier this week. What if this award was just for the city of Chicago? Which athlete or sports figure would be your winner for 2015?
Let’s take a look. Some obvious names immediately come to mind.
Duncan Keith seemingly played half a game every game as he won the Conn Smythe Award and helped the Blackhawks win their third Stanley Cup in six seasons.
Joe Maddon was hired as Cubs manager last November, with his real effect being felt immediately in spring training. We were then reminded Maddon’s influence all spring, summer and deep into the fall as the Cubs won 97 games and reached the NLCS. His refreshing approach to the game was so different than anything any baseball observer in this fine burg has seen for quite some time.
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant somehow soared by the expectations set on him and won the NL Rookie of the Year while immediately becoming one of the most feared hitters on the senior circuit. Teammate Anthony Rizzo finishing in the top five for NL MVP isn’t exactly easy to overlook, either.
Then there is Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. We’ve heard about his plan for years and oftentimes seen it mocked, but 2015 was the year it really began to take shape as he helped direct the Cubs to their first NLCS appearance in a dozen years. Factor in Epsteins’ recent offseason haul that has helped make the Cubs a favorite to win it all in 2016, and his year goes from very good to outstanding.
Elena Delle Donne doesn’t get the same publicity as others, but she did win a regular-season MVP award for the Chicago Sky.
Some Blackhawks fans might add goalie Corey Crawford to the list, while Bulls backers might make the case for Jimmy Butler, who earned a max deal for his unanticipated high level of play all of last season.
You could make a legitimate case for all those contenders, but after some thought, the winner of this award is an obvious runaway — like Secretariat-at-the-Belmont-runaway.
When your kids ask you about 2015 in Chicago sports, who is the first person you’ll tell them about? Cubs right-hander and NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.
So I’m hereby deeming Arrieta the 2015 Chicago Sportsperson of the Year award winner. There’s no further debate.
Arrieta was the most exciting player to call Wrigley Field home since 1998, when Sammy Sosa was trying to chase down the home run record of Roger Maris in a duel with Mark McGwire all summer long. Arrieta led all of MLB with 22 wins and the league’s top pitching honor, but that doesn’t do justice to his dominance.
Arrieta had a 1.77 ERA, and his second half of the season was the most dominating by a pitcher since baseball started playing the All-Star Game.
After the All-Star break, Arrietae allowed opponents to hit just .148 off him, get on base at a .204 rate and slug just .205 off of him. That’s a measly .409 OPS. His WHIP of 0.727 during that time reached nearly uncharted territory.
Just for kicks, it’s fun to note that Arrieta himself hit .195 in that time, with a .214 on-base percentage and a .341 slugging percentage.
Arrieta had a 0.75 ERA in the second half. In his last dozen starts, he was 11-0 and allowed a grand total of four earned runs, good for a 0.41 ERA in that stretch.
Factor in that Arrieta threw a no-hitter on national television against the first-place Dodgers in late August and tossed a complete-game shutout to beat the Pirates in a memorable NL wild-card game, and his 2015 gets that much more special.
Arrieta tossed 248 2/3 innings in 2015 when you include his postseason work. He believes he’s the best-conditioned player in baseball, but you’d be crazy to expect him to come anywhere near these numbers again.
He had a historic season that we may never see in this city again.
There was plenty to get excited about for Chicago sports fans in 2015. The Blackhawks won another championship, we had postseason baseball on the North Side for the first time in seven years and the Bears had an overhaul in the front office and seem headed in the right direction. The White Sox even unveiled their three-year plan and the Bulls … nevermind.
OK, maybe not everything was as memorable as we’d like.
But when I look back on the year in sports in 2015 a decade or two from now, it’ll always be about No. 49 on the North Side to me.