Cubs Insider’s Q&A with Dan Dakich, Pt 2: A Father’s Influence and a Love of the Cubs
In Part 1 of my interview with Dan Dakich, we discussed his days playing for Coach Knight at IU, his public persona, and his affinity for Twitter. We also talked about his entry into the media world, where he’s a well-known radio host and college basketball commentator.
With this installment, we started off with a particularly impressive move Dan’s son Andrew made on the basketball court, one that he certainly couldn’t have gotten from his father. And that lead into talking about Dan’s own father, Tom, whose legacy and lessons continue to be felt even after his passing.
One of the ways his memory is still vibrant is in Dan’s love of the Cubs, the one team from his youth for which he still feels deep ties. So without further ado, I bring to you…Part 2:
EA: Your son Andrew plays at the University of Michigan now, but I saw him play in high school at Zionsville because my cousin played there too. Andrew made a play in which he drove to the basket, then wrapped the ball around his back before scooping in a reverse layup. No way he got that move from his old man, right?
DD: That was all Andrew. That was his first high school game as a JV player, and I thought it was awesome. I love that kind of stuff. I grew up, and in Northwest Indiana [there were] two guys: there was a guy named Pete Trgovich, played at UCLA with Walton and those guys. He was a starter on their national championship team. And a guy named Greg Traikoff who played at my dad’s high school, Calumet.
They had all the shit. Know what I mean? 1971, I’m nine years old, I’m watching these dudes. Pick me! I loved them. I remember very vividly because it was his first game, and I’d never seen him do that, and I thought, “alright man.” He didn’t get that from me. But I liked it, I liked it a lot.
EA: Speaking of things one learns from their father, I know that you were very close to yours and that he passed away not too long ago. The opening of your show when you returned after his passing was, to me, your best segment ever and some of the best radio I’ve ever heard. Can you talk about some of the ways his legacy still impacts you and what you’re doing to keep it alive?
Dan’s opening monologue from 4/16/14. I searched all over for this file, eventually discovering it on a German website. Apparently Dan’s Tom Jones renditions have elevated him to David Hasselhoff status in Germany. Seriously though, if you’ve got 15 minutes, do yourself a favor and have a listen.
DD: Every time I had a problem or a situation the first person I called was him. This is kind of bad, or sad I guess, but when he passed away it was so sudden. He was in a store. And he took care of himself, he dropped dead. Had a thing called a widow maker. Anyway, when he died my mom was in the mall. She’s hysterical. She calls me, my show’s just over, so I drive like a crazy person to get up there.
When we finally get back to my brother’s house after going to the morgue, I was sitting on his couch and I wanted to call my dad. I was going to call my dad and tell him something terrible happened. And I was like, wait a second, it was my dad. I can’t call him. That sucks in my world.
His funeral or his wake was eye-opening, because he taught school at a melting-pot school. You had rich kids, poor kids, black kids, white kids, you had everything. They loved him. They would come over for pizza, and they would come over to hang out.
He taught me how to not worry about race or your social standing or anything like that. In our neck of the woods you kind of had to. We try to keep alive with a golf outing. I’ve got kind of a shrine to him here in my house. I’ve given you a long-winded answer, I’m sorry.
EA: No apology necessary. We’ve now established that you’re a Region Rat, so you grew up rooting for Chicago sports teams. But you said recently that of all those teams, the Cubs are the only one you still pull for; why?
DD: When I was a kid every day, literally every day I would come home and if the Cubs were playing I would watch. I was hoping it’d be the third inning, but usually it was the seventh by the time I got home from school. They were my team; it was a good day if they won.
I could do every batting stance of Kessinger, Becker, Williams, Banks, Hickman, Callison, Hundley. I could do every batting stance, follow them every single day. And still do. As you get older your allegiances change. I used to be a big Bears fan, now I’m a Colts fan.
Nothing will ever change for me with baseball, [it’ll always be] the Cubs. It’s the only team that I root for, it’s the only team that I have to get up to see a game or two every year. My brother had season tickets for a long time. It’s great childhood memories of going with my dad to the first game, opening day 1969. Willy Smith hit a grand slam.
Going with my buddies and sit in the left-field line when there was nobody there, and chasing foul balls. It’s the only team that I truly, truly love. Other than my son’s [teams] and my daughter’s dance teams. Other than those, Cubs are it for me professionally.
EA: Worse situation: the one Theo Epstein walked into with the Cubs or the one you had to deal with in Bloomington?
DD: I don’t know. I don’t know. The one in Bloomington’s certainly more personal. You had to deal with that. The Cubs thing, and again I tell people, I’m not twenty years old and sitting here going to believe all this stuff. I’ve seen prospects come up, I’ve seen Lance Dickson, Earl Cunningham, Ty Griffen. I’ve seen these guys, the second baseman Bobby Hill or whatever his name is.
I’m not the guy that’s going to go “yay-rah.” You hope guys are right. What’s his face, Theo’s done it before. You hope that he’s on track again. He’s certainly broken it down to build it back up.
The thing in Indiana we knew was a train wreck. We knew on February 1st, we had a team meeting. I think I took over later on the month. We knew walking out of that meeting we are done, it’s just a matter of how done we’re going to be and how quick we’re going to be.
One obviously more personal than the other because I’m the middle of it, but the other one (the Cubs), I’ve enjoyed following.
EA: It looks like they’re on the way up. I know you spoke to it already, do you see how you felt so far? Do you feel any differently some of the prospects they’ve got coming up now from some of those failed names of the past?
DD: I don’t think any of those failed names were as highly rated. Kris Bryant’s number one. Baez concerns me a little bit, because the world is full of guys that can hit 17, 18, 19 home runs but bat .200. I know he’s 21 years old, but I’m really excited about him. He’s just a guy learning, so you’ve got to give him a couple years.
Damn, he’s probably going to end up the year batting under .200, which isn’t going to be great. Bryant…I hope Schwarber plays well, Soler the rest of them, there’s going to be some pitching. To me, baseball: get enough decent players, have a great bullpen, and good enough starting pitching, and you can play it seems to me.
The closer role has always been a pain in the ass for the Cubs. It’s always been that way. You think about the Cubs relievers: Lee Smith, Bill Caudill, Willy Hernandez, in that era. There’s a bunch others that when they went somewhere else became great. I’ve never really understood that.
I’m missing some, I know it. I’m going to be pissed off. Hell, Eckersly became a great reliever once he left the Cubs. It’s like: shit, let’s figure it out.
EA: We’ll see what happens. I know we’re all in it together to find out. Rondon has looked okay, but of course you never know how some will perform when the pressure’s on and you have to win, versus nothing to lose. That’s where the big differences come in for them.
DD: Right, right. There’s a lot of 3 o’clock hitters, but the games at 7:00. There’s a lot of good players when you’re 25 games out of the race, but what’s going to happen when you’ve gotta have this win, this night, every night? That’s what makes baseball so cool to me.
EA: Okay, one more question, I’ll let you go. Hypothetically, you know you’ve got two nights left on earth. You’ve got to spend one of them in Chicago, one of them in Bloomington, where are you going?
DD: If I’m going, if I am…whole day, in Chicago, I’m going to the Billy Goat for lunch, and the Cubs have a night game, so then I’m going to Murphy’s. I’m buying everybody in the place whatever they want at Murphy’s, because I don’t care about my credit card.
Then I’m going to the game. Afterwards I am going…maybe the Cubby Bear, somewhere after. Maybe Murphy’s again, I don’t know, because I really like Murphy’s. Then I’m going to the Zebra Lounge, and I’m singing with the piano player, and then I’m finding a pizza, and I’m eating whatever deep dish pizza’s open at three in the morning when I’m done with the day, and then I’m going to go die.
In Bloomington I am going, I have the whole day, so I’m going to the Village Deli for breakfast. I’m going to go take a walk around campus, go to Assembly Hall and challenge whoever the star is at IU to one-on-one game. Get my ass beat. Then I’m going to go to Nick’s for lunch, get a strom.
Stay at Nick’s till dinner, having buckets, playing Sink the Biz. Go to Zagreb’s for dinner. And then I’m going back to Nick’s, playing Sink the Biz, and I’m buying some street meat out in front of Killroy’s there, and then calling it a life.
EA: I feel like you’ve thought about this. I feel like that’s not something you could just lead off the cuff with.
DD: I told you my life is pretty simple. If I like something, I wear its ass out. I like Murphy’s, I like Nick’s, I like Zagreb’s, and I like the Zebra Lounge.
EA: Why deviate? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
DD: That’s right. That’s exactly right.
EA: Thanks for your time, Coach, and thanks again for your support of Cubs Insider.
DD: Thank you very much, Evan. Thanks for thinking of me.
Some questions and answers were edited for clarity and brevity, but if you’d like to hear the whole interview, you can do so below. Also note that part of the call was cut off and re-started due to technical difficulties (Coach’s cheek hit the end call button). In all honesty, I was initially afraid that he had hung up on me after the “Jordan Stopper” question.