Column: Rumors make the sports world go round. Just ask Shohei Ohtani, Zach LaVine and Jason Benetti, among others.

Speculation is the lifeblood of sports and only has increased over our lifetimes thanks to the internet, smartphones and the proliferation of sports-talk radio.

Where will free-agent Shohei Ohtani wind up? Why did Jason Benetti really leave the Chicago White Sox? What makes Craig Counsell worth $40 million? Why is Zach LaVine so unhappy?

Every day brings another topic to speculate about, and as interested observers we just can’t get enough. The past couple of weeks alone have given us enough juicy rumors to chew on for months.

Shohei Ohtani to the Cubs is a rumor gaining steam, even as it doesn’t really compute.

The most expensive free agent in baseball history reportedly wants to play for a West Coast team, and the Cubs’ biggest contract ever is the eight-year, $184 million deal they gave Jason Heyward in December 2015.

Ohtani, the unanimous American League MVP, is a baseball unicorn who won’t pitch in 2024 but still figures to get $500 million or so, which would dwarf Heyward’s deal. Nevertheless, DraftKings Sportsbook just moved the Cubs to second on the Ohtani sweepstakes list behind the longtime favorites, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cubs began with the ninth-highest odds but passed big spenders such as the New York Yankees and Mets.

If the Cubs are willing to spend that kind of money on one player, it would be a turning point in franchise history. There will be no consolation prize for being runner-up.

Craig Counsell became the highest-paid manager in baseball history when he agreed to a five-year, $40 million deal with the Cubs.

The deal spurred debate over the value of a modern-day manager, whose job has evolved over the years from autocrat to more of a partnership with his general manager and analytics providers. Why is Counsell that much more valuable than his peers?

“As far as the dollars, I look at it like it’s an incredibly difficult job,” Cubs President Jed Hoyer said. “Obviously managers’ salaries have gone down in recent years I think in part because of analytics. But I look at it (as a byproduct of) the amount a manager has to handle, and (Counsell) kind of alluded to it. Staffs are bigger. Front offices are bigger.

“There’s more people management than ever before. You have a lot more information so there’s more to synthesize. You have to be the face of the franchise (with press conferences) twice a day if not more. The people that do that job at a very high level deserve to get paid very well, and he’s obviously proven that.”

Jason Benetti left the White Sox booth to broadcast Detroit Tigers games. Or maybe “escaped” is a better term. The reasons for the departure were explained by Benetti on a podcast by The Athletic I was really not up for listening to. All apologies.

But according to reports, the Cliffs Notes version is that Benetti felt disrespected in conversations with marketing chief Brooks Boyer about his broadcasting. That wouldn’t be out of character for Boyer, who disrespected Sox fans by canceling SoxFest when the team started trending downward. So Benetti, who has cerebral palsy, left a dream job over an avoidable slight, which is a shame for him and the many Sox fans who enjoyed the unique broadcast he presented along with partner Steve Stone.

Benetti told me via text everything has been smoothed over with Boyer and that it’s all water under the bridge. Too late to matter. Sigh.

Zach LaVine signed a five-year, $215 million max contract in July of 2022. It was the largest deal in Chicago Bulls history. Everyone was happy.

Sixteen months later, LaVine left no doubt in a media scrum that he would welcome a trade. When he signed the deal, the Bulls were coming off their best season in years, and LaVine had been energized with complementary pieces in DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball. But Ball’s left knee injury, originally announced in January 2022 as a “small meniscus tear,” proved to be far more serious, and he hasn’t played since.

DeRozan became the face of the organization the last two years and usually was the go-to guy when the game was on the line. LaVine’s days as the undisputed focal point of the offense were over. Now the Bulls are struggling like they did in the early days of the rebuild, and LaVine apparently is ready for a change.

He didn’t say why he is unhappy but reportedly hopes to go to a glamor team such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat or Philadelphia 76ers. Good luck. The Bulls gave him the money and don’t owe him anything else. If they can’t find equal value in a deal, they should keep him until next summer.

If it’s a non-contender, so be it. If LaVine goes to a team that’s just as bad as the Bulls would he be any happier than he is in Chicago?

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh proclaimed the Wolverines “America’s Team,” which only makes sense if you think of America foremost as a nation in which crime pays. After his three-game suspension by the Big Ten in a sign-stealing saga, the perpetually aggrieved coach really should try to convince the school to leave the conference and join one that accepts his “anything to win” mentality.

How would Harbaugh fare in the SEC, where he would have to worry about multiple opponents instead of just Ohio State?

NFL sideline reporter Charissa Thompson admitted on a podcast that she has made up stuff on occasion for Fox Sports when the head coach wasn’t available for an interview. After an outcry from real sideline reporters who take their job seriously, Thompson tried to amend her comments by saying she never actually attributed any of the made-up stuff to the coach.

No one was buying it. So what media outlets would continue to employ a reporter who publicly admitted she makes up news? Apparently Amazon Prime, owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos, and Fox Corp., owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch.

My old boss, late Tribune columnist Mike Royko, once said “no self-respecting fish” would want to be wrapped in one of Murdoch’s sensationalistic newspapers. Four decades later, the song remains the same.


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