Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The "Cubs Way"

Outside the Press Conference
I haven't caught Theo Epstein's introductory press conference yet, but from what I've read, he said everything that I have been asking for and then some. But the main focus, and what the focus of all Cubs fans should be on, is his implementation of the "Cubs Way" (yes, I'm aware of how hokey it sounds) to change the culture of the organization.

I've written in this blog ad nauseum already about how important it is for an entire organization, not just the coaches, or veteran players, or owner, etc., to completely dedicate everything they do towards that particular team winning a championship. It's the reason that successful teams in every sport are usually perennial contenders. The result on the field and the persona of those teams also endures them to their fan bases, which as a result rabidly support them.

But all of these advantages and positives come under great difficulty. In the modern era, it is difficult for all of these things to come together at the same time and over a consistent basis. Whether it be the acquisition of tumultuous players, the apathetic attitude of a manager, a lack of cash from ownership to make it happen, disinterested fans as a result - whatever - the fact remains that consistent success under a personality of winning is the most difficult thing to achieve in sports. Only a few teams in each sport can say they have it. And to achieve it, the organization must have a plan to initiate and maintain that mentality from the top to the bottom.

This mentality has largely evaded the Cubs. In reality, it has never existed here. The Cubs haven't had sustained success in any relevant time period (and no, I'm not counting a period of dominance in a dusty era that belongs in a Ken Burns film as a relevant time period). In fact, the Cubs didn't taste the postseason from their most recent World Series appearance in 1945 until another huge, embarrassing failure in the 1984 Playoffs. The largest string of success in modern Cubs history occurred, coincidentally, under former GM Jim Hendry, who led the Cubs to the playoffs in 2003 (NLCS Loss), 2007 (Sweep), and 2008 (a 97 win season that ultimately, ended in a sweep. Of course). But there isn't anyone who can argue that the most successful period in Cubs history (believe it or not, we just witnessed it) coincided with a Cubs organization that had a culture of winning.

So when Epstein talks about "tradition" and the "Cubs Way," they are hugely important terms for different reasons. He can't possibly be talking about Cubs tradition from the past, which we've already determined doesn't exist (except for maybe Wrigley Field). No, tradition simply refers to what is created when he implements the "Cubs Way." See, Epstein has a plan that he labels the "Cubs Way" that involves instituting a culture change from the top of the organization to the towel boy in rookie ball. It's a plan he's instituted before to great success, and one that represents why certain teams are just always good.

His plan starts with the front office and making sure that all the people working there have the same mentality that everything they do in their job is to make the Cubs a better franchise and better team. Epstein doesn't have to worry about ownership, for Tom Ricketts has demonstrated with the hiring of Epstein that he is fully committed to making the "Cubs Way" more than just pipe dream fodder to fill the increasingly empty Wrigley Field seats. From there, he needs to hire a manager who thinks the same way, and in my opinion this needs to be a younger guy with energy and much to prove. Just watch Ron Washington, the manager for the Texas Rangers, and his mannerisms and energy in the dugout. Who wouldn't want to play for that guy? And to have the "Cubs Way" permeate through the entire organization, he needs to hire coaches at all levels who feel the same way.

On the player side of things, Epstein cannot say that he is changing the culture of the Cubs if he doesn't get rid of overpaid and lazy veterans like Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez. Nor can he say that he is changing the culture if he keeps a player like Carlos Zambrano, who in my mind is a certified psychopath, in the clubhouse. To allow these clubhouse cancers, who have already started to negatively affect the development of younger players such as star-in-the-making Starlin Castro, to stay around undermines anything he is trying to do. Get Ricketts to pay a chunk of money to Soriano and Zambrano and ship them out of town, and just let Ramirez walk. It's that simple.

In addition to actual players, he needs to get a scouting department together that finds players who fit this mentality and do what it takes to sign them. He's already well on his way to making this happen with him supposedly bringing in Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, both of whom can make sure that the "Cubs Way" actually happens. I'd like to see Epstein keep current head of scouting Tim Wilken on board to work with Jason McLeod as a way of blending old school and new school scouting. The only thing is, in this area of his plan, we're going to need to wait a couple years to see any fruits from the tree.

Obviously, this is hard enough for anyone to achieve with any team, not to mention the horrible Cubs team that Epstein inherits. But it is possible, and he's done it before. And at this point, everything he is saying has to be music to the ears of Cubs fans who instinctively think that something will go wrong. At the very least, it's a refreshing change to a stagnant and musty organization.

On a final note, I was lucky enough to run into Epstein this afternoon on my way to the Addison Red Line stop (I'll include some pictures after the post). There were a couple Cubs fans outside as it was right after his press conference, and he walked out of Wrigley to take some pictures for the media under the Wrigley marquee. Even though he was surrounded by a horde of media, national and local, he took the time to shake the hand of all 5-10 Cubs fans (including myself) that were waiting outside to take pictures. He told the group of us that he can't wait to get started and that Cubs fans deserve a winner. There was something so refreshingly honest and earnest about what he said and how he said it, and it hit close to home. Yes, we do deserve a winner Theo. And I think you're the one to do it.

Theo swarmed by the media 
Giving the ever-annoying Ronnie Woo-Woo his welcome
Signing a few autographs
Theo and his wife, Marie
Posing for the media under the marquee after meeting some fans


Katy Korth said...

It's refreshing to have such a young and motivated leader working for the Cubs. I'm glad he's taking such an in-depth approach to this new adventure.