by Kent Sterling
Had a good talk with Dan Dakich on 1070 the Fan today. Dan related that he has decided to trust Cubs President Theo Epstein in his rebuilding of the Cubs as long as they are headed toward what the Cardinals have become. I told him in a less than polite way that he should think back to rebuilding efforts of John Holland, Salty Saltwell, Bob Kennedy, Dallas Green, Jim Frey, Larry Himes, Ed Lynch, and Jim Hendry before deciding that Theo the Genius is capable of that little trick.
Chicago media and Cubs fans in large part have been willing over the last two years to believe in the five-year plan that coincides with the length of Epstein’s contract. They have seen Nate Scheirholtz, Ryan Sweeney, Edwin Jackson, Darwin Barney, and the rest of the square pegs as necessary evils while surefire all-stars Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and the newly minted next stud Kris Bryant polish their skills until they are ready to play for the rich and bored of Chicago.
They wait with baited breath for the next future ex-manager to be hired, hoping that he will last more than five full seasons, as no Cubs manager has since the late and lamented Leo Durocher. The list of candidates continues to grow, rather than shrink to a manageable list of finalists. Hmmm. Manny Acta, Dave Martinez, A.J. Hinch, Eric Wedge, Torey Lovullo, Rick Reneria, or some other poor bastard – tough choices.
Epstein’s formula so far is to deal valuable pieces after the teams he assembles prove themselves incapable of competing. The trades are for farm system upgrades – not necessarily pieces that will ever compete at the major league level, but those who will make for a more competitive experience as bonafide prospects move up the ladder.
That makes sense. In fact, the whole schematic makes a lot of sense. Build from the ground up. Draft to a culture. Teach them how to play the Cubs Way. First, you define what the hell “The Cubs Way” means, so they went out and hired eternally youthful first base coach Dave McKay because as a guy who spent 16 seasons in St. Louis with Tony LaRussa, he knows quite well what The Cardinal Way is. It all makes sense.
We’ll not quite all of it, because the Cardinals Way isn’t just about baseball; it’s about living and owning by a set of principles the Cubs are so far beneath they can’t see the Cardinals ass.
Sure, the Cardinals know to hit cutoff men, where they should be deployed, and how to run the bases, but what they also know is that treating the fans well is good for business if it reflects the overall goodness the team wishes to represent. The DeWitt Family not only provides the financial support needed to run the team, they also make sure that the business is run by credible and decent people. As with any for profit operation, there is a level of pragmatism that the Cardinals need to indulge, but as an overall philosophy, they seem to earnestly believe that by treating people well, the business will thrive.
Conversely, the Cubs seem to be of the opinion that lying and manipulating will achieve the results they crave. Owner Tom Ricketts threatens to move from Wrigley Field to strong-arm the city into approving his planned improvements, but not before guaranteeing a championship if the improvements are made. Ricketts would sooner overpay for a free agent than abandon the only asset of value that draws the misguided fans who plunk down the third highest ticket prices in baseball. Wait, Edwin Jackson was signed for four years and $52 million, so overpaying for mediocrity is a pool into which Ricketts has plunged. And guaranteeing a championship is as good an example of shameless pandering in the long history of a franchise that has had nothing going for it but the ability to pander for decades.
Buying tickets and watching this odd collection of underachievers who will be managed by the least bad manager willing to accept the job should wait for the day when the plan – this grand scheme – begins to show signs of working. I might be inclined to trust Epstein if not for the hollow rhetoric that spews from Ricketts’ mouth like perfumed bile.
The day a Cubs fan should feel good about trusting that the team and organization are headed in the right direction might be coming, but not until baseball and the business office are operated in a fashion that shows a genuine empathy and generosity of spirit for the fans who make it all go around.
That’s the real Cardinal Way, and until the shrewd moves to build the farm system are mirrored by reason and decency in the business office, it’s just another plan that circles the drain until the next bunch come along thinking they are the smartest men in the room.