”We’re going to hire people we trust, give them the opportunity to succeed, and hold them accountable.” That’s what Tom Ricketts said at his opening press conference in 2009. We all remember it. Slightly less than all of us believed it at the time. Perhaps we should have put two and two together. The Cubs didn’t have any positions open when the Ricketts family took over, but he started off talking about their hiring philosophy.
Maybe this hiring of baseball’s brain trust was Tom Ricketts’ plan all along, but for the first two years it felt like business as usual. The Cubs sucked. And they weren’t getting better. Tom Ricketts’ words looked like meager lip service. We had no reason to take the sentiments seriously.
We do now.
I don’t want to analyze the Cubs under the Ricketts regime. Not worth it. The shift in direction from where the Cubs were as the season ended and where they are now that they’ve employed the College of GMs is obvious. The Cubs are serious about building a winner. Long-term. In the offseason before 2007, the Cubs made an obvious effort to win, but that was entirely a short-term attempt. They added curb appeal to a franchise for sale.
This is different. They’re going to spend smart. They’re going to spend a lot. To paraphrase Rufus at the end of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, They will get better. Trust me.
The unprecedented nature of this move–the level of commitment, the choice of a known winner, the obvious genius of the decision overall–changes the outlook of this Cubs franchise to a state unrecognizable to the team I grew up cheering for, the team my parents and grandparents grew up not caring about. This is a team now led by people who know how to win and owned by a group of people who actually do want to win.
This is a new Cubs team. A brand new identity. They are no longer trying to win with a gritty, hustling GM. Jim Hendry was the Mark DeRosa of front office personnel. Likable. Overachieving at times. Sexy. Constantly alternating between overrated and underrapreciated. Good times. But Theo Epstein is Albert Pujols, and he’s bringing Chase Utley and a Molina brother with him. The Cubs are no longer trying to win with unproven, middle of the road leadership. They went after the best and they got it.
Instead of just going after players who try their best, Tom Ricketts decided he should try his best. Maybe some people were in love with a team owned by people with half-ass interest in baseball success, but those days are over. Hallelujah.
For most Cubs fans, no, for all Cubs fans, this is more than an adjustment. The paradigm didn’t shift, it metamorphosed. So as a fan, you changed too. Sorry if you don’t like it, but it happened.
If you’re a Cubs fan, you used to cheer for a team you hoped would succeed despite the obstacles, despite the odds, despite the absence of talent, direction, and reason. Up until now, intelligent Cubs fans had to admit that they’d made an unintelligent decision when they chose the Cubs. Up until right about yesterday, being a Cubs fan was stupid.
Call it a gut decision, call it leading with your heart, call it being loyal to the team of your youth, your geographic setting, your WGN-loving soul, your Sammy Sosa hangover. But let’s face it, exactly zero people in the history of rational non-sarcasm have been able to say, “I cheer for the Cubs because it’s the smart thing to do.” Nobody could say that.
You could say it today, though. The Cubs are led by the best minds in baseball in the worst league in baseball. And they have (or will have) money to burn. Can’t guarantee we’re free from heartbreak or colossal disappointment (see also, Red Sox circa 2011). Can’t guarantee injuries won’t plague our existence once more (see also, Yankees circa 2010). Can’t even guarantee decisions won’t backfire (Carl Crawford can’t either). I can guarantee that from now on the Cubs will know what they’re doing.
That’s a strange thing to say. It’s completely foreign to everything I’ve ever known as a Cubs fan. Yesterday, I lost my identity as someone who will boldly wear the emblem of idiocy because that’s my team. Nope. Now when I wear a Cubs hat, I’m sporting a logo that says, “I cheer for the team that should win every year.” It’s not lovable. Being a loser is entirely my own responsibility now, the Cubs won’t help me out in that regard anymore.
So to everyone who thought being a longsuffering, bleeding-heart moran was a badge of honor, sorry. You’ll have to find a new shtick. We’re the smart ones now, and you’ll either have to learn how to blend in or find a new team to patronize. I’d recommend someone, but cheering for dumbass baseball teams is no longer my area of expertise.
I won’t miss it.