Cubs adopt 1 percent solution
RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org October 26, 2011 10:28PM
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts seem more like Wall Street types than baseball people. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times
Updated: January 23, 2012 2:54AM
Is Wall Street occupying the Cubs?
Has the most elite of the 1 percent taken over Cubdom and thereby the health of the longest-suffering crowd in sports?
Are the smartest boys in the room telling us how infallible things such as the laws of large numbers and exotic computer models can turn the Cubs into the sporting equivalent of a Greenwich hedge fund?
These may sound like silly questions. But are they?
At a time when the middle class is vanishing, when Baby Boomers are wondering how they’re going to be able to retire, when job-hunting young people who are saddled with mammoth education and government debt are protesting the clever profiteers at the top of the capitalist food chain, is it silly to ask if Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein are appropriate heroes for the times?
Aren’t these the type of fellows who helped muddy up what used to be known as the American Dream?
Epstein, who was announced as the new Cubs president of baseball operations Tuesday, is only 37 but has a success pedigree much longer than his hair.
Yale undergrad, law degree in his spare time, smart-as-a-whip, boy-wonder Theo won two World Series in his nine years as general manager for the Red Sox. But where did he play his pro ball? Oh, in the hallways of various front offices.
Ricketts, the second-year Cubs chairman, has a pair of diplomas from the University of Chicago, and his fortune was made in the world of investment banking and bond structuring.
There was a period in baseball — notably after futures trader John Henry took over the Red Sox in 2002 — when old-school, tobacco-chewing, scout-from-the-stands analysis was replaced by faddish, techno number-crunching.
For sure, that new stuff, called sabermetrics by some, was all the rage. And it makes sense, to a point. (See “Moneyball’’ for details.)
Geeks on the wane
But now it’s as old-fashioned as mortgage-backed derivatives and collateralized debt obligations.
All that latter mumbo-jumbo made a fortune for a bunch of sly bankers and Wall Street types while bringing a good percentage of Americans to its knees.
Do we trust the numbers guys yet?
If we do, then why — if the Texas Rangers win this World Series, which they lead 3-2 — will 10 different baseball teams have won World Series titles in the last 11 years? Every team can’t be run by a computer geek, can it?
It’s more than a tad ironic that, as Sports Illustrated recently noted, “The advantage of the early adopters [of statistical analysis] is gone.’’
The roaring 2000s are history, both for our economy, and, it appears, baseball brainiac pioneers.
In September, Epstein told SI of his Red Sox techniques, “Just about everything we’re doing here is being done elsewhere, and a lot of it better. We have a pretty big cushion with our resources. We can take sixth-rounders and pay them third-round money without thinking twice about it.’’
Trump ’em with deep pockets, then.
And who fills the deep pockets?
If the recent banking and Wall Street revelations have taught us anything, it should be that it ever and always comes from us, the folks who are not smarter than the rest of the room. Because we are the room.
Loss of innocence
The 103-year desert of failure stares at Cubs fans like a howling wasteland.
For leaders, the Cubs have tried and given up on baseball royalty (Andy MacPhail), baseball lifers (Lou Piniella, Jim Hendry) and baseball dilettantes (Tribune Co.).
And now we have, in a sense, Ben Bernanke and Steve Jobs costume-wearers at the helm.
This may be what is needed for the job. But with the acceptance of the Ricketts-Epstein leadership comes a price, and it is the loss of whatever slim innocence still remained for the Cubs.
People who go to Wrigley Field have often been ridiculed as partiers who are out to enjoy the sun, the beer, the small-park ambience — as if going to a summer game must be a somber event filled with grimacing intensity.
It can only get nastier at Wrigley now that the brilliant hotshots are in charge. Failure is no longer funny, not even acceptable.
It’s moneyball, for sure.
Just be careful, Cubs pilgrims, of what you wished for.