Theo Epstein is getting a dose of reality, seeing the Cubs in all their gory
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com May 24, 2012 9:59PM
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 25: Theo Epstein, the new President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, poses in the outfield following a press conference at Wrigley Field on October 25, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Theo Epstein
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:52AM
I wish Theo Epstein no ill will, but there’s a part of me, the part from my head to my toes, that’s pleased he’s getting a taste of what Cubs fans have gone through these last 100 years or so.
While he had known nothing but success in Boston, the North Side had known nothing but Lee Elia, Danny Jackson, Mel Rojas, Todd Hundley, LaTroy Hawkins, Milton Bradley and, well, there’s no reason to go on. Living.
The Cubs are in the middle of a nine-game losing streak, and even though Epstein told the Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer in Thursday’s paper that he knew there’d be days like these, you have to wonder if the president of baseball operations has taken to head-butting the walls of his Wrigley Field office.
When new people come to the Cubs, it’s always the same: This time, it’s going to be different. This time, the club is going to turn into a winner.
But you don’t whistle in the face of 103 years of futility. That kind of history has its own weight, and it tends to flatten anything in its path. We’re not talking about curses here. We’re talking about institutional badness. We’re talking about bad in bulk.
The Cubs’ history doesn’t make Epstein powerless, but it does make him reduced. It’s better that he’s experiencing this now, better that there are no mixed signals. These are the Cubs, Theo. Deal with it. Deal with all of it.
If he were to call all of this a defeatist attitude, he would be right. That’s what defeat does; it defeats. That’s what a nine-game skid does. It defeats anyone with even the faintest connection to the team.
On the positive side, Epstein seems to be doing things the right way. He’s hard at work on a farm system that had been fallow for far too many years. Will he eventually be the one to make the good kind of history? It would be silly to declare he would. ‘‘Who knows?’’ is the best a Chicagoan can do.
You can’t blame him for believing things will be different on his watch. He was one of the architects of the Red Sox’ last two World Series titles. Anyone with his background would walk in on our little century of bumbling and blubbering, and think, “You poor, pathetic saps. Here’s how it’s done.”
If he was looking for something to explain what’s wrong with this franchise, all he had to do was look at the fuss made over Kerry Wood’s retirement last week. I like Wood. He’s a classy guy whose uncooperative body torpedoed his career.
But, goodness. He struck out one last batter, hugged his son on the field and soaked in a long standing ovation. Judging by the dramatic drop of the curtain and the ensuing media coverage, you would’ve thought he was Greg Maddux. But the most victories Wood had in a season were 14, to go with 11 losses.
It was a storybook ending without the storybook story.
These are the things Epstein should want to eradicate. Nothing against Wood, but we always seem to be celebrating something that has little to do with winning. Ron Santo. Harry Caray. Mark Grace. The list is a mile long.
To show you how bad things have gotten, lots of people were encouraged by the team’s 15-20 record three weeks ago. The Cubs were bad, but not so bad that you wanted to cut off your arm to escape the pain of watching them. More important, they weren’t as bad as many of us had thought they were going to be. You could almost feel the hum of the team’s marketing department as it pondered a new ad campaign. How about, “Cubs Baseball: Exceeding Low Expectations”?
A false sense of security had set in, brought on by the success of Jeff Samardzija and Bryan LaHair, the continued excellence of Starlin Castro and the flair of Tony Campana.
It wouldn’t be so bad, right?
Nine losses later, here we are in the middle of some very, very bad baseball. The Cubs are living up to all the downer talk about them.
So, yes, it’s better this way for Epstein. It was more important that he look upon the carnage and know fully what life has been like around here.
It doesn’t mean he has to start identifying with his captors, just that he understand the pain that goes with following this team.