Chapters in baseball history can play out like sways in the ocean, thanks in part to the largely hit-or-miss nature of prospect development, modern-era baseball’s continuing free agency bonanza and the growing parity in the game that has leveled the playing field for both small and large-market organizations.
Winning a championship and securing the bling is the great equalizer in sports because when the dust settles at the end of every season and all said and done, that’s what matters most. There are no ties, there are no kudos for the runner up… it’s all about winning when it counts or take your ass home and try again next year.
This phenomenon rings especially true in baseball… the length of the season and the grit of the game won’t allow friendly handshake lines like what’s seen at a series end in NHL playoff hockey.
Embracing the Now: Winning Cures All
Contrary to popular local opinion, the Chicago Cubs have been a relatively successful franchise since the mid-1980’s, making the playoffs and having a legitimate shot at a championship six times. The big issue here is that the organization has struggled to establish long-term success, and of course they’ve yet to stride across the largest hump that has loomed ever so ominously over Clark/Addison these past 107 years.
As a life-long fan of the Cubs, I must acknowledge the frustrations that multiple decades of losing out on the bling has had on me; most notably the 2003 Bartman-induced collapse, and even worse, the historical collapse of the record setting offensively charged 2007-08 teams turned anemic in consecutive Octobers.
Despite the end results of 2003, 2007 & 2008, fans must learn to keep winning and losing in perspective and embrace the fact that the Cubs like every other team in baseball have had their moments.
To put the Cubs recent history in perspective, I contrast the evolution of today’s Cubs with the shift experienced with the New York Yankees between the late 1980’s thru mid-1990’s.
Between 1988 and 1991 the Yankees were an average team at best, and by 1990 had completely bottomed out:
1988: 85 – 76 (good enough for 5th in the old divisional format)
1989: 74 – 87 (good enough for 5th)
1990: 67 – 95 (last)
1991: 71 – 91 (back to 5th)
But things would soon change for the Yankees beginning in 1992, as soon as the reconstructed farm system flushed itself out and homegrown talent led by the fantastic foursome of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Petite would eventually make their way to the big boy club, along with the hiring of the type of rare breed manager in Joe Torre who was crafty enough to get those young and talented players to realize their absolute potential.
From 1993 forward, it would only take a brief couple years of development before things would culminate with multiple Yankees championship runs beginning in 1995.
If comparing today’s Cubs to the above-mentioned Yankees, one would have to assume they are already well on their way. Well before 2015, the Cubs began the rebuilding process led by Theo Epstein & Co. by changing the organizations draft philosophy and player developmental approach, emphasizing young talented hitters who understood on-base percentage and could translate that approach to grinding out at-bats when they matter most.
With the drafting of young yet experienced college players in Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, the writing on the wall would become clear that brighter days were on the horizon for the Cubs. This was an important step that allowed the franchise pillars, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, both of whom were already in place and adjusting to major league growing pains to remain bought in and committed, making it fairly simple and pain-free for the Cubs to resign both players very club friendly extensions.
The money saved on the Rizzo and Castro deals would clear space in the coffers to pursue international talent like Jorge Soler, and ultimately help the front office push as far as needed when the time was ripe for the team to acquire a championship ready manager and a thoroughbred pitcher to fortify the pitching staff.
Coincidently, the time would come where both the philosophy and resources would be in place for the acquisition of both manager and stud pitcher would occur in late 2014, softening the blowback and media scrutiny that would come when the team ridded itself of yet another placeholder manager.
Back in late in 2014, the dismissal of the now oft-forgotten Ricky Renteria, would only be the first domino to fall, setting the stage for a monumental heist that usher in both manager and stud ace. October 2014, when teams were getting set for baseball’s winter meetings, the Chicago Cubs’ got a jump on things with the acquisition of Joe Maddon; a move that league exec’s, local & national media, and baseball fans alike would all agree was a gangster-like coup that would be a game changer for a franchise oh so desperate to embrace a future that is to be defined by winning… although most still forecasted a major shift being years away.
The Maddon acquisition would only be reinforced with another heist in the signing of Jon Lester, when nearly every baseball media personality short of Doug Glanville, believed Lester was headed back to the Olde Towne with a fresh bucket of fried chicken and a sixer of Sam Adams in hand.
If hot-tub time machines actually existed, no one would have put money on the Cubs being able to acquire Maddon and Lester. And even after that occurred, not even Biff Tannen himself with the Grays Sports Almanac in hand, would have expected the 2015 Cubs team to win 97 games. But stranger things have happened in baseball, and if they didn’t know then, they for damn sure know now that Maddon’s #Respect90 philosophy is real.
1989 Success & What Could Have Been
T’was December of 1988 – fresh off a 77-win/85-loss campaign (good enough for fourth in the National League East) and the Chicago Cubs having just sealed the deal with a rather underwhelming, jaw dropping trade that would send promising upstart outfielder, Rafeal Palmeiro along with teammates Drew Hall and Jamie Moyer to the Texas Rangers for Mitch Williams, Paul Kilgus, Steve Wilson, Curtis Wilkerson, Luis Benitez (minors), and Pablo Delgado (minors).
The lop-sided trade would later galvanize as a Palmeiro swap for pitchers Mitch Williams and Steve Wilson, while also leaving the Cubs with the dynamic of replacing a .300avg./40dbl machine in Palmeiro who was just beginning to find his swing the year prior – before this deal consummated.
There are no sure things in baseball, and one year’s success doesn’t equate to next year’s dynasty. Just ask those 1988-89 Chicago Cubs.
As a young Cubs fan at that time, I remember very well the promise that those young and energetic players would provide fans until Will Clark came into Wrigley in the 1989 NLCS and single-handedly sweet stroked his Giants team right past a young, promising Cubs team into the 1989 World Series.
I can explicitly recall thinking that despite the loss, the Cubs would be back in 1990… although despite being youthful in baseball acumen, I also remember thinking that if the Cubs would have just somehow figured out a way to keep Clark’s former MSU teammate and Thunder & Lightning partner, Rafeal Palmeiro, the Cubs may have somehow figured out a way to beat the Giants in 1989.
Many stories and rumors exist as to why the Cubs entertained such a lop-sided trade that would basically gift wrap Palmeiro to the Rangers, but I’d rather not dwell in the past. Let’s just chalk it up as the beginning of many Cubby occurrence’s yet to come.
New House in Order… Young, Dumb and Full of Runs
Embracing the now starts with not dwelling in the past, and this latest chapter in Cubs history brings me back to that 1980’s era when my remembrance as Cub fan was birthed. But instead of dwelling on coulda-shoulda-woulda’s the experience has helped me to understand the significance and value that comes when an organization truly turns a page and embraces the now.
There are no guarantees on next year, so we as Cub fans must embrace the now, but for some strange reason, I get the sense that I am not alone as a Cub fan with such logic. With a team of players young and naïve enough to not believe in Cubby occurrences, 2015 might just be the year for something special.
Crazier things have happened this year alone… as the post-game dance parties and Dolby digital enhanced pre at-bat walk-up music has become synonymous with the special season. Thanks to the completed stadium enhancements and an exciting brand of baseball back to being played on the north side, the Cubs have officially stepped into the 21st century.
And while I admittedly get goose bumps every time I hear Schwarber’s Bone Thugs N’ Harmony selection blare thru the speakers, the Castro Clap has resonated even more with the Cubs fanbase, crossing all cultural line to become the type of juice needed to keep fans in the game – instead of waiting for cue up of the Village People’s YMCA so the selfies can commence.
Embracing the moment, and staying in the moment is the Maddon way; that goes for players and fans alike. As we embark on October baseball for the first time since 2008, it’s time to dispel all talk of goat meat, black cats, Walkman radio players, and every other Cubby occurrence a fan can contemplate.
For the old heads, when times get tough, take a page out of Maddon’s book by not subscribing to that kind of vibe, and instead uncork a smooth red and channel your inner-Miles Davis. For the young hipsters, think beyond bad luck karma and selfies… instead have a shot and beer and put the cell phones down until it’s time to figure out which bar we’ll all be celebrating in after outnumber 27.
Know the moment, embrace the grit, and stay in it until the end for this very well might be the year of all years. Let the epic ride thru October begin and don’t forget to holla at me when it’s time to plan the caravan up Clark Street. You bring the drink and I’ll have the currie goat on standby.
Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio; Sean Terry is a co-founder of We Are Regal Radio and host of WARR’s The Varsity Show