MESA, Ariz. – Would this be a bad time to point out that, before every season, Tom Ricketts has said the Cubs were going to be contenders, including the season in which they ended up losing 101 games? Yeah, it probably would be a bad time for a reminder.
So forget all that. If you’re a Cubs fan, sit back and enjoy the chairman’s thoughts on this year’s model, which actually is a title contender.
“The goal is to win the World Series,’’ Ricketts said Wednesday. “That’s the goal for everybody. That’s the ultimate definition of success. Obviously, to get there you have to win the division. To do that, you have to stay healthy and play well all year. I think those are things we have to really focus on.’’
It really is a remarkable world when a Cubs owner can talk about a championship in front of a roomful of media members and not get scoffed and cackled at, let alone not get ridiculed right out of the building. After 107 seasons without a World Series title and 70 years without a World Series appearance, the Cubs are good enough this season to be almost cynic-proof.
Will it be a failure if they don’t win it all?
“To get to the World Series, you have to get to the playoffs,’’ Ricketts said. “We want to win our division and we don’t want to be back in a wild-card game, if we can avoid that. If you don’t achieve that goal, is that failure? I don’t know.
“The fact is we have a great team, we want to win the World Series and we hope we’re there.’’
If you’re good enough to win it all, then, by definition, not living up to that potential is a failure. Some Cubs fans would reply that context is necessary: The team’s young nucleus gives hope for a championship in any of the next several seasons. That sounds familiar: If not this season, then maybe “next year’’ or the “next year’’ after that.
It’s best to embrace some sage advice that has been handed down in sports over the years: Take advantage of the opportunity in front of you because you never know when you’ll have it again.
We’ve probably spent more time discussing how this Cubs team was built than Romans have spent discussing how Rome was built. We’ve debated whether the Cubs tanked to get where they are today. They’re here. They’re the favorites to win the World Series, and that’s the most important thing.
But when Cubs executives explain that the team was simply going young during a brutal four-year span of losing, they’re trying to avoid saying they lost on purpose. “Going young’’ is a euphemism for tanking. With that in mind, here’s what Ricketts said about Cubs fans Wednesday:
“They really have been fabulous, and without them, none of this success would have occurred because I think there are a lot of teams where they couldn’t do the things they have to do to get young and to focus on development.’’
When Ricketts lauds the fans for their patience during the Cubs’ rebuilding process, I’m sure it’s heartfelt. But he’s lucky that those same fans, who were put through some terrible baseball, followed the team’s lead like lemmings and didn’t arm themselves with pitchforks and torches.
One man’s praise of Cubs fans is another man’s indictment of them.
OK, enough with the history lesson. The Cubs are here, and they’re the favorites to win the World Series. No matter how the story plays out, it will be an interesting one.
“Obviously the team has all the talent and the right leadership to go all the way this year, and you might as well just accept that and, as (manager Joe Maddon) says, embrace the target,’’ Ricketts said. “I think the guys are ready for it. It’s a different vibe than we’ve had in the past, but it’s one everyone accepts and I think everyone is excited to get the season started.’’
Ricketts was a Cubs fan long before his family bought the team in 2009, so he knows a thing or two about congenital heartbreak. With all the lofty expectations, there has to be a part of him saying, “Things are good – too good.’’
“It kind of goes back to ‘embrace the target,’ ’’ he said. “It’s different, right? The fact is that if this team stays healthy and executes and performs like we know they can, then we should have a team that competes in the postseason. That’s a different feeling than we’ve had going into some of the other seasons.’’
Same prediction, different feeling.