Tanking? The Cubs? Never!
This from ESPN’s Buster Olney:
The question of whether some teams are intentionally building bad rosters in order to improve their standing in subsequent drafts — tanking, to borrow the parlance of the NBA — was raised at the most recent Major League Baseball owners meetings, according to sources.
Now, this all could be sour grapes on the part of owners who have to answer to fan bases about why they haven’t matched the success of the Cubs and the Astros, two teams whose prodigious and, ahem, calculated losing eventually paid off with playoff appearances last season.
But losing on purpose does go against everything that sports is supposed to teach. Rule No. 1 is to try your best, right?
But in a world in which going forward sometimes means going backward, trying your best can mean willfully losing games for future gain. And the front-office people who might have looked like sinister manipulators in the past, like something out of “Major League,’’ now are looked upon as geniuses who have successfully gamed the system. Down is up.
MLB is asking is whether it’s good for the health of the product for teams to be tanking. Is it fair to fans who are paying money for tickets during the earnest losing? Going through the turnstile with your hands up and your pockets out doesn’t seem like a very welcoming experience.
The Cubs were transparent, sort of, about what they were doing. They never uttered the word “tank,’’ but they did talk about building through the draft. What’s the best way to build through the draft? By being very, very bad. By going 61-101 in 2012, 66-96 in 2013 and 73-89 in 2014. By tanking.
That’s how you get Kris Bryant, the second-overall pick in 2013, and Kyle Schwarber, fourth overall in 2014. Losing at least 106 games in three straight seasons is how the Astros got three straight No. 1 overall draft picks.
Most Cubs fans aren’t going to care about any of this, not after the payoff season of 2015, when their team went 97-65. In fact, they didn’t want to hear about it when some of us pointed it out in mid-tank.
But according to Olney, clubs are at least discussing the issue. It might even lead to some rules aimed at deterring the practice. In the future, teams might have to try to be good the old-fashioned way: by winning games.