MESA, Ariz. — Are the Cubs, with all their charismatic young players, still too lovable?
Can they create a Yankees-like aura or Red Sox-like stature without the contempt from other teams and fan bases that seem to come with that kind of annual expectation and success?
Even after winning a championship, Anthony Rizzo and others around the team keep talking about the “likeable” personalities within their young core, the “authenticity” of players, the “fun” they have.
But Rizzo got a dose of post-title perception from the outside while working out one day during the offseason.
“I had an older man in the gym telling me he’s a big Red Sox and Patriots fan,” Rizzo said. “And he said, ‘Yeah, congrats, you guys won one, but you haven’t done anything until the whole country hates you.’
“In a way it’s true, because growing up a die-hard Dolphin fan, I hated Tom Brady because he was the best. And now it’s like I’m almost a Patriots fan because he’s so good.”
The old man was making the opposite point.
His point is one Lou Piniella made the first week of his first spring as Cubs manager in 2007, when he vowed to instill a “Cubbie Swagger” to approximate what his Yankees had during his playing days.
There was too much “lovable” sentiment around the team, he reasoned. Not enough edge, not enough watch-us-beat-you glint in their eyes.
That’s what manager Joe Maddon wants to see as he tries to inspire a repeat and continues to mold a culture.
“Yeah, it’s all about that,” he said. “Just go back in history. I’ve often talked about the Dodgers when I came up in the minor leagues. Their uniforms were whiter than everybody else’s. They thought they were better than everybody else. And they went out and won all the time.
“I hated it, but I liked it at the same time. The Yankees have developed that kind of a culture. Teams that win — whether you want to talk about the Patriots in football — it’s part of it.”
You can almost see the T-shirt slogans now:
“Who wants a piece of this?”
“You eye-ballin’ my dugout?”
“Respect 90 butt whippings a year”
“There’s something to be said for knowing how to win,” said Maddon, who went on to describe a faith in a process that influences the outcome of a close game late. “Swagger’s part of that, whatever you want to call it.
“It’s the residue of winning, there’s no question. But then you have to be able to maintain that.”
The Cubs have a long way to go before earning comparisons to the Yankees and Patriots.
But some opponents privately have resented and mocked the Cubs, even since 2015, for what was perceived as look-at-me sideshows and pajama parties, along with adoring national-media hype before they had won a thing.
A joke making the rounds in one National League clubhouse early last year: “Were you in Arizona for spring training? Did you see the Cubs get their World Series rings?”
Now that they’ve backed it up and taken those rings, maybe the whole lovable thing will give way to bona fide animus before they know it.
Rizzo — the globe-trotting, “Saturday Night Live”-starring, red carpet-strolling guest at the Grammys — doesn’t know how any of those other teams or fans could start hating on the Cubs.
“We’re a team that is likeable. Joe says ‘authenticity,’ and you see it,” Rizzo said. “I think this team has a lot of good personalities, where it’s going to be tough. If we just respect the game, it’ll make it hard for people not to like us.”
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