Cubs, Kris Bryant are looking for motivation in all the wrong places

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Kris Bryant receives high fives from Cubs teammates after hitting a first-inning home run against the Brewers on Saturday. (John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times)

One person’s motivation is another person’s rolled eyes.

You, a glove-maker, are sure you work harder because your company gives the employee with the highest production numbers a $50 gift certificate to Bed Bath & Beyond. I, a co-worker, respond that the only way I’ll push myself more is if ‘‘Beyond’’ means ‘‘Beer.’’

As they try to recapture the spirit that helped them to a World Series title and three consecutive National League Championship Series appearances, the Cubs are looking for inspiration in some odd places. Third baseman Kris Bryant says he’s using 2018 trade speculation and the Twitter insults of fans unhappy with his play last season to motivate him. The organization, meanwhile, is irritated by a PECOTA projection that has the team winning 79 games and finishing last in the NL Central in 2019. Someone posted the information on a bulletin board inside the Cubs’ spring-training clubhouse.

If you can’t find motivation anywhere except on social media and in an algorithm, you’re facing an 0-2 count before you even have stepped to the plate. Reading what insane fans have to say about anything is not recommended for a functioning person. But if you have made that mistake, you know you’re not dealing with the top brass of humanity. You’re dealing with people who have way too much invested emotionally in a sports team. Some of them, to their credit, can spell.

Anyone with any sense knows that Bryant dealt with a shoulder injury that caused most of his numbers to take a dive last season. People ripped him on social media anyway. How does he know they did? He said he went down the ‘‘Twitter rabbit hole’’ last season and saw that some wanted to see the Cubs trade him.

Remember the obsequious phrase ‘‘don’t go there’’?

Don’t go on social media, Kris. People have been known never to return to civilization.

‘‘Even going back to college and high school, there were always people who say things, and the negative stuff stands out more because negativity sells,’’ he said. ‘‘People want to read that stuff. So that’s kind of the thing that stuck out to me.

‘‘That really wasn’t the first time I’ve been doubted. That’s why I think I am where I’m at in terms of my abilities in baseball. I read one thing, and it just motivates me to either shut that person up or prove them wrong. I’ve been doing that my entire life, so bring it on.’’

It’s hard to believe Bryant’s baseball abilities have been doubted all of his life, as he says they’ve been. This is a guy who came out of the womb with a major-league swing.

It all seems a bit contrived, but, as we know, the source of motivation for athletes often is. Michael Jordan would look at an opponent wearing his brand of shoes and see someone who wanted to steal his soul. Telling him it was a compliment and meant improved sales was like telling a tree to drop down and do 20 push-ups. The man attached to the shoes was in for 48 minutes of abuse.


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The Cubs were ticked off last week when Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection saw them as being something other than excellent in 2019. PECOTA stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. Now, I ask you, how do you work yourself into a lather over something called Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm? It’s like getting enraged about a computer-generated password or an apartment number.

‘‘It might happen, but I’m betting it won’t happen,’’ left fielder Kyle Schwarber said when asked about the prediction. ‘‘I don’t think we’ll do that, so next question.’’

The only motivation the Cubs need is the fact that they forgot how to hit when it mattered most last season. They were a 95-victory team in the regular season and a one-game loser in a wild-card showdown in the postseason.

As for Bryant, you’d think his numbers from last season — career lows in batting average (.272), slugging percentage (.460) and on-base plus slugging (.834) — would be enough motivation.

Whatever people are saying on Twitter, no matter how crazy, and whatever an algorithm is predicting, no matter how strange, it’s in reaction to what the Cubs didn’t do last season. In other words, the idea they have a lot to prove is on them and nobody else.

Depending on outside help for motivation is what athletes have done forever, so the Cubs’ us-against-the-world attitude isn’t a surprise. But if they’re honest with themselves, they’ll admit they failed last season because they scored one run or fewer in 10 of their final 30 games, including the NL Central tiebreaker and wild-card losses.

Most lucid people, those not displaying symptoms of rabies, think that the Cubs are going to be good this season and that a big reason for the success will be a bounce-back season from Bryant. But, shhhh, don’t tell the Cubs that. Where would they find their motivation?

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