‘Rebuild’ is a bad word when you’re rebuilding for the second time in 10 years. Just ask the Cubs. Or don’t.
Latest flap with Marquee Sports Network reflects how paranoid the club is about its cost-slashing strategy.
The bad Cubs lost 20-5 to the pitiful Reds on Thursday. The score might have been an anomaly, but the loss wasn’t.
The Cubs lose at home (7-15), they lose in one-run games (4-11) and they lose interleague games (1-4).
They strike out a lot, and they give up a lot of home runs.
They have some players I’ve never heard of, which isn’t a problem. That their parents haven’t heard of them is.
If you’re Cubs management (and I’m sorry if you are), is it worse to say you’re rebuilding or to say you’re awful at your job? Me, I’d much prefer the pain of rebuilding to the shame of being awful at my job.
But not the Cubs. They refuse to use the ‘‘R’’-word. Marquee Sports Network, the team’s state-run propaganda arm, has a show called ‘‘The Reporters’’ that features a host and media members. During a recent taping, The Score’s David Haugh criticized team president Jed Hoyer for not being more transparent about the Cubs’ long-term roster plan. The producer of the show immediately stopped the segment to say they were having technical difficulties.
A camera problem? Audio issues? A wardrobe malfunction? Nobody seemed to know. But when the producer gave the order to recommence, it came with a stipulation: No more talk of Hoyer’s lack of transparency.
Marquee didn’t want to put words in guests’ mouths. It only sought to take one word out: rebuild.
When news of the suppression got out, the Cubs quickly issued an assurance that, going forward, no topic would be off the table for discussion. Too late, in terms of credibility.
Maybe the club was taking a page from the playbook that’s all the rage now, the one in which everybody gets to create their own truth. Why do the Cubs care so much about that bad word? Because they think it’s bad business. They’ve already put fans through one rebuild, which led to a World Series title in 2016. But that was different. There were new owners, the Ricketts family, and a new team president, Theo Epstein, who had a history of winning.
‘‘What do we have to lose except a lot of games?’’ amenable Cubs fans seemed to say to themselves at the time.
This rebuild is another story, and the people at the top — chairman Tom Ricketts and president of price tags Crane Kenney — know it. The team traded fan favorites Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo last season not because it didn’t have the money but because it wanted to save money. All while still charging $110.17 for a general-admission ticket, parking, two hot dogs and a beer, the highest average in baseball in 2021. All while charging fans to watch Cubs games on Marquee, which was supposed to generate gobs of cash for signing elite players.
How’s that gobs-of-cash thing going for you fans?
The Cubs don’t want to admit they’re rebuilding because they understand, somewhere in their shrunken souls, that putting the fan base through two rebuilds in 10 years is wrong. It’s especially wrong because they took money made off paying customers and put it into team-owned business projects and team-owned pockets instead of into quality players.
The Cubs think they’re being sneaky: It’s not a rebuild if we don’t use the word. If we call it something else — a transition phase, a reset, a pina colada, anything — people will start to believe it.
They say ‘‘enhanced interrogation techniques’’; I say ‘‘torture.’’
When I asked Hoyer about the Cubs’ rebuilding project on Opening Day, he said he didn’t recognize the term.
‘‘I don’t know what that means,’’ he said. ‘‘Every team ends up in different cycles, whether it’s payroll cycles, whether it’s competitive cycles.’’
Here’s the ‘‘cycle’’ the Cubs are in: Their player payroll has gone from the third-highest in the league ($221.6 million in 2019) to the 14th-highest ($147.6 million this season). They’re an alleged major-market team.
An alleged major-market team that isn’t rebuilding.
OK, got it.
As I’ve written before, it’s stunning how quickly the Cubs have lost all the goodwill they had built up after the 2016 title. And they don’t seem to care about that loss.
The Cubs aren’t big fans of my work, so I wasn’t surprised I wasn’t invited to be on ‘‘The Reporters.’’ When my phone didn’t ring, it must have been Marquee not calling. But now that the Sun-Times has decreed that none of its writers can appear on the show because of the recent ethical issue, it looks as though I have no shot whatsoever.
Do the Bears have a show?