The perfect description for a World Series title? ‘That’s Cub’
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MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs sure spend a lot of time thinking about themselves. Some might take that to mean the Cubs spend a lot of time thinking highly of themselves. But that’s not it, no matter how much the Cardinals protest.
There are more attempts at self-analysis and self-betterment within this organization than inside any soul-searcher’s diary. And it’s not just manager Joe Maddon who is constantly taking his and the club’s emotional temperature, though he does lead the majors in deep thoughts.
If Tuesday’s press gathering with Maddon, president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer is any indication, the defending World Series champions will have no shortage of heavily publicized themes this season. The challenge for a Cub might be in keeping those themes straight. Is he supposed to be “Uncomfortable’’ and “Authentic,” as Maddon preached Tuesday? Or is that comfortable and inauthentic? Is it “Don’t Forget the Heartbeat,’’ Maddon’s nod to good old-fashioned effort and spirit in a world based so much on metrics? Or is it “Don’t Forget to Respect 90 Heartbeats Per Minute,’’ a hybrid of the 2015 season’s “Respect 90’’ hustle theme?
My favorite new one is actually an old one: “That’s Cub.’’ The phrase, in its positive iteration, has been around for several years, pre-Maddon, when the franchise was in the depths of its rebuilding process at the major-league level but making big strides with young talent in the minors. The saying was notable for its brazenness, even if it was low-key. For a century of baseball, “That’s Cub’’ or “That’s So Cub’’ was trotted out to explain every baserunning goof, every boneheaded managerial decision and every stud free agent allowed to sign with another team.
Now it means only good things. It’s sort of like the Yankee Way, though with the nose not held so high in the air.
“The guys in the minor leagues, the players, started to realize how good they were, and they were surrounded by great instructors who were passionate about teaching the game and getting them better,’’ Epstein said. “And this great morale started to take hold in the minor-league system.
“When a player … would make a great play or back up a base or do something really positive for a teammate, just organically the other players started to say, ‘Hey, nice play. That’s Cub. That’s Cub right there.’ ’’
It stuck. “That’s Cub’’ is trying to lay down a bunt in the late innings of a game even when you might question the decision. “That’s Cub’’ is running hard all the time, even on the most obvious groundout. “That’s Cub’’ is winning the World Series.
Is all of this sloganeering and self-contemplation a little much at times? Of course it is. Earl Weaver would have had multiple homicides on his rap sheet if he had been thrust into this environment. But these are smart people given to observation and introspection, and this is the result.
“One of the best things we did as an organization from a front-office standpoint, from a managerial standpoint, we turned the whole organization over to the players,’’ Epstein said. “This game is about the players. It’s a player-centric game. We want to be a player-centric organization, and we’re lucky enough, fortunate enough to have great guys. A lot of young players, but they play the game the right way. They care about each other. They’re good people. They stay connected with one another.
“… ‘That’s Cub’ is a two-word celebration of what they’ve created. I think it means something to be a Cub now, and we shouldn’t back away from that. We should be proud of that.’’
The Cubs continue to look for ways to distance themselves from the perception that in a dark room somewhere, a computer maps out every decision they make. The “Don’t Forget the Heartbeat’’ slogan is meant to fight a reliance on cold data. In describing it, Maddon brought up the rain-delay meeting players had in Game 7 of the World Series. No one can say that truly was a turning point for the Cubs, who looked to be in deep trouble at the time. But it’s a good story, and it does make you forget about Jake Arrieta’s spin rate for a while.
“Everybody just wants to talk about all this other stuff, and everybody’s forgetting the heartbeat,’’ Maddon said. “I don’t want us to forget the heartbeat ever.’’
Surely there will be some eye-rolling around baseball about all of this. That’s OK. It’s part of who the Cubs are. The other part is World Series champion.
“We’re not trying to say we’re better than anyone else,’’ Epstein said. “We’re not, but hopefully we’re just ourselves and authentic.’’
How very Cub of him to say so.