World Series Speculation
In sports, the window closes.
Any team that decides to make a move for the championship will select a few key stars to lead their team for the foreseeable future. In Detroit, the Pistons had a solid starting five of Rip, Sheed, Chauncey, Ben and Prince for years. In Indianapolis, the Colts offense spent many years revolving around Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Eddgerin James.
The problem with the concept of the "core" is that, eventually, they get old. Just a couple years after winning it all, the Boston Celtics will have this problem, with KG, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce all aging quickly (and three good knees between them). The Phoenix Suns' core of Steve Nash, Amare Stoudamire, and Shawn Marion has already been dissolved, even without having won a championship.
In Chicago, the Cubs have their core. They've invested tens of millions of dollars in three position players that simply can't be moved. For the foreseeable future, third base belongs to Aramis Ramirez; Derrek Lee owns 1B; and Soriano gets left field. That's how it is.
The Cubs' offensive core has had their days. They tasted the postseason in 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately, those days were short. But more importantly, they happened--this team had its chance.
As our core ages, as Aramis' shoulder acts up, as Derrek's neck spasms continue to flare, as Soriano's quick hands start slowing down, we're beginning to notice a major flaw with the group. Fans are convinced, along with the team's manager, that this group needs a lefty power bat to win.
Unfortunately, there's no place to put that bat. We've decided on our core, and there really isn't a lot of wiggle room one way or the other.
Jim Hendry tried to fill the lefty power gap by signing players like Fukudome and Bradley. In doing so, I think Hendry was wise not to ignore one crucial element of the game--defense. The guys we've got are not oafs. Bradley's brain hasn't quite caught up to his legs yet, but the guy can still move around.
As an example, look at the top five lefty outfielders in slugging this season: Raul Ibanez, Brad Hawpe, Adam Dunn, Jason Bay, and Jonny Damon. Those guys will all most assuredly see a rapid decline in their defensive skills over the next one to three years, assuming of course that it hasn't happened already.
Basically what I'm saying is--if you're convinced that the Cubs need a left-handed power bat to win it all (and I'm almost convinced of the fact at this point), then you're going to have to wait until 2011, when Lee vacates his spot at first base, for a championship team on the North Side of Chicago.
Until then, perhaps you should advocate having the Cubs act as sellers in the trade market, to prepare them for their next run. At this point, I think that's the side I'm on.
I’ve actually been thinking about this topic for about two weeks, and to be honest it would have probably been slightly more appropriate before the recent stretch of divine intervention, but I digress…
The 2008 Cubs were the best Cubs team I’ve ever seen. (Considering the amount of bickering that has been going on recently I’m sure this will be debated, but statistically speaking and seemingly intangibly speaking, they were one of the best.) They could beat any team and no matter the defecit, they were in every game. Almost straight through from April to September, the 2008 Cubs ran in to few glaring issues that ever threatened their chances of winning the division and they ended up clinching a week before the end of the season. That’s when the fun ended.
From one of the greatest offenses in club history to one of the biggest eggs laid in playoff history, that team took a nose dive. But that didn’t even seem to be the worst part. Nor was the worst part that they were so dominant all year and were being discussed as the easy National League representative in the World Series. The worst part wasn’t that pretty much the entire team, with a few notable exceptions, was expected to come back in 2009. The worst part wasn’t even the fact that I had accepted that we sh*t our pants in the playoffs, not even that mattered.
No, the worst part was that I was convinced that no matter how good the 2009 Cubs were, the entire season would just be one giant pressure cooker set to implode in October. I was sure that from April through September it wouldn’t matter how big our lead was, or how dominant our run differential was. The only thing that would matter would be 3 games in October.
Think about it this way: on June 22, 2008 the Cubs were 20 games over .500, had a 4.5 game lead and a +112 run differential! That team was unstoppable. I truly felt in my heart that last year was going to be the year. As we all know, it wasn’t.
Exactly 1 year later we are 3 games over .500 and only 2.5 out of first place. Oh, and our run differential? +12. Exactly 100 runs less than where we were last year at this time. That’s not going to last. This team is virtually the same lineup. They will hit. And the playoffs? No one’s talking about the playoffs; no one is saying this is a lost season unless we get out of the first round. All of the pressure right now is on having a successful season and making the first round. You could even almost make the argument that stumbling and sputtering through the first 2/5ths of the season could be the best thing to happen to this year's team. Now the pressure isn't about “Yeah, you’re winning, but what about in October? What you’re doing now doesn’t matter until you win a game in October.” The pressure is about now. It’s about a division race in the middle of the summer. Something the 0-for-October team from last year didn’t have to deal with.
I'm not being naive, either. This team is by no means perfect and currently has plenty of holes. They’ve frustrated and infuriated me all season, but this division is still there for the taking. They are the best team in the division, and I don’t think many would disagree that even in third place it is still theirs to lose. The two teams ahead of us whom we beat by 7.5 and 11 games last year? They got worse.
Look, (imagine Uncle Lou here) the point is there’s nothing wrong with a little adversity as long as you learn something from it. At this exact point last year The World Champion Phillies were coming off a 5 game losing streak (in the midst of a 1-7 stretch), only 7 games over .500 and a 1 game lead in the division. I bet anything they’d say the adversity and challenges they fought through the entire season are what propelled them to be the last team standing at the finish line. Let’s keep this in perspective. It couldn’t hurt. Go Cubs.
Why We're Here
As mentioned on Friday - and expounded upon later by Rob - Wayne Drehs recently wrote a response column to a Bill Simmons article which itself was lamenting the devaluation of a Red Sox championship through the cheating ways of Manny Ramirez. (Phew, that was a long sentence.) In other words, this article is a continuation of Rob's response to Wayne's take on Bill's opinion about the Red Sox's title as impacted by Manny's cheating. Lots of effect, single cause.
I wrote a brief response in the comments section of Wayne's article which I will expand upon now.
What would I sacrifice for a Cubs championship? For starters...
Years ago a very standard opinion was that Wrigley Field was holding the Cubs back. The park was too small to hold enough people to spend enough money to build a winner. The day games took too much of a toll for the players to remain at a level necessary to win in the playoffs.
Since I first heard that argument, the Cubs have slowly begun to increase the number of night games at Wrigley while jacking up ticket prices and selling more than three million seats on a yearly basis - all things nobody anticipated. So when this debate appears nowadays I take it to be more of a commentary about how Cub fans were conditioned to love Wrigley Field more than the team itself. Anybody who would actually choose Wrigley over winning isn't a Cub fan but instead is a fan of a beautiful ballpark. These people should buy and wear Wrigley Field jerseys, not Cub jerseys. But I'm in it for the team. I don't care what happens to Wrigley; they can rename it, they can spray paint Sears ads into the ivy, it doesn't matter to me.
Not to mention that if I knew with absolute certainty that a Wrigleyless Cubs would win the World Series I'd volunteer to blow it up myself. But since we can never be certain of anything, then the question of Wrigley becomes one of income and that feeds into the second part of this article.
How much money?
One reason to keep Wrigley Field around is this simple truth: Wrigley without a competitive Cubs team is still worth two million seats a year. Wrigley with a competitive Cubs team is worth more than three million, regardless of the cost of the tickets. Based on the rabid fanbase and the relative unavailability of seats, the Chicago Cubs could -- and should! -- sell the most expensive tickets in baseball. As a relatively poor Cub fan who has to spend hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to go to just one game a year, the actual physical cost of a ticket means nothing to me.
With that in mind, so long as they consistently put the majority of that money into the team -- giving the Cubs one of the most expensive payrolls in the game -- then I don't care what they charge for tickets. $50 for bleachers? No problem. $1,000 for behind home plate? Sounds like a party! So while I wouldn't care if the Cubs bulldozed Wrigley Field for a new ballpark with all the modern conveniences, I have come to believe that they are more likely to win in Wrigley than anywhere else because -- for good or bad -- the ballpark is part of the attraction and that makes it a valuable tool in getting money to build a winner.
And anybody who argues that the organization has less incentive to build a winner because the ballpark is the attraction is nuts. I wouldn't need complex flow charts and statistical analysis to tell you that a Cubs World Championship would be hugely, immensely profitable for the team owner. As much cash as the Cubs generate now, it'll be even bigger and better once they win. Guaranteed.
Cheat to win? Isn't that sort of the point?
Poor Bill Simmons. He's not sure how he'll be able to look his son in the eye someday. A perfect season has been soiled for him. His heroes are apparently the first team to ever win a World Championship by cheating! Gasp!
I am extremely fond of pointing out that probably the vast majority of baseball players have been consuming greenies since the time of the Korean War. There are legends enshrined in Cooperstown who got there because they threw nasty spit balls and were exceptionally good at hiding nails and sandpaper in their gloves. Managers and players have actually spent real money on hiring people to put jinxes on their opponents. In baseball they actually have a statistic to measure a person's success at stealing - and if you're a really good base thief you'll probably get into the Hall of Fame!
I will not only be totally unsurprised if the Cubs cheat to win, I actually expect it. If they don't have a guy in the scoreboard with binoculars and a transmitter along with another guy in the dugout with an ear piece then I will be shocked and disappointed. You will never be able to show me with absolute certainty a team that won without cheating, it doesn't matter the sport or the level.
But let's take it a step further. What if, the day after the Cubs win the World Series, the FBI catches half the team in an alleyway buying steroids and HGH from a dealer?
Well, I'd be pissed off at their stupidity for getting caught, but I'd be relieved that it didn't happen until after they won. And cheat or not they'd still be winners.
Obviously it's not possible to erase the Jordan years, or to remove from history the '85 Bears. Obviously we can't change history. But if the Cubs actually win a World Series then Cub fans would be losing connection to a huge part of our shared history and a very big part of our identities.
After all, we are known far-and-wide for our pain, heartbreak, and suffering. The Cubs are well known for their history of being lovable losers. It's as much a part of their identity as is Wrigley Field -- and one of the most annoying phrases in my vernacular. But if the Cubs won, all of that would change.
It'd be like you looking back on when you were 12 and remembering how exactly it felt to be tortured by an older brother, teased by a girl in school, and forced into pointless labor by a distant father. No matter how hard you try you probably won't be able to capture that exact feeling of righteous frustration. Once the Cubs are winners -- and especially as the years go by -- we will lose connection with how it felt when they were hard-luck losers.
So yes. It is possible to sacrifice history in the name of winning. And since I am not exactly proud of the Cubs' history of losing I am perfectly content with that. I can't wait for it to happen.
Of course it would be entirely fitting for the Cubs to follow this course -- keep Wrigley, charge an arm and a leg, and win at all costs -- only to win in unusual and unexpected circumstances.
In other words, once the Ricketts Family steps in and begins to direct this team, watch what will happen. The year Wrigley is shut down to be renovated -- in other words, the year the Cubs play in US Cellular -- that will be when they win it all.
And even that would be perfectly okay with me. Anything for a title.
The Sun-Times ran the 'World Series Speculation' piece instead of the usual crosstown buildup drivel. Aside from a feint sense of doom, (I'm seriously trying to put that aside. It's all about confidence. We'll never win the Series if we're afraid of our own shadows), I actually enjoyed the trip down imagination lane.
But better than imagination lane is Ron Santo's quote.
I've been here since I was 20 years old," former Cubs third baseman and current broadcaster Ron Santo said. "There's no doubt in my mind that there are Cubs fans, White Sox fans and hardly any in-between fans. I'm afraid somebody would get shot."
I don't know why, but I can't help but laugh when reading that.