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Joe Posnanski Does It Again*: Or, The Significance Of Theo Epstein To Cubs Fans

October 12, 2011

*My “___fill-in-the-blank-author___ Does It Again” thing is starting to look like a series.

Here’s Joe’s “curiously long post” on the Cubs. Since he writes long posts, a second subtitle for this post—meaning mine—might be: “The Concise Posnanski.”

I liked these passages:

On the Lou Brock trade: The same year as the Hubbs tragedy, the Cubs — in that desperate attempt to find the pitching that they could not develop — traded a young Lou Brock for an older Ernie Broglio, and some people will still call that the worst trade in baseball history. It’s certainly a first-ballot choice for the “Bad Trade Hall of Fame.” But one thing that is forgotten: Just two years later, the Cubs made one of the great trades in baseball history, a first ballot “Good Trade Hall of Fame” move. They dealt Bob Buhl and Larry Jackson to Philadelphia for a speedy outfielder, Adolfo Phillips, and a right-handed pitcher, Ferguson Jenkins. You could argue that the Jenkins trade more than made up for the Brock deal. First: Phillips was a good player with some power and speed — he had a great year hitting in the No. 8 spot in 1967 (he led the league in intentional walks). Much more importantly, Jenkins would become perhaps the most valuable pitcher in Cubs history, certainly the best since Three Finger Brown and Pete Alexander.

On the 1969 Cubs: “There are six or eight teams every year that could realistically win,” Bill James says. “Thing happened, things went wrong. Most of the time when you could win, you don’t.”

On the Cubs long losing streak (via Joe Mantegna): “I hate to say this, ” he says, “but I’m walking on the dark side of the road. I know they’re not going to win. I just know it. I’ve accepted it. It’s a good feeling. It’s like I’m embracing a team that doesn’t even exist. It’s like I’m a fan of the St. Louis Browns. “Look at the symbol. Have you ever looked at the symbol? We’re the Cubs. We are not a vicious team. We are the children of bears. We are just a cute little guy. I just decided I’m through losing my mind. I’ve accepted the inevitable. I’ve totally surrendered. Understand this: The Cubs will never win. Never. But if that day ever comes where the Cubs win, I think what we should do is collectively agree to stop playing the national pastime and embrace soccer.”

On the losing ways of the 1970s: The lovable losers era of the Cubs really began around 1973, and it began for the same reason that the Cubs fell apart after the war. They simply stopped developing players. There’s a myth that the Cubs traded away all their best talent, but the truth is that throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, they actually made quite a few astute trades. The problem was that between 1973 and 1980, the only two players of any substance at all that they drafted were Lee Smith and Mel Hall, and Hall would only be of value in a trade. It was during this time that Wrigley seemed to more or less give up — or, more to the point, stop worrying too much about it all.

On the beginnings of the Tribune ownership era: The Cubs started doing business differently under the Tribune Company. There are a lot of bad things to be said about a baseball team being run by a corporation — things that would eventually take their toll on the Cubs — but at first it seemed like every move the Tribune Company made was gold. A hard-nosed man named Dallas Green was hired to be GM. He promptly made what is probably the greatest trade in Cubs history, certainly right up there with the Fergie Jenkins deal. He traded a 28-year-old shortstop hitting less than .200 (Iván de Jesus) to Philadelphia for a fiery old shortstop and a young third baseman with some power and speed. The fiery old shortstop, Larry Bowa, didn’t have a lot of skill left, but he had plenty of fury. And the third baseman, Ryne Sandberg, was moved to second where he became a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players in Cubs history.

On Dallas Green’s GM term: But, it should be said that when Green was GM, the Cubs quite suddenly started having some success in the draft. In 1984, they drafted Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer. In 1985, they took Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Grace and Kevin Tapani. The Cubs mostly botched that talent — the Moyer-and-Palmeiro-to-Texas-for-Mitch-Williams trade was another gem — but the Cubs did go to the 1989 playoffs.

On the appeal of Andrew Dawson: Dawson was so eager to sign with the Cubs that he and his agent showed up with a blank contract. Tough ol’ Dallas Green wasn’t too impressed (“Dog and pony show,” he grumbled) but he signed Dawson anyway to a $500,000 contract — less than half of what Dawson had made the year before (though there was an All-Star bonus in there, and Dawson made the All-Star team). Then Dawson went out and played his heart out for the Cubs. Chicago fans, like all baseball fans, but perhaps even a bit more, have been drawn to effort, to professionalism, to the workaday players who give a bit more of themselves.

On why the Cubs keep losing: People threw a lot of theories at me about the Cubs losing as I wandered Chicago this summer. One is that Wrigley Field — with all its day games, with the way the wind affects games — makes it very difficult to win. “The Cubs after all these years STILL don’t really understand Wrigley Field,” one close observer said. “They don’t get players who can be successful there. I mean, when you get a chance, go take a look at what Alfonso Soriano is hitting at Wrigley Field.” …Another theory is that the Cubs make panicked moves because of their desperation to finally win. And that would be an interesting theory, except that an even more popular theory is that the Cubs are perfectly fine with losing — because the fans will show up anyway. The attendance consistency is easy to see. …And so, a few people along the way told me, point blank, that the Cubs lose because there’s no real reason NOT to lose. …The Cubs have not done a good job developing every-day players — they haven’t really developed a good one since Mark Grace, though Geovany Soto has had his moments, and there are many who believe that 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro will become a star. The Cubs have spent a lot of money on players who underachieved, with Soriano being the poster child.

So concludes my excerpts from yet another comprehensive Posnanski piece. Good stuff! – TL

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