Commentary

New 'Cub Way' beginning in Arizona

On eve of spring training, Theo Epstein sets serious tone to reverse the Cubs' curse

Originally Published: February 18, 2012
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

MESA, Ariz. -- In case you're wondering if Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein already has his "Reverse the Curse" game face on, well, he does.

On Saturday -- one day before Cubs pitchers and catchers begin their first official workout, five days before position players report, 15 days before the first spring training game and 47 days before the season opener at Wrigley Field -- Epstein announced, again, that the goal of the 2012 Cubs "is to win the World Series."

[+] EnlargeTheo Epstein
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTheo Epstein has produced a thick manual to indoctrinate the organization in "The Cub Way."
Yes, and my goal is to need hair gel this year, but that's probably not going to happen either.

Still, Epstein had to say it. What else could he say: "Our goal is to finish ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates"?

This was duty talking. This was the Boston Red Sox in him -- and those two world championships he won there -- talking. It wasn't about managing expectations; it was about raising them.

Epstein, who did the Saturday presser with general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum, knows the Cubs aren't going to win the World Series this season. With this roster? With arguably the 20th- to 25th-best team in the big leagues? With a lineup that has holes as wide as the gap between center field and right? Nuh, uh.

But if Epstein was looking to set the tone of this Cubs spring training, he did it Saturday. And he did it with a straight face and with an edge in his voice that was as hard as the outfield bleachers at Wrigley.

"I think patience is important, but urgency is important as well," he said.

Epstein didn't leave the Red Sox for the Cubs because he wants to win the NL Central. He left because he wants to see the Cubs spraying themselves with champagne after the final out of the final game of the World Series. Otherwise, what's the point?

He talked about "The Cub Way," which isn't a street name but a philosophy, a doctrine, "a living, breathing" thing. There's even a staff manual, hundreds of pages long, that details every facet of that doctrine, from code of conduct to which foot to plant on the bag while making your turn around a base.

That's great, especially since the previous Cub Way hasn't included a World Series championship since 1908, a World Series appearance since 1945 or a postseason win of any kind since 2003, the year that thing happened to that guy at that place on the corner of Clark and Addison.

The more Epstein explained "The Cub Way" manual, the more I found myself staring at the tattoo poking out from under the right arm sleeve of Sveum's blue workout shirt. The tattoo was about as subtle as a fungo bat to the groin area.

"Give 'Em Hell," it read. And above that was what looked like a bloodied bear paw.

You can distribute all the staff manuals you want, but Sveum's tattoo ought to be on the covers. That's the real message Epstein, Sveum and Hoyer are trying to convey. Kick butt … play angry … lose if you must, but give 'em hell doing it.

"We're not creating the wheel here, or reinventing anything," said Sveum. "It's just refining everything to get things done on an everyday basis. Whether you want 'The Cub Way,' or anybody's way, it's just the right way to do things."

Depending on your math, the Cubs have made 16 management and coaching staff changes since Oct. 25, 2011, when Epstein was named president of baseball operations. They've made four trades, claimed three players off waivers, claimed one player in the Rule 5 draft and signed eight free agents.

My favorite Epstein move -- and team chairman Tom Ricketts deserves a cold Old Style for his willingness to take a painful financial haircut on the deal -- is the January trade that sent pitcher Carlos Zambrano to the Miami Marlins. Zambrano was to the Cubs what termites are to balsa wood.

We're not creating the wheel here, or reinventing anything. It's just refining everything to get things done on an everyday basis. Whether you want 'The Cubs Way,' or anybody's way, it's just the right way to do things.

-- Cubs manager Dale Sveum

The whole thing reminds me a little of that crisp bit of movie dialogue between Billy Beane and David Justice in "Moneyball."

Brad Pitt's Beane: "Oh, you're special?"

Justice: "You pay me 7 million bucks a year, man. So yeah, maybe I am."

Beane: "No, man, I ain't paying you 7. The Yankees are paying half your salary. That's what the New York Yankees think of you. They're paying you $3½ million to play against 'em."

Ricketts is paying Zambrano $15 million of his 2012 $18 million salary to play against the Cubs. And it's worth every penny.

Epstein was hired in October and Sveum and Hoyer were hired in November. But in many ways, the clock begins ticking on all of them come Sunday, the first day of Cubs spring training at Fitch Park.

"This is what we're all here for is to play the game on the field," said Epstein. "Sometimes the winter can stretch on and you forget what you do for a living. You feel like an accountant or something."

Cubs fans won't let him forget. They were already here in numbers at the practice facility. They'll be Epstein's accountants, keeping track of wins and losses as only Cubs fans can.

But if they're worried about Epstein's intensity level, forget it. I think he almost smiled during Saturday's news conference, but I'd have to get that confirmed.

Just for fun, I reminded him that the Academy Awards were coming up. What with "Moneyball" being one of the Best Picture nominees, I was going to ask Epstein whom he'd want playing him in a movie, should the Cubs make good on his 2012 World Series goal.

Except that Epstein hasn't seen "Moneyball." And doesn't plan to either.

"It's baseball time, not movie time," he said curtly.

Yes, it is. Time for Epstein to reverse another curse. He did it in Boston. Time for the sequel.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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