MLB

Time for Cubs fans to forget — everything

Image: Theo Epstein (Tommy Giglio, US Presswire)
Want the Cubs to succeed? Embrace Theo and forget about the past.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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Ryne Sandberg did everything right. Everything. The problem with hiring Hall of Famers to become managers is that it can be a PR stunt, giving them the job based on their past. They aren’t willing to go through the minors again to learn how to be a manager. They aren’t willing to ride the buses.

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They have made too much money to get that muddy again.

Sandberg got muddy in Peoria. Paid his price in Des Moines. He has built up a reputation as an excellent minor league manager. And on Wednesday, the Chicago Cubs’ new savior, Theo Epstein, fired manager Mike Quade. The job was open for Sandberg to join his beloved Cubs. So Epstein called and told him . . .

You are not a candidate for the Cubs job.

As a Chicagoan who used to drop everything to watch every time Sandberg came to bat, let me say this:

Epstein did the right thing.

Despite what most everyone in Cubland is feeling, Sandberg wasn’t right for the job. He is too Cubby. He has spent nearly his entire career in the Cubs organization, and that means he has lived in a culture where everything was done wrong for the wrong reasons. He is poisoned. He has learned from losers.

Maybe he could have saved the Cubs as a manager the same way he beat Bruce Sutter and the Cardinals, hitting two late homers. No Cubs fan can forget.

The thing is, the Cubs need to clean house entirely. Not just from the present. The Cubs also need a divorce from their past. It has grown too long, too embarrassing, too heavy. The losing was still considered lovable when Sandberg was doing it.

Oh, he has paid dues trying to get this job, and reportedly, after a year in the Phillies organization, is about to be named the minor league manager of the year by Baseball America. But sometimes, even all the right things don’t add up right.

SECOND TO NONE

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Is it fair to Sandberg? No. But the Cubs need to move on from their awful Cubdom. As much as any team other than the Yankees, the Cubs celebrate their history. In their case, they actually live there. Cubs fans have waited for years for that one World Series title to reconcile with the past, their charming downtown park with the big-dollar modern era.

But those things are at cross purposes.

Epstein flew to Florida on Wednesday to tell Quade that he was fired. A classy move, doing it face-to-face.

“His passion, knowledge of the game, commitment and integrity stood out immediately,’’ Epstein said in a statement. “While Mike is clearly an asset to any organization and any Major League staff, Jed (Hoyer, the new GM Epstein hired) and I believe that the Cubs would benefit long term from bringing in a manager for 2012 who can come in with a clean slate and offer new direction.’’

New direction. Not old. It’s a risky move to divorce yourself from the past, especially if you’re the Cubs. If it doesn’t work, then Epstein will be demonized: Some guy who did his thing in Boston and pretended to still be there.

That’s how it will look. Midwesterners are naturally suspicious of anyone from the East. Baseball is so built up on its history, and Cubs fans have a gooey feeling about theirs. That said, I grew up a Cubs fan and find that the gooey feeling has turned into indigestion.

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Owner Tom Ricketts is looking for big tax dollars to help turn Wrigley Field into less of a museum and more into something that can generate big revenues and, theoretically, big payrolls. When he got Epstein, the big-name guy, he got the juice that is going to get Chicagoans willing to pony up tax dollars.

So Epstein is going to try to build something new that will play in a stadium that has been modernized. He doesn’t want the Cubs to look anything like what they have for decades.

God bless him.

Epstein said he wants a manager who has been a major league manager or coach. This is his team; it’s his vision. Sandberg has been neither of those things.

But he will soon enough. Reports have surfaced that Sandberg will be interviewed by St. Louis, arch-enemy of the Cubs, in its search to replace Tony La Russa. It’s OK, Cubs fans. Breathe in, breathe out. Time to try something new.

The old has failed. Over. And. Over. And. Over.

Most Cubs fans won’t agree with me. I hated it when they brought back Kerry Wood. He had suffered so many injuries as a pitcher, and was so tough in his fight through them. But when he came back, Cubs fans were so thrilled. To me, it just felt as if he were part of a losing past, not a winning future.

It’s already good news that Epstein didn’t turn Sandberg into a sideshow of his managerial search. It would have been an easy way to throw a bone to Cubs fans living in the past, pretending for a while that he might get the job. That would have been very Cublike.

But Epstein doesn’t seem interested in playing games. It was not only a good sign but also the best way to be fair to Sandberg.

Epstein has done mostly the right things so far. The only big blunder was his idea that maybe the Cubs should try to bring back Steve Bartman for some sort of forgive-and-forget moment. No. Chicago doesn’t need to hug Steve Bartman, no matter how poorly and unfairly it treated the poor mope.

No more Bartmans, no more goats. I’m even finding Wrigley Field to be embarrassing now, the way it celebrates a failed past. It’s time to focus only on what’s ahead.

Tagged: Cubs

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