The baseball gods have outdone themselves this time. I’m on to them.
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They thought they had played their final joke on Cubs fans when they gave them Lou Piniella.
Lou Piniella comes to the Cubs! This was it!
In the end, Piniella failed as Cubs manager, of course. Everyone does.
The baseball gods sit up there somewhere, giggling at us. And who knew they could concoct something even bigger?
Theo Epstein is coming to the Cubs now. The guy who ended the Boston Red Sox’ curse is coming to Wrigley Field as general manager and head of baseball operations. This one shakes your belief as a Cubs fan. Every Cubs fan has seen Santa Claus come to town a hundred times before, and it never matters.
But Theo Epstein!
You fell for Piniella. I fell for Piniella. He failed.
I fell for Dusty Baker, too. He failed.
Andy MacPhail, who led the Minnesota Twins to two World Series titles, ran the Cubs for a while and left with everyone in town spelling his name MacFail.
Lee Elia. Dallas Green. Leo Durocher.
Pretty much every can’t-miss prodigy the Cubs have had? Failed. Felix Pie. Gary Scott. Mel Hall. Corey Patterson. Shawon Dunston was good, but he was supposed to be the next Ernie Banks.
Those are just some of them from my memory, while growing up in Chicago. There is no point in going down the list. Everyone from Chicago knows it already.
But Theo Epstein! No, no. I’m not buying.
He surely is the right guy. Probably the best guy. But the Curse of Bambino was nothing compared to this.
And I don’t even believe in curses or baseball gods, by the way. They are just a convenient and fun excuse.
If Epstein wins with the Cubs, then he will be the greatest general manager of all time. If he loses, he will only build on the curse — "Not even with Epstein. Not even with Piniella. Not even with Ernie Banks."
It’s important to be able to keep hope in things, to keep dreaming.
It’s also important to wear a cup when someone keeps kicking you in the groin.
That’s the issue here with Epstein. Which one are we getting? If the Cubs are ever going to win the World Series, then it has to start somewhere, with someone.
Cubs fans will see parallels with the Red Sox. Old stadium. Old, cursed, losing tradition. The thing is, Epstein might be looking at it that way, too.
There is a point where geniuses think their genius is more powerful than anything. Yet Epstein has no idea what he’s getting into here.
The Red Sox kept coming close over the decades, but losing. The Cubs have spent most of the past 70 years not even trying. The front office, and ownership, that is.
Epstein had an ownership that was willing to spend seemingly anything.
The Cubs were last seen trying to figure out how to dump Carlos Zambrano’s salary. And Aramis Ramirez’s.
With the Red Sox, Epstein could make a mistake by overpaying for Carl Crawford and it wasn’t the end of the world. The Cubs overpaid for Alfonso Soriano, and yes, it was the end of the world.
The Cubs tried through the 1930s until old man Wrigley died and passed the team on to Phil Wrigley. Phil’s interest was in making the home field picnic-like and in selling gum, Wrigley’s gum.
He didn’t know about baseball and didn’t care about it. In the 1960s, the Cubs actually didn’t have a manager, but invented the College of Coaches. They alternated several guys, minor-league managers, into the Cubs manager’s job during the season.
It failed, of course.
The Chicago Tribune got the team in the early 1980s, and operated it much the way any boardroom would run a team, without heart. It actually ran a ticket scalping operation on its own fans.
Now, Tom Ricketts, and his family, own and run the team, and it’s nice to have a beating heart, someone who grew up caring about the Cubs, in charge. But he has yet to show any direction or plan.
It’s hard to fault him Wednesday, though, the day he signed Theo Epstein.
There are questions about how much money Ricketts is willing, or able, to risk on building the Cubs. Wrigley Field needs serious rehabbing, and Ricketts is trying to get 200 million to 300 million tax dollars to help.
Epstein will give juice to the Cubs’ plans.
The point is that when Epstein took over the Red Sox, he had a good team to make better. With the Cubs, he has decades of neglect to overcome.
Even Wrigley Field, maybe my favorite place on earth as a child, is part of the lore now. It’s just a shrine for losing.
The Cubs did decide to try to win a few years ago. Tribune Co. brought in Piniella. And GM Jim Hendry bought all sorts of free agents.
The failure is so well-built that it’s hard now even to tear down.
Soriano, with all the money, has three years left on his contract. No will take him. He can’t play. Soriano failed.
My all-time favorite Cubs Santa Claus was Karl Pagel. He was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. I called him during Pie’s debut. He was a UPS delivery guy.
It’s not his fault. He did what he could. But Cubs fans always buy in.
For me, that changed after the Piniella years. At some point, it hits you that the Cubs actually might never win.
It has been since 1908 now. You can’t just fall every time Santa Claus comes again.
So cross your fingers, Cubs fans. But put on your cup, too.