Theo Epstein: Urgency Storyline ‘Completely Over Inside the Clubhouse’
If Theo Epstein maintains a list of regrets, I’d be willing to bet talking about reviving the Cubs’ sense of urgency isn’t too far behind Carl Crawford and the whole chicken and beer incident with the Red Sox. And yes, I’m sure more than one of you could offer up suggestions for the inclusion of some more recent contracts as well. Whatever the case, the whole urgency emergency grew legs that could outrun Usain Bolt.
The idea grew larger than anyone ever expected before eventually collapsing in on itself like a black hole that had even seasoned players like Jon Lester circling the event horizon. So with some fans and even members of the media putting the Cubs in danger of getting sucked into oblivion, Epstein and Joe Maddon set to work walking the narrative back.
“That storyline is completely over inside the clubhouse,” Epstein told the media prior to Monday’s home opener. “I know, until we start winning, it’s going to be perpetuated outside, but our guys are professionals. They’re preparing hard each day. They’re showing up focused and ready to win the day.
“We just haven’t played well yet. So, semantics or not, what words we use to describe it, that does not have legs inside the clubhouse. I think it’s something that they feel like they’ve accomplished.”
This seems like one of those deals where the guys on the team get it intrinsically, but trying to describe that to folks on the outside results in a muddling of the true nature of the thing. Like when a child tries to reproduce an underwater scene and ends up drawing something that more closely resembles a phallic coral garden.
Not that I have such artwork hanging in my home, mind you, that was a totally off-the-cuff analogy. With the Cubs, though, it was more than just Epstein’s words that had people reaching for their crayons. The team adopted a set of guidelines that included more mandatory batting practice and a reduction booze and junk food, the latter of which smacked of Epstein’s days in Boston.
“There have been a few small tweaks with the way we get ready every day,” Epstein explained. “Taking a little bit more batting practice, for example. But that storyline has long since passed. It was kind of over the first day of spring training. It was an offseason thing. We set the tone and the guys have taken it and run with it.”
Maddon expressed similar views, rejecting the notion that there was anything forced or artificial about what is taking place. And he predictably took the opportunity to turn the situation into another of his patented sayings.
“I just want the sense of today. I don’t need the word ‘urgency,'” the manager explained. “I want us to get better one week at a time. That’s all I want. Semantics, you’ve got to be careful with semantics, man. Because you don’t know how everybody’s going to interpret them. I want them to really process today, period. It’s not about this whole week. It’s not about the next two weeks, whatever. It’s about today.”
Sounds fair. And after all those unsavory emails from the Ricketts family patriarch, having a guy named Joe expressing anti-semantic views is hardly worthy of a second glance. Maddon’s right, too. The word we’ve all heard and repeated ad nauseam since early October leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to describing what the Cubs are trying to do right now.
You set the tone early, then allow and expect the players to hold it throughout the season. This isn’t a matter of Maddon suddenly becoming a hard-nosed manager or Epstein and Jed Hoyer watching over shoulders to ensure proper adherence to the rules. Ah, but that doesn’t mean the front office isn’t exerting additional influence or paying closer attention to the little things.
Rather than a desire to have more control over the day-to-day goings-on, however, members of the front office traveling with the team more often is a sign of solidarity. The whole organization is responsible for maintaining a culture of success and it’s hard to lament a sense of complacency if you’re not there every day.
Whatever they’re calling it today and whatever form it may take in the future, the Cubs have made it clear that this isn’t a unilateral edict. And even if fissures between some of the various levels of the organization seem to be showing a little more over the past few months, everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Just how far that gets them, well, that depend on how urgently they row.