If you can’t beat ’em, repeat ’em. That’s what the Cubs looked to be doing when they signed Brandon Morrow and Yu Darvish this past offseason. In addition to bolstering the staff, Morrow set right to work on helping his new teammates better understand and attack the high-strike approach that baffled them so in the NLCS. Then you’ve got the move to go with more dynamism at the top of the order in an effort to avoid the offensive stagnation that led to their demise.
The Cubs are clearly trying to emulate the Dodgers. Oh, but not those Dodgers, as Theo Epstein recently clarified.
“I’d always hear about the Brooklyn Dodgers,” Epstein told MLB.com’s Joe Posnanski. “You know Campy behind the plate and Hodges at first, Jackie Robinson at second, Pee Wee Reese at short, Duke Snider in center, and, who was that in right field, oh, yeah, Carl Furillo. My mom would always remember the names because they were all together for so long.
“That’s what we have wanted to do in Chicago.”
Epstein’s mom, as you may have gathered, grew up in Brooklyn with a team that wasn’t unlike the Cubs. Not that you can make too many comparisons between Flatbush in the first half of the 20th century and the increasingly gentrified Wrigleyville neighborhood the Cubs now inhabit, though the rat populations of Ebbets and Wrigley Field were probably similar. And then you’ve got the whole business of the Dodgers fleeing to the opposite coast.
But when you strip away all the external facts of the matter, you’re left with something a bit softer and more emotional. After all, there’s a reason Ilene Epstein talked to her son about those Brooklyn squads long after they existed only in memories. It’s the same reason our ears perk up when we hear the opening chords of Van Halen’s Jump (which, interestingly enough, included House of Pain as a B-side) or the words “Chicago Cubs baseball is on the air.”
It’s so much bigger than urinal troughs, beer prices or perpetual renovations. And while those things certainly have the ability to rile up the natives from time to time, the fact of the matter is that most Cubs fans have come into being with a sort of familial atmosphere. And despite the overall lack of success throughout most of that time, each generation has had at least one iconic group onto which they could hang their hopes.
Many will point to the handful of Hall of Famers highlighted by their peak in ’69, a nice team that gave rise to the bleacher party culture and firmly cemented the Cubs’ “cursed” destiny. The ’84 team finally made it back to the playoffs and fully capitalized on what may have been the last great age of traditional broadcast television. The ’98 team helped us forget the strike and the ’03 team made us think that maybe, just maybe, a world title was realistic.
Then there was the 2016 team, the one that finally did it. The Cubs won the World Series, which, as much as we joke about it, is something no one is ever going to forget. And they’ve done it with a core group that has remained more or less intact since 2015 and figures to be around for many years to come.
“We have a chance to replicate what they did in Brooklyn, which is pretty rare,” Epstein explained. “Today it’s a mercenary age, but we have a run of possibly seven years. I just love being able to allow our fans to get to know our group of guys over a long period of time.
“Fans always like their players, but they get a chance to fall in love with players when they get to see their ups and downs, the arc of their careers, and also the team’s arc as well.”
Listen, I don’t want to get prematurely nostalgic, but I can’t help but thinking about talking to my grandkids someday about these Cubs teams. I’m also hoping that I won’t have to do so with the wistful tones of a fan whose team packed up and left.
Not that I’m worried about the Cubs moving in a geographic sense, but we’ve all seen times when they set up residence thousands of miles from competitiveness. And when we get down to it, that’s where Epstein has really hit the mark. I still remember Rick Wrona, Jim Sundberg, and Domingo Ramos, but it wasn’t because they or their teams were particularly great.
To be able to watch a roster filled with talented young players who are generally pretty decent human beings and who — oh, by the way — have experienced an unprecedented level of success is not too shabby as a fan. It’s been somewhat beneficial to those of us who “cover” the team as well. Funny how that works.
Okay, enough with this sentimental crap, time to get to work and beat the Los Angeles Dodgers. And all the other teams, too, of course.