Honesty may be the best policy, but there’s a time and a place to be transparent and being able to discern those things is often what makes someone the type of leader others want to follow. But sometimes a leader is going to stick their foot in their mouth.
My jaw dropped when I saw how Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak had publicly eviscerated Dexter Fowler in front of the St. Louis media. Joining Cards broadcaster Dan McLaughlin for his “Mondays with Mo” podcast, the executive openly questioned the effort of a man who was supposed to be one of the team’s star players.
“I’ve also had a lot of people come up to me and question [Dexter Fowler’s] effort and his energy level,” Mozeliak said. “You know, those are things that I can’t defend. What I can defend is trying to create opportunities for him, but not if it’s at the expense of someone who’s out there hustling and playing hard.”
Mozeliak’s rhetoric is a not-so-subtle reminder why the Cubs continue to land prized free agents and develop top prospects at a historically great rate. There’s more to it than just a holistic recruiting approach that woos players in the first place. It’s also about cultivating an environment that players on the outside see and want to be a part of.
Imagine Theo Epstein joining the Cubs Related podcast and trashing Yu Darvish or Jason Heyward by echoing the same “mentally weak” comments fans have made. You can’t imagine it because not even in your wildest delusions would Epstein utter such inflammatory words. Instead, the Cubs baseball boss is vigilant about maintaining that player-friendly atmosphere.
Coincidentally, mere hours after Mozeliak embarrassed himself by throwing his player under the bus, Epstein actually went on 670 The Score reinforce the team’s support of Darvish amidst struggles and injury.
“We’re wasting a lot of breath talking about Darvish right now at this point because he hasn’t performed yet,” Epstein told the McNeil and Parkins Show (where they actually do a really good job talking Cubs and asking the questions we all want to know). “It does begin and end there. [Darvish] is working his tail off to try to get back so he can perform.
“When he’s punching out 13 guys over seven innings and walking off the mound to a big ovation, everyone is going to think he got a lot tougher and everyone is going to think he’s a lot more resilient and a better personality and funnier.”
Epstein’s conversation about Darvish’s troubles exemplifies why the Cubs continue to be a destination for talented players. That was the case for Heyward, who turned down more guaranteed money to join the Cubs instead of the Cardinals. According to Tom Verducci, Heyward took notice of how the Cubs cared for David Ross during a medical emergency in 2015.
The team even showed J-Hey a video of Ross speaking to the team in gratitude for how the situation was handled. Maybe they even explained to him how they’d lured Jon Lester by showing the ace a future lineup that included the Gold Glove right fielder in it. Contract signed. Boom.
Feels like a good time to share this. pic.twitter.com/JfdF41ll41
— Matt Clapp (@TheBlogfines) July 2, 2018
Epstein stood by Heyward’s side despite over 1,000 plate appearances of brutal offense. Have you heard the future Hall of Fame baseball exec gush about Heyward’s character while speaking at Yale’s graduation commencement speech? It still gives me chills.
There are so many more examples of the Cubs front office’s exceptional caring nature. When Mozeliak probably would’ve given up on players who behaved like Tommy La Stella in 2016, the Cubs empathized, listened, and ultimately fostered a life-changing experience for a player questioning his identity. No wonder La Stella called his team “the most nurturing and people-friendly environment you will find in sports.”
That environment is brought to you by the innovative Mental Skills Program put in place by the front office just a few years ago. Headed by Josh Lifrak, Darnell McDonald, and John Baker, this program is proving that the new “market inefficiency” in baseball is treating players with care. Almost like they’re human beings and not cyborgs or pack animals.
Mozeliak’s embarrassing words about Fowler show that the Cardinals don’t understand what the Cubs do, at least not to the same degree. No wonder the Cubs won the World Series with such a young core. No wonder players want to button up the blue pinstripes. No wonder the Cubs respond to adversity so well. It’s because this front office treats their players as people first and foremost.