The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball...
When the hardestluck franchise in baseball ended a 108-year title drought last fall, the story “almost demanded that Tom Verducci weigh in,” said Ed Sherman in the Chicago Tribune. The longtime Sports Illustrated scribe is “arguably the best baseball writer of his generation,” and he’s delivered in a big way with his new “deep, deep dive” into the Chicago Cubs’ enchanted 2016 season. The suspenseful opening chapter, set just before the first pitch is thrown in Game 7 of the World Series, puts the drama in motion. But Verducci proves equally adept at analyzing how team president Theo Epstein, who’d previously worked his magic with the Boston Red Sox, has tweaked the data-driven approach to team building that was outlined in Michael Lewis’ seminal 2003 book, Moneyball.
Epstein has learned that numbers aren’t everything, said Jena McGregor in The Washington Post. In Boston, he watched his 2011 team disintegrate when tested by a late-season losing streak, and so in Chicago he put new focus on character. He ordered scouts to prepare reports that looked into every aspect of players’ makeup, including what friends and rivals said about them, and how they’d responded to adversity. “If we can’t find the next technological breakthrough,” Epstein told Verducci, “maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players.”
“Hooray for good intentions,” said Steven Goldman in Slate.com. Fans shouldn’t forget that midway through the 2016 season, however, the Cubs compromised on character when they acquired pitcher Aroldis Chapman, a standout closer who’d previously been suspended by baseball for a domestic violence violation. Epstein is proud that his staff and players share genuine affection for one another—but will sentimentality interfere with management’s need to be ruthless about players whose performance fades? As the Chapman deal proved, having shared ideals only gets a team so far. “To succeed against tough competition, you have to be willing to shelve your ideology.”