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Let’s Hope Ricketts Reads The Sun-Times

Brian-Hanley Brian Hanley
I was born in 1960 on the westside of Chicago at the venerable St....
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Cub fans, if you didn’t get a chance today to see the Sun-Times column of Gordon Wittenmeyer, Mully and Hanley’s Cubs Insider, it is worth a read.

Gordon spent some time talking to a couple of the Atlanta Braves–newcomer Michael Bourn and stalwart Chipper Jones. Hope Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts took time to read what the two said about cultivating a winning culture, which should be priority No. 1 for the Cubs next general manager.

Here is a snippet of Gordon’s column, which can be found in it’s entirety at Suntimes.com:

On his first charter flight as a member of the Atlanta Braves earlier this month, Michael Bourn sensed something strange after the plane landed.

‘‘I was wondering why some of the young guys were just standing back, just sitting back,’’ he said. ‘‘They let all the veterans go first.’’

It was a little thing, he said, but something that told him a lot about his new team. He laughed when asked about how his old team, the Houston Astros, deplaned.

‘‘They’d do whatever they want to do,’’ said Bourn, who was traded July 31.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But as the Cubs start dropping the ‘‘C’’ word — ‘‘culture’’ — again in the wake of their latest regime change, it might be worth actually identifying what a winning culture looks like.

Chipper Jones, the iconic Braves third baseman, said it starts with a cohesiveness in the clubhouse that feeds in one direction — with little tolerance for those who don’t want to buy in or can’t handle it. (Think Carlos Zambrano and Milton Bradley.)

‘‘We’ve had a couple here over the years, but they don’t last long,’’ said Jones, who added that goes ‘‘hand-in-hand’’ with the way the game is played. ‘‘We’ve had some good leaders here over the years, starting obviously with [longtime manager] Bobby Cox. But the names on the backs of the jerseys — not only are they good ballplayers, but they’re good people, and they’re good
teammates. And that’s been essential.’’

The Braves aren’t the first team in history to seek character players. The Cubs even have gone conspicuously in that direction since the lost Bradley year in 2009.

But an exceptional Braves farm system that the Cubs are trying to emulate is what makes the organizational philosophy work for more than just a few up-cycle years. They don’t just acquire the talent — they also keep it and teach the players the same thing all the way up the ladder, Jones said.

‘‘You were taught the Braves’ way from the get-go,’’ he said. ‘‘I had unbelievable instructors preparing me to fill Terry Pendleton’s shoes from the time I first donned a uniform. They have a plan in mind for you, and they are going to groom you for that for at least three years, so that when you get here you’re not overwhelmed.’’

For Jones, the first overall draft pick in 1990, that meant batting third in the order wherever he played in the minors, he said, because that’s where the Braves projected him.

By contrast, former top Cubs prospect Felix Pie projected as a leadoff-type hitter but batted third in the minors much of the way up. Pie never stuck with the Cubs and this week was designated for assignment by the Baltimore Orioles.

Mully and I will talk about this Friday between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., along with plenty of Sox and Bears conversation. Hope you tune in.

As always, thanks for listening.

–Hanley