By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Fresh faces, and a new day.
Theo Epstein and his lieutenants don’t look like baseball executives – more like luxury-box fans at a Dave Matthews concert – but their presence is about to bring an ironic turn to the north side.
The kids are here to run the Cubs like a big-boy team. Finally.
Youth is being served at Wrigley, and not in the usual sense as we know it, where it’s more like over-served.
A big, complicated business needs to be managed by intelligent, educated businesspeople. Major-league baseball has realized this, as most organizations have similarly modernized and enlightened. There is still a place for the jowly, lumpy “baseball men,” but only as one component of the larger, smarter picture.
Culture change is a good thing, and the new names on the masthead are just a start. The culture, in this sense, is more the collective behaviors and beliefs of the fans – the actual social actions and transmitted, shared pursuits — than it is the increased bandwidth and new algorithms at work in the offices.
So I call on you, Cubs fan, to meet the new regime at least halfway to genuine culture change. Agree to evolve. If the team itself can adapt for the better, so can you. Here’s how.
Stop celebrating history that doesn’t deserve the attention. The 1969 Cubs didn’t win anything – they choked and lost embarrassingly. No season that miserable should be recalled fondly. Only championship baseball should be romanticized.
Stop treating a ballpark like some kind of cathedral, or monument to a simpler, better time. It’s a ballpark. Do to it whatever needs to be done to give the team every dollar it needs to go about the business of winning titles. You want pastoral transcendentalism, go to the Botanic Gardens and sit on the grass. The rest of us are here to watch the team win.
Stop acting like the development of new tradition is some kind of threat to your fond memories. Your special days in the grandstands with Uncle Ed and Grandpa Joe won’t be trampled by change.
Stop pining for every next big-name free agent. Get a look at them – most of them are still here, and are old, bad, declining rapidly, or suspended . If you like what you see, raise your hand. Even Epstein himself fell prey to some of that temptation in Boston, and he had money to burn. The Cubs don’t, yet.
Stop getting over-attached to individual players to the point where you overvalue them. Players are people, but they are property: assets to be cultivated, and promoted or traded as needed. Just because you like a guy, it doesn’t mean anybody really thinks he’s any good, or that your team wouldn’t be better served flipping him for someone better. Your Ryan Theriot jersey-shirt makes you look stupid.
Most importantly, commit to learning how the game is discussed by smart people, like the guys now managing your team. The metric revolution has made a great game richer and more fascinating than ever, identifying facts and eradicating myths. So stop talking about batting average, pitching wins and RBI, and embrace win expectancy, weighted on-base average, OPS+, UZR/150, SIERA and xFIP. You’ll have a much keener understanding of the Cubs’ decisions, now, and a deeper, stronger connection to both your team and the game.
There’s nothing scary about knowing more about baseball. It may take a little work, but a bright fan will find it much more stimulating and rewarding than anything in the current mix of sappy nostalgia, low-rent mysticism, and cheesy songs.
The Cubs, at long last, are moving to the right side of history.
Please, join them.