Levine: Theo Epstein’s Winning Plan Took Shape Faster Than Expected

By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) – Let’s go back to Oct. 21, 2011.

The Cubs announced late on that Friday evening they had signed Theo Epstein to become the first ever president of baseball operations in the team’s long and star-crossed history.

Epstein had brought a World Series title back to Boston after 88 years of agony. Now, he had the dubious honor of trying to do the same for a team that had gone 103 years without bringing home the gold.

And there was Epstein on Friday, sitting in the Wrigley Field bleachers in a baseball cap and disguise, enjoying his team’s second straight playoff entry. Maybe the 42-year-old Epstein was more pleasantly surprised than the 41,000 in attendance who were enjoying the Cubs’ 94th victory of the season.

It was Epstein who insisted in his first press conference that the “Cub Way” would be about a franchise that was in position to go to the playoffs every season and make a 10-year run that would change the course of this team’s history.

Epstein sent me a cryptic text on Aug. 1, 2013, saying: “I hope the fans are patient with us. This is going to take a long time to get right. When we do, hopefully they will be satisfied every season.”

At that point, the Cubs had just finished another phase of trading veterans for young talent. 2012 through 2014 were tough times for Epstein and General manager Jed Hoyer. Those days were filled with anxiety and a desire to garner as much youth with promise as possible.

The timeline for competing took a fast uptick with the signings of manager Joe Maddon and left-hander Jon Lester before the 2015 season. Both signings brought a bit of swagger back to Clark and Addison that had been missing for a long while.

“This year was different from last year because all of the expectations we had coming in,” Epstein said about the 2016 campaign. “Last year, we were able to sneak up on people. We were able to go on a little joy ride, from the end of the season into October. This year, the expectations were very high, even before we got to spring training. The guys have handled it incredibly well. They have embraced the challenges, not backing down from any situations. They prepared to get off to a fast start in both the first half and second half.

“They executed on that. Even with that business-like approach, they have been able to have a ton of fun along the way.”

Epstein is no stranger to hard work or fun either.

“There are never favorites in October,” he said. “We are proud of what we have done. In October you can’t make proclamations. It’s about rising to the challenge, momentum, playing your best in the biggest spots. It’s a combination of talent, skill and timing. There is truly no other group I would rather go into October with. We are set up to fight those battles.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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