(CBS) — After attending an event for season-ticket holders, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made it clear: Excuses won’t get in the way of the winning culture he wants to institute at Clark and Addison.
Just recently, Epstein hired his third hitting coach in three years at the helm of the team when he brought John Mallee aboard. Certainly, in an ever-changing arena of young talent coming to the big leagues, getting the instruction right is crucial to the development of the sometimes raw and gifted players.
Epstein and president of business operations Crane Kenney spent an hour Friday thanking the 2,000 season-ticket holders who showed up to the mid-day session at the historic Oriental Theater. During the session, video segments lauded the improved facilities that the Cubs have established in Mesa, Ariz., and the Dominican Republic. The upgrades continue with a groundbreaking on rehab construction at Wrigley Field on Saturday. MLB commissioner Bud Selig and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel will be in attendance, as will iconic Cubs Kerry Wood and Milt Pappas.
Epstein has been adamant, along with general manager Jed Hoyer, in demanding that nothing will be glossed over in their pursuit of a championship-caliber performance and instruction in the Cubs organization. The team’s .300 on-base percentage and the 9.1-strikeouts-per-game average of the offense didn’t sit well with the executives.
“We are aware of the turnover (in hitting coaches),” Epstein said. “I said earlier, our major league hitting coach position is like the Spinal Tap drumming situation (referring to the fictional rock group). We hope John (new hitting coach Mallee) will solve that for us.”
The follow-up questions to Epstein included an inquiry into whether he thought the frequency of change was a stumbling block. He went on to compliment the previous hitting coaches and then stated that getting it right during this next phase for the organization is the only thing that matters. Epstein added young players will have gained “from a few different perspectives” and found their way.
I asked the Cubs’ top baseball boss if the fans should be happy with his “take-no-prisoners” approach to the job.
“I don’t like to tell fans how to feel ,” he replied. “We are just being honest about the fact, that if you watch the team play we have enough talent to compete. Now, do we have enough talent to win? That is the beauty of baseball. You don’t find out until you try. This is the first time we have had enough talent to compete. I believe that when you are competing, you have to set your sights high. There is no point to saying, ‘Well, maybe we can finish .500.’ What good does that do?”
Always the professional, Epstein never rips current or former staff members in public. As a matter of business, he’s complimentary to people who exit the franchise. That being a given, he won’t accept failure on any level. He even included himself and his front office staff for the failure of pitcher Edwin Jackson.
“As it stands, that signing was a mistake,” Epstein conceded to the audience in attendance.
Correcting the hitting — and the base-running-deficient team of September that he watched struggle — is what drives the team’s ambitious boss. Hiring Mallee and new first base and outfield coach Doug Dascenzo are just the latest moves to improve his quality of teachers.
Epstein believes, and rightfully so, that the young mix of players he sees matriculating through the system deserves the best facilities and instruction that’s available. That always explains his thinking.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.