The Daily Herald just recently put out a new book and they were kind enough to send me a copy to preview and post an excerpt from.
Leading to the Top
Cubs’ Clubhouse Not Lacking in Leaders
May 21, 2016
Walk into the Chicago Cubs’ sparkling new clubhouse and the first thing you notice is the shape: a perfect circle.
The diameter of that circle is 60 feet, 6 inches, meaning pitcher Jake Arrieta could warm up with catcher David Ross from across the room. The circle also means that no one locker is any more important than any other — neither status nor seniority gets rewarded with a prime slice of clubhouse real estate.
One thing you won’t see on the crisp white uniforms hanging in those lockers is the letter “C” emblazoned on the front of any jersey to signify a team captain.
But what you will find are team leaders at any point along that circle: Arrieta as the ace of the pitching staff and example setter through his strenuous fitness regimen; Ross as the veteran vocal leader; Anthony Rizzo as the emerging young leader; Jon Lester as the veteran pitcher who now seems more comfortable in his own skin; and John Lackey as the guy who has helped Lester relax and brought a prickly presence to a young ballclub.
Each in his own way is a leader and a team captain without need of a letter to prove it. That’s the way manager Joe Maddon likes it.
“I think it’s an organic situation,” said Maddon, who sprinkles the word “organic” liberally into his conversations. “Leadership is taken. You can’t give leadership. You can’t give it to somebody. People have to take leadership. It’s just the way it happens.
“You just can’t anoint a leader. You can maybe through politics by having people vote for you, I guess. I’ve often thought that’s a fabricated way of anointing a leader sometimes.
“But when you’re within a group setting like this, with us there’s no real hierarchy set up specifically. So if somebody wants to emerge as the leader, they have to take that. Players have to want to follow this particular person. I just can’t say, ‘Go put a C on your chest and all of a sudden people are going to listen to you.’ ”
Good Players and the Right Players
It goes without saying that good sports teams have talent, and the Cubs are a good team. The really great ones, the memorable ones, ooze an intangible quality that comprises confidence and accountability with just the right touch of fun loving.
Watching the movie, “Miracle,” about the 1980 U.S. hockey team that won the Olympic gold medal, one can’t help but be struck by the line uttered by coach Herb Brooks, portrayed by Kurt Russell.
When told by his assistant, Craig Patrick, that he was missing some of the best players, the Brooks character replies: “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.”
There are obvious differences between amateur and professional teams, but it never hurts to have the right players in addition to a lot of very good ones.
The Cubs seem to believe they have both.
“I think it’s a good mix,” said Ross, a 39-year-old veteran who says this is his final season as a player. “Obviously, talent is No. 1. You’ve got to have good talent to win in the major leagues. You just can’t bring in a bunch of good guys.
“You’ve got to bring in guys who want to be great and have the ability to be great and want to be great for the right reasons.”
Cubs team president Theo Epstein built two world-championship teams in Boston, and he has turned the Cubs into contenders after overseeing three losing seasons from 2012-14. Last year’s team advanced to the National League championship series, and the current squad has come out of the gate as the best team in the major leagues.
This past off-season, Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer brought in free agents Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist.
Heyward was the marquee signing, and he immediately drew a crowd of followers among teammates during spring training for his baseball acumen. Lackey is a plain-spoken Texan who isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers. And Zobrist is known as being among the most solid citizens in the game.
“The longer I do this, the more I realize character really matters, makeup really matters,” Epstein said. “Obviously you need talent, but the mix you have is really important. I think we have a really great clubhouse, a lot of quality individuals, so you want to add to that and enhance it. You don’t want to do anything that might compromise it in any way.
“Zobrist is one of the many guys who makes your club that much better. He really cares about his teammates, sets a great example and is someone you can sit down with and exchange ideas about baseball and life.
“He’s been a great add to the clubhouse.”
The edge Lackey brings also is important, according to Epstein.
“We have so many guys who are nice guys,” he said. “We played hard (last year). We played intensely, but we transitioned from to a club that’s in the crosshairs and has to show up every night over the course of 162 (games) to get where we want to go.
“Someone like Lackey demands excellence from his teammates. When he’s on the mound, there’s that little bit of extra gear. He holds everyone accountable. He’s such a fierce competitor.
“It seems like a little added shot in the arm. And John’s really well-liked by his teammates even though he does bring that edge every fifth day (on the mound). That’s something we didn’t have in quite the same way. He adds to the mix without taking anything away from it at all.”
Title for a Time Gone By
The Cubs have had team captains in the past. Late Hall of Famer Ron Santo captained the club from the mid-1960s until being traded to the White Sox after the 1973 season.
The title was revived in 2000, when manager Don Baylor bestowed it on pitchers Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera, first baseman Mark Grace and right fielder Sammy Sosa. Grace and Aguilera were gone after that season, so Baylor awarded the “C” to second baseman Eric Young and catcher Joe Girardi for 2001.
“To me, it’s a responsibility,” Baylor said in 2000. “It’s not just thrown out there. It means something.”
The modern-day Cubs don’t seem to be in any rush to formalize a captain’s role.
“I think that’s more different teams and tradition,” Ross said. “If you’re looking for labels around here to be ‘the guy,’ that’s not the group we have in here. Everybody’s ‘the guy’ in their own right. Everybody contributes in their own way.
“I think it’s important about just knowing your role as a teammate and as a part of the club and doing your role to the best of your ability, whether that’s to lead by example, to lead on the field, to lead the pitching staff, to be the second line on the pitching staff, whatever it is. Each person’s role is important in its own right.”
When Epstein was general manager of the Boston Red Sox, catcher Jason Varitek was the team captain. Epstein also sees no need to reprise the role with his Cubs of today.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s something that I ever set out to do and say, ‘Hey, we should have a captain,’” he said. “If it gets to that point, it’s probably too late. You probably don’t have the right guys in there.
“But if somebody stands out as a clear, unquestioned leader or if somebody has been around a long time and might benefit in some way from a ‘C’ on his chest as a physical manifestation of what is already in place as far as a leadership dynamic, that might be something to consider. But that’s not something I desire to do ever again.”
As close as Maddon has come to the captain concept has been to meet with several players in spring training — players he termed “lead bulls” — to allow them to run with leadership responsibilities.
“When you are a good leader, you are really sensitive and have a lot of empathy toward everybody else around you,” the manager said. “If you are looking for guys in clubhouses, I would look for empathy as much as anything regarding whether or not you believe somebody’s a leader. And also listening skills and somebody who is not always pontificating. That leads you in the wrong direction.
“I like the fact that it’s spread out among them. The topic was leadership. I think that has to be taken more than it’s being given.”
“This excerpt from Let’s Go Cubs!: A New Era on the North Side by Daily Herald is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/LetsGoCubs.”