The Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein, and the Rebuilding of a Legendary Franchise

chicago-cubsThe Chicago Cubs are in the World Series. If you aren’t a baseball fan, this may not seem like a big deal, but consider that the team hasn’t won Major League Baseball’s sought-after championship in 108 years. This is the longest championship drought in North American sports history.

Many fans blame the Cubs’ losing streak on being cursed. You can choose from the 1945 curse of the Billy Goat, the 1969 black cat incident, or Steve Bartman’s unfortunate 2003 interference with a critical foul ball. While one of these curses may have led to their problems, we can credit solid leadership (and a league-best regular season record) with getting them out.

In 2012, the Cubs lost 101 games. As part of their rebuilding process, the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, decided it was time to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Epstein stressed that while acquiring talent is essential, it is meaningless without a culture based upon a winning attitude.

To establish this new culture, they created the “Cubs’ Way,” a written set of guiding principles that standardize the organization’s philosophy. With it’s three core goals—Be a good neighbor, Preserve historic Wrigley Field, and Win the World Series—the Cubs’ Way applies to everyone, from Epstein to the players, to their minor league scout, to the ticket office attendees, to interns.

The Cubs’ Way really boils down to the people. The players, obviously, but then all the scouts, all the people in the minor leagues, here in the big leagues. It’s more than words on a page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players, to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how we treat each other in the front office, the coaches, the players, how hard we work.—Theo Epstein

With a new organizational philosophy came new recruitment criteria. In a recent interview, Epstein emphasized one of his prime hiring gauges, knowing how players handle failure. This is key in a game where even the best hitters fail 70% of their time at bat. To find these players, Cubs’ scouts must produce three detailed examples of how prospective players faced adversity on the field and three examples off the field.

In the draft room, we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player. What are their backgrounds, their psyches, their habits, and what makes them tick?— Theo Epstein

Since Epstein’s focus is on the big picture, he needed a Manager who could uphold these values in the bullpen. In 2014, he hired veteran Joe Maddon. While Maddon’s responsibilities include those of the typical manager such as determining team strategy, the lineup, and in-game decisions, he has a few irregular habits that have significantly benefited the team’s on-field performance. After every win, the team holds a 30-minute impromptu dance party in the locker room, which includes a disco ball, lights, and a fog machine. After each loss, players are given 30 minutes to mope. Once the half hour of celebration or sulking passes, it’s time to start preparing for the next game.

Try not to suck.—Joe Maddon

Turning around a floundering organization begins with turning around its culture. Success follows culture; culture never follows success. Like the Cubs, you may have a deep roster of talent, but without properly cultivating its capabilities, you and your team will never reach the championships. Lead the charge to set your version of the Cubs’ Way to get your culture on track. The sooner you start, the better chance you have of avoiding a century-long losing streak.

One Thought on “The Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein, and the Rebuilding of a Legendary Franchise

  1. Theo’s efforts didn’t go to waste as the Chicago Cubs took back their crown as World Series Champions this year. He had built the team from ground to top, turning losers to champions. One of the reasons why people admire him is that he doesn’t own up to everything, he says that it is a collective effort of the whole team that’s why they won. Very down to earth and respectful of each team member’s contribution. All teams deserve a Theo Epstein.

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