MESA, Ariz.—Older Cubs fans lament The Curse of the Billy Goat, which dates to 1945, when then-owner P.K. Wrigley had tavern owner Billy Sianis and his goat, Murphy, ushered out of Wrigley Field.
A younger generation bemoans the Steve Bartman incident in the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Marlins for the struggles of the Cubs.
The Cubs, however, know better.
Getting things turned around on the North Side is a lot more challenging than lifting curses and removing jinxes. And it is not easy. It takes commitment to a plan. And most of all, it takes patience.
“Patience is a difficult thing,” admitted general manager Jed Hoyer, hired shortly after Theo Epstein became the team’s president following the 2011 season. “Theo and I want to win in the worst way, and get back to the playoffs.
“We also know you only get one chance to build the right way. You don’t want to change a seven- to 10-year run by not doing things the right way. Short-term moves can make people feel good, but ultimately it takes you the wrong way.”
“If you look at the Cubs, there hasn’t been a long-term, successful run.”
To wit, the Cubs have:
• Won one postseason series since 1908. They beat the Braves in the 2003 NL Division Series, but the good times didn’t last long that fall. After taking a 3-1 lead on the Marlins in the NLCS, the Cubs lost the last three games, including the last two at home. The Marlins rallied for eight runs in the eighth inning of Game Six. All eight runs scored after Bartman, a fan, interfered with left fielder Moises Alou’s attempt at a one-out foul ball that could have been the second out of the inning. The Marlins won that game, 8-3, and would go on to win the World Series agains the Yankees.
• Enjoyed 20 winning records the last 69 years, and had consecutive winning seasons in only four stretches in that time—2007-09, 2003-04, 1967-72 and 1945-46.
• Compiled the worst winning percentage among the 16 original major league franchises since expansion in 1961. It’s even worse than five products of expansion—the Blue Jays, Brewers, Mets, Expos/Nationals and Royals.
“We’ve resisted some temptations because we are looking to create a new direction,” Hoyer said.
Their Time Will Come
The Cubs, however, feel they have made progress, even if it doesn’t show in the big league win-loss record.
Four of Chicago’s top 15 prospects arrived in trades the last two Julys—righthander C.J. Edwards (No. 3) and third baseman Mike Olt (No. 14) were acquired last July from the Rangers for Matt Garza; third baseman Christian Villanueva (No. 13) came from the Rangers a year earlier in the Ryan Dempster deal, and righthander Arodys Vizcaino (No. 10) arrived from Atlanta in the July 2012 deal for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson.
Three of the top prospects were already in the organization when the leadership change was made—shortstops Javier Baez (No. 1) and Arismendy Alcantara (No. 7) and first baseman Dan Vogelbach (No. 9) were signed prior to 2012.
Many of those players are projected to appear in the big leagues by the end of next year. That won’t mean instant success, but it will provide hope.
“We’re excited with where the farm system is, but we have to continue to develop them in the minors and in the major leagues—the challenge will be continuing the development at the big league level,” Hoyer said. “We have to do a good job of fitting the pieces around (veteran) guys who we can bring in.”
The development aspect is a big reason the Cubs hired Rick Renteria to be their manager this past offseason.
“Guys don’t come up often and click, they are ready to be impact players,” Hoyer said. “We realize we needed a manager who wants to teach and is patient.”