Chicago Cubs Rebuild: It's Been a Long, Hard Road Out of Hell

Chicago Cubs Rebuild: It's Been a Long, Hard Road Out of Hell
Who are the greatest players to have called Wrigley home?

Have you ever seen something that you couldn’t really explain?  Something that just shot right through your retinas and burned itself indelibly into your gray matter?

Or have you ever been frustrated by the general inability of life to simply go along with the plans you’ve laid out for yourself, almost like you’ve been placed in the middle of an interminable escalator and forced to walk opposite the movement?

Perhaps you saw Morgana the Kissing Bandit running after Ryne Sandberg or witnessed said slugger swatting Sutter’s splitters into the stratosphere.  Or you watched batters hit back-to-back-to-back home runs on three consecutive pitches, or maybe sat numbly as a leftfielder threw a tantrum after an oddly-dressed fan reached for a ball.

Maybe you caught the recent Oscars broadcast and rubbernecked at the train-wreck trifecta of Kim Novak, Goldie Hawn, and John Travolta, the latter of whom appears to be an Indiana Hoosiers basketball fan.  It was quite obvious that he patterned his coiffure after Tom Crean.

It could even be something as unexpected as looking over at the car you’re passing while driving on the interstate to see that the driver is reading a book. As in, he’s got the book open, propped up on the steering wheel as he’s motoring north at 70mph.

I saw that as I was heading home in the either the summer or fall of ’99. We were on the way back from the Hard Knock Life concert in Indianapolis, tired and perhaps still shaking off the vestiges of a contact high.

You see, when Method Man and Redman employed a backdrop touting themselves as America’s Most Blunted, they meant that literally. And collectively, if much of the crowd served as an accurate barometer. Oh, this was an indoor show too.

DMX performed too, and at the beginning of his set he started stripping off clothes. He chucked his t-shirt into the crowd and then removed his beater, which he then tossed right into my younger brother’s chest.

“Hey, that’s for the ladies, [word that I won’t use here but for which Riley Cooper and Richie Incognito have no such compunction for spouting]”

And at that, my brother was mauled by every woman within arms’ reach, the A-shirt torn to shreds in the process. They definitely went all out, up in there, up in there.  Imagine Kris Bryant tossing his BP jersey to a man surrounded by female Cubs fans. From that point on, the show proceeded with little further bodily harm and we enjoyed ourselves tremendously.

I should mention that my brother was scheduled to take the SAT the following morning, which may be why he ended up in the Marine Corps. No, in all seriousness, college wasn’t really his bag anyway, and served his country honorably over the course of his enlistment, which included two tours in Iraq.

And of course, no story about that trip is complete without explaining how we almost died, twice, on the way down. I believe it was at some point between Lafayette and Indianapolis and we were speeding down the left lane in an attempt to make the opening act.

Of course, despite the invincibility of youth, I was ever the vigilant driver. And it’s a good thing too, as a van swerved into us in an ill-fated lane-change attempt. I laid on the horn, the driver whipped back into her lane, and all was well.

But my buddy, we’ll call him Juan, wasn’t content to let her wallow in the fear and shame of her miscue. No, Juan got a mischievous grin on his face as he looked over at me from the shotgun seat.

“Should I show her my hole?”

Well, what kind of response do you think that got from a van full of testosterone and adrenaline? With a resounding “Hell yeah!” still echoing through the cabin, Juan displayed his pressed ham to the woman responsible for the near-miss.

A look of horror spread over her visage as she witnessed what I can only imagine is the kind of unfortunate sight I described earlier. Her shock was momentary, but she recovered quickly, removing her right hand from 2 o’clock in order to shield the eyes of the child riding up front with her.

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my laugh, which is not necessarily a good thing when you’re trying to guide a vehicle down a crowded freeway at a high rate of speed. So after exacting sophomoric revenge for a collision avoided, I nearly careened right on the road as the result of said act.

But we made it safely and entered the arena to the opening strains of M-E-T-H-O-D Man and all was right with the world. All right, is anyone still with me? Oh good. Thank you for your patience, I’ll get to my point now.

I think a lot of us have felt like the Tom Ricketts is the guy reading his book as he cruises down the road, paying little attention to the path he’s taking. Perhaps the book is Team Ownership for Dummies. Or, better yet, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

And I think all Cubs fans have felt at least a little like the lady in the van at one point or another. We try to swerve into the fast lane, only to have the New York Yankees moon us and laugh hysterically as they drive off with Masahiro Tanaka and Joe Girardi in the car.

Maybe you see the (dwindling) crowds at Wrigley as the concert-goers, just happy to be there. Of course, the green at Wrigley is just a little different from that at Market Square. And just in case you’re not picking up what I’m laying down, I mean that people were puffin’ the cheeba, or tokin’ the reefer, as the kids are saying these days.

And while the only chronic at the corner of Clark and Addison lately has been failure, the crowds are still blunted by nostalgia and beer.  And while many liken the Friendly Confines to baseball heaven, the Cubs’ results are befitting of a more sinister locale.  And that bastard polar vortex sure did its damndest to freeze hell over but good, all the way from Chiberia to Indianoplace.

But do the Cubs even want to put on the turn signal and make a successful lane change? Do the legions of fans?

The answer, I believe, is a resounding “yes” to both. My buddy, the infamous Juan, used to tell me about how his dad would basically draft semis before passing them. He had a sweet ’86 Trans Am and he’d punch it and essentially run the nose of the car just under the tail of the trailer as he passed.

It was like a Ricky Bobby/Cal Naughton shake-and-bake move. And as circuitous as this whole analogy has been, that’s exactly what I see the Cubs doing. They’re hanging back, conserving energy and money until the time is right.

And when they reach a critical mass in the farm system: Boom! They’re going to slingshot forward and turn things around in a hurry. In fact, a 20-win improvement from one season to the next wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

It’s been a long, hard road for the fans as the Chicago Cubs rebuild though, and it’s not likely to get better this year. Following the exploits of Javy Baez and Kris Bryant this spring has certainly made things easier (a fact that Jeff Passan eloquently acknowledged), but seeing them at Wrigley when camp breaks is just wishful thinking.

Still, there’s a growing sense that the plan is starting to come together; right, Pepper? And once the Cubs do finally get into that passing lane, they should have the resources to keep them out in front for many laps to come.

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  • Why does Mr Epstein feel that everyone will be ready at exactly the same time, rather than promoting them to the big show when each shows individual readiness? Is it just about when the clock begins and control, which is why he wants them all up at the same time?

  • In reply to Hey Hey:

    That argument works both ways. Javier Baez for example has done some impressive things but has played a grand total of 54 games above A ball. I actually trust the front office to promote players when they are ready and not based upon when the team needs them to be ready. That is a noticeable difference between this front office and the previous regime.

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    In reply to Hey Hey:

    I think if they had their druthers, I'd be all about control, though that's certainly part of it. But given the near-total reliance upon the success of the prospects (as things currently sit), discretion is the better part of valor. They're better served to make certain the kids are ready than to promote them early and risk damaging their investment(s). However, the growth of the players and the advent of new biz opportunities seem to be moving in opposite directions, thus putting more pressure on them to get the kids up. Not saying Theo bows to that pressure, just that it could eventually impact decisions.

  • If the story is a trip from Indianapolis to Chicago, one time I was so bored in the back seat on such a trip that I counted all the white reflectors on the side of the road between Exits 129 and 258, even though it was 20 per mile. Don't remember if I came up with a total of 2580, though.

    In some sense, the Cubs are currently not much different.

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    As an aside, I felt compelled to write this after recalling this infamous trip and concert with my brother the other day. I don't know that I've ever laughed so hard as when my friend did that, though that was a much younger version of me; today's would probably shake his fist as those damn kids.

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