MESA, Ariz. It doesnt matter how much Oscar buzz the film generates. Theo Epstein has zero interest in seeing Moneyball.
The Cubs president of baseball operations took it personally. He feels like that loaded term misrepresents how he looks at the game. It also destroyed a competitive advantage he had built while running the Boston Red Sox.
By Saturday, as pitchers and catchers reported to Fitch Park, the compensation issue still hadnt been settled by commissioner Bud Selig. But the Cubs are spending almost 20 million on Epstein, to find that next cutting edge, and build a team thats consistently playing in October.
Were just trying to teach the game the right way, Epstein said. I wasnt a huge fan when certain proprietary information was made available to the public in the first place. Instead of a handful of clubs knowing certain things within a year or two, 30 clubs knew. Its not my cup of tea.
But it sounds like they made a really good movie and a lot of people got entertained. Thats terrific, but its baseball time, not movie time.
Epstein seemed a little annoyed by the question, but that might as well be the starting point for a team that made one real blockbuster move all offseason. The Cubs Way will be playing at a ballpark near you.
Epstein spent the past few days running organizational meetings at a nearby hotel, where roughly 175 staffers sat in conference rooms and shared ideas and debated their visions for a championship model. Michael Lewis wont be getting a byline, but the scouting manual is already complete.
Theres also a rough draft for the book on player development, which should run a few hundred pages. Everyone who works for the Cubs from Clark and Addison to the Dominican Republic is supposed to be on the same page.
Everything from what foot you hit the bag with when youre making the turn, Epstein said, to how we run bunt plays to what our overall hitting philosophy is (as an organization). Were going to approach (it) the same way, (from) the Dominican summer league through A-ball, Double-A, Triple-A, right up to the big leagues.
It sounds obvious, but playing hard will be central to The Cubs Way. It will reflect first-year manager Dale Sveum, whos vowed to hold everyone accountable and jump anyone who doesnt run a ball out.
You can tell that he means that, outfielder Reed Johnson said. A lot of staff members can say that sometimes. You can tell that its not genuine or theyre not really going to follow through. But he doesnt care if youre making 15 million or youre making 450,000. Youre going to go out there and youre going to play hard. And if youre not, youre not going to play.
Thats really refreshing (because) throughout the league (and in) my experiences, that hasnt really been true. The players know that if you come in with that attitude, youre going to be in for a rude awakening.
Even though Epstein says the goal of the 2012 Cubs is to win the World Series, they are clearly building toward the future. They are banking on hustle, drive and desire from a largely unproven group. Maybe their improved pitching depth can carry them deeper into the season, and a few young players have bounce-back or breakthrough years.
Perhaps there are more big names here, and we just dont know it yet. But after all the hype about a game-changing hire in the front office, were about to find out. The focus will drift away from Epstein. The Cubs are stepping off the red carpet of stadium club press conferences and into the arena.
Thats the nature of the offseason, Epstein said. It really just boils down to a whole lot of talk and sometimes writing some checks. (But) this game is about what happens between the white lines and organizations are built or broken by what happens (there). This is what were all about, and now the real work begins.