Epstein, Krause have similarities

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Epstein, Krause have similarities

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

All of this Theo-mania got me thinking about former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause. Was I over-serving myself, along with the giggly Cubs faithful at the bar? Not this time! All of this excitement over the makeup of a front office struck me as ironic in that how far weve come.

For most of my lifetime, the front office of any team was regarded much like any on-field official or kicker: we only noticed them when they screwed up. For fans the off-field face was the coach. When the Kool-aid drinking faithful fondly recall the 85 Bears, they dont regale me with the exploits of Jim Finks and Jerry Vainisi, its all about 'Da Coach.'

The importance, or at least the perception of the men in suits came to a head in bar conversations, 'Get it?!' When the on-going feud between Krause and his star player, Michael Jordan, reached epic proportions because of Krauses infamous organizations win championships comment. Jordan took great offense to the remark and his immense fandom went along with him. Players win championships! Krauses surly demeanor and unflattering appearance only added to the piling on. How dare he belittle M. J. like that?

It reminds me of the perception of the Nixon-Kennedy debates where we first became aware of the fact, in this TV age, that appearance could have an effect on the perception of substance. I have to admit, at the time, I was fond for pointing out that if you spotted me the best player on the planet, even a red-bow-tie wearing bartender could have built a championship team, thus was Jordans greatness and my fans disdain for Krause. Over time though, those of us who looked deeper, have a different opinion. This is especially true when you take into account what Krause says is the original comment, not the Jordan interpretation: Players and coaches alone dont win championships, organizations win championships.

That statement has proven time and time again to have validity, irregardless of having a singular, other-worldly talent. Much of this perspective is gained in the 247 sports news cycle we live in. There is not any angle of how any organization is run that is not fully inspected in public discourse. While we still reserve most of our adoration for those who have accomplished their greatness on the field, there has become a greater appreciation for, and attention paid to, those who are responsible off of it.

The flip-side is that G.M.s and certain club presidents will get universal ire for their very public failings. Its no longer enough for an under-performing player to feel the fans wrath. We also want the head of the shmuck that had the lack of foresight to sign him. (For way too much money, I might add!) Its a brave new world where even the casual fan can not only list the five general manager's in this town, but without thinking, tell you the job titles of John McDonough, John Paxson and Jay Blunk!

Which brings me to the fanfare accorded to the Cubs new hire this week. I wasnt around in 1981 when they hired Dallas Green away from the Phillies to be their executive vice presidentgeneral managersavior. Im sure the move prompted a lot of response here as I know it did in Philly. But, I seriously doubt it reached the point of national obsession. Green brought with him his mantra of Building a New Tradition and lots of excitement, but we obviously know his tenure was more bitter than sweet.

The next chosen one was the hiring of former Minnesota Twins general manager (Who had won two World Series titles, sound familiar?) Andy McPhail to be the Cubs President and CEO in 1994. I also was not around for that one either, since I moved here in January of 95, but as a die-hard baseball fan living in New Jersey at the time, that move hardly created a ripple where I was, as important as it was. After moving here, it was hard to differentiate him from the unimpassioned suits from the Tribune Company that were perceived to have more interest in making money than fielding a perennial powerhouse.

-In another of my Forrest Gump moments: for what reason I cant remember, possibly to pick-up some freebies!! I was in the box that serves as the waiting area to the Cubs offices, just before a Friday game, when I saw McPhail, suitcase in hand, leaving. When asked where he was going by the receptionist as he was walking through the door, he cheerily informed her that he was heading to the Twin Cities for the weekend for a 10-year reunion of one of his World Series teams. I dont know why a club executive leaving his team, as it was about to play a game, to go celebrate past accomplishments, made me feel weird and awkward (I do enough of that on my own!) but it did. Funny are the things that leave an impression.-

And now we have the ultimate line of demarcation for a franchise and the long awaited stamp of the Ricketts family ownership. (Although down the road in retrospect, that stamp might be the last draft in the Jim Hendry era when they decided to be a player and pony up the money that big-time amateur talent wantsgets when they decide to turn pro, a huge shift in philosophy.) From this point on it is After Theo in Cubs history. In an offseason that approached with visions of Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder donning Cubbie Blue for the next 10 seasons, the long-suffering fans have been reinvigorated with the signing of a new-age baseball franchise architect. My, how times have changed. A fan base is doing cartwheels and all of baseball taking notice over the hiring of a suit. Make no mistake though, this guy is a rock star. His youthful persona and accomplishments in Boston made him a transcendent figure. Any price paid for him will be well worth it, in my opinion.

The thing I find ironic is that in this time of downsizing, Theo espouses bigger is better. Hes looking for more than a few good men, more than an army of one. For a franchise that has languished for all of our lifetimes, this shows a thoughtful, all-hands-on-deck sense of urgency. The sign of any great leader is that he recognizes that he is only as good as the people he surrounds himself with. The other great leadership trait thing is that he is able to concisely convey his vision so that all can understand. Laying out his plan for the Cubs Way is an important first step in setting realistic expectations for a now re-engaged fan base.

A testament to his credibility is that his words were not met with the usual wait and see skepticism from a group that has been lead down this path before. Unlike what he inherited in Boston, this is a tear down. It needs to be rebuilt from the ground up and most of us understand that. Which means its not going to be an easy, quick, nor inexpensive task. But building something with a base strong enough to bear the weight of over a centurys worth of disappointment is going to be a time staking task.

It will start with the draft. It will start with the new academy in the Dominican Republic. It will start with constant, consistent instruction and expectation as a player climbs the ladder in the organization. Then ultimately, it will take these products of the system, and wise choices in free-agency to build the team that finally ends the Northside misery. In baseball it takes both, home-grown and bought talent to win. Theo understands this. You cant do one without the other. He also understands that to have a system that provides players worthy of being augmented by impact free-agents, you need to build an organization that is rock-solid from the ground up.

As we have heard before in this town, Theo is telling us that it takes more than players and coaches alone to win a championship. It takes a winning organization too. He is being lauded by one and all for this vision and foresight. Somewhere, Jerry Krause has to be thinking, where have I heard that before?

A surreal offseason puts world champion Cubs in the White House spotlight

A surreal offseason puts world champion Cubs in the White House spotlight

Three days before Election Day, Alec Baldwin walked into a dressing room on the eighth floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza to meet the Cubs in New York. Dressed in a full Donald Trump costume – but still talking in his normal voice – Baldwin chatted with Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler and David Ross while they rehearsed with Bill Murray before "Saturday Night Live."     

That scene sums up the surreal nature of two seismic events colliding, the joyous victory tour that saw Kris Bryant appear on the "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" set with a goat and a bitter presidential election that pitted sides of the Ricketts family against each other.

President Barack Obama called Cubs manager Joe Maddon from Air Force One after the team ended the 108-year drought in early November, winning the franchise's first World Series title since the Theodore Roosevelt administration. Obama amplified the message he posted on Twitter: "Want to come to the White House before I leave?"

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will happen on Monday after about two months of scheduling and discussions, with chairman Tom Ricketts downplaying the idea that the Cubs might have stalled for his brothers Todd (Trump's pick for deputy commerce secretary) and Pete (Nebraska's Republican governor). 

This is part of the family business. Laura – their sister and another Cubs board member – has clout in Democratic circles as a superdelegate/fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. The patriarch is Joe, the billionaire TD Ameritrade founder who's heavily involved in right-wing politics. 

"There's no big conspiracy here," said team president Theo Epstein, who attended Obama's farewell address at McCormick Place last week. "Tom is a very reasonable guy. And in the end, the president invited us, and then they followed up with a real invitation. Once there was a real invitation, we figured out if we could make it work. We could, and we were happy to go."

Cubs Convention – where last year Todd made headlines by describing New York Mets fans as "really, really obnoxious" and dismissing All-Star pitcher Matt Harvey as a wannabe "tough guy" – would be the only logical offseason staging ground.

Todd did not participate in this weekend's ownership Q&A session with fans at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. The Cubs will also be in Washington this summer for a four-game series at Nationals Park, not far from Todd's nominated Cabinet position. 

Epstein paused four seconds after hearing the question: Would you have gone to the White House in June?

"Uh…" Epstein said. "Yeah, if the whole team was going, I probably would have gone.

"I'm not going to tell you what I would have been wearing. But I would have gone." 

Epstein campaigned for John Kerry in New Hampshire after the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series and then shook hands with George W. Bush during that White House visit. Epstein missed the ceremonial trip with Boston's 2007 World Series team because his young son had been hospitalized and recovering from an illness at the time: "People took it as a protest, but it wasn't."

[MORE CUBS: Cubs benched Jorge Soler several times in 2016 for lack of hustle]

Jake Arrieta doesn't want to be misinterpreted, either. The Cy Young Award winner explained his anticipated absence on Monday has nothing to do with his post-election "#beatit" tweet.  

Arrieta – who is dealing with family medical issues back home in Texas – said his "#illhelpyoupack" message wasn't an explicit endorsement of Trump's agenda. Arrieta said he didn't vote and aimed the tweet at Hollywood celebrities who talked about leaving the country if Trump won. 

"People view us as athletes as being Republican and only caring about lower taxes, which isn't the case," Arrieta said. "If paying higher taxes is going to benefit the majority of society, I'm fine with that. 

"It's tough when people start talking politics. But I'll be open and honest: I just want somebody to lead our country and do a good job. Whether it's Obama – whether it's Trump or Hillary – I just want to see somebody do a good job for the benefit of everybody."

Fowler will be there on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to meet the nation's first African-American president and reconnect with his old teammates after signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. 

The Cubs had waited so long for this – winning their last National League pennant two years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 – that Fowler became the franchise's first African-American player in the World Series.

"I'm most happy for our players," Epstein said. "It's just a really special part of winning the World Series. You feel like you've finally made it. You're in the most precious building in the country, really, and you get to strut around as world champs and meet the president. 

"It doesn't get any better than that. It's very fitting that we're seeing a Chicagoan, and in his last week in office makes it even more special."

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon met Obama while managing the 2009 American League All-Star team at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the president wore a White Sox jacket while throwing out the first pitch. 

Maddon already went to the White House for a ceremony honoring the 2002 Anaheim Angels. Maddon and his wife, Jaye, also attended a small group dinner Bush's staff organized during the final days of his presidency in January 2009.  

"No matter your politics, you get invited to the White House, you go," said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. "I'm like giddy to be able to get invited on the trip." 

The Cubs are also expected to tour the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. Rizzo hopes to present the nation's 44th president with his No. 44 jersey. It will be a day in the life of the 2016 Cubs. 

"It's going to be amazing," Rizzo said. "I think everyone except the true diehard White Sox fans have a little spot for the North Side in their hearts, just because of how long it's taken to get to where we've been."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Recapping the Cubs Convention

Cubs Talk Podcast: Recapping the Cubs Convention

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Cubs Double A broadcaster Mick Gillispie and CSN's Tony Andracki recap the 2017 Cubs Convention and how the World Series championship changed everything about the Opening Ceremonies, the panels and the overall buzz and positivity surrounding CubsCon.

Gillispie also provides a unique perspective on some of the young, homegrown heroes that helped lead the Cubs to glory as well as his experience watching the Cubs' run while making his way through the SEC with Alabama football, including turning a bar into "Wrigley South."

Listen to the Cubs Talk Podcast below.