By Frankie O
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?