MESA, Ariz. -- Scream and yell, rant and rave all you want Chicago Cubs fans, the team’s new front office will hear you, it just might not be listening all that closely.
President Theo Epstein knows how these expectation things work. He worked for the Boston Red Sox … before they won a pair of World Series titles.
So while Epstein encourages fans -- and even the media to some extent -- to voice their opinions about the team, even if it is negative, he seemed to suggest recently that the sky-is-falling rants are just the price of doing business in a town that is passionate about its baseball team.
“I think it’s important to just focus on what we’re doing internally and understand that everything outside, no offense, is just noise whether it comes from [the media] or even comes from some fans who are deservedly upset at a given point,” Epstein said. “It’s really just noise, and if we let it affect our decision making, shame on us.”
Epstein then went on to quote Bill Parcells.
“If you listen to the fans in the stands, pretty soon you’ll be one of them,” Epstein said with a slight chuckle.
Sometimes Epstein sounds like the guy with two World Series titles in his back pocket so he doesn’t need anybody telling him what needs to be done. But he also sounds like somebody who knows what happens to those who react too quickly in an effort to quell the uprising.
“I was lucky that growing up in Boston, I knew the nature of it, and I think what was part of the Red Sox’s problem for many, many decades was focusing too much on the next day’s sports section on what people thought and focusing too much on the Yankees and other factors and not focusing on just building something and keeping a real consistent focus on just progress and building,” Epstein said.
“So it wasn’t always easy, but that served the Red Sox well over the last decade, especially in those first few years when we built something. That’s going to be the case here, too. We’re not going to be deaf to the concerns of the fans and what’s going on around the club but we also will recognize, especially with respect to the media, it is primarily just noise, and we have to continue to focus on what we’re trying to do despite the occasional … cacophony.”
Media and fan gripes are often one in the same, but for a front office there seems to be a distinct difference. Maybe it's because the media doesn’t pay for its entry to the ballpark, fans do. Fair enough.
Disgruntled fans are one thing, though. Disgruntled media is more predictable.
“I can go ahead and write your stories for you now if you want,” Epstein said. “At some point you’re going to wake up and write about, ‘Oh, the honeymoon is over. We’re not seeing enough progress.’ I don’t know when that will be. It might be two years from now, it might be three years from now, it might be two months from now, it might be two weeks from now. But because progress as an organization isn’t linear, that’s coming. We just don’t let it bother us.”
He’s right of course. It probably will come at some point. But does that make it any less valid because he predicted it would happen? Of course not.
The consensus seems to be that patience is warranted for this new management group. When Epstein took over as the Red Sox GM before the 2003 season at age 28, the club advanced to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series that year before losing to the Yankees. Nobody expects his first Cubs team to advance that far.
This is a brave new world, but Epstein already has won in a place where it seemed like it wouldn’t happen again. He seems like a guy who can do it again for another rabid fan base dealing with a lengthy title void.
But the North Side isn’t your average place. It has a way of eating people up and spitting them out. Actually, though, it might not be too unlike Boston before Epstein arrived and how Boston will probably be now that he is gone.
Every fan base is unique, Epstein said, and presents its own individual challenges, but baseball decisions shouldn’t be any different whether it’s in the big city or on the high plains.
“Chicago is certainly a unique place, and I’d say there are certain adjustments you have to make coming here from other cities,” Epstein is willing to admit.
So make noise if you must. Epstein has a timetable that he is comfortable with even if some aren’t on board with every bit of the vision. There is a “Cub Way” now, much like there was a “Red Sox Way” and the Epstein plan is a proven one.
Sure there are fans quick to react about anything, good or bad. But what about when the noise starts to get louder and become a more collective effort? Do 40,000 minds in the stands still not equate those of the select few watching from up in the executive boxes?
“Don’t take that the wrong way,” Epstein said. “I care more than anything what our fans think, but I also operate with the belief that ultimately the only way to make them happy is to be able to provide baseball in October on a consistent basis and a World Series championship eventually.
“Any time they’re frustrated or there is negative feedback, it’s just a reminder to me of what the ultimate goal is and that’s giving them baseball in October on a consistent basis. The long answer to the question, ‘How do you deal with [fan impatience]?’ You deal with it before it happens. You know it’s going to come so it doesn’t bother you when it does come.”