Theo gives Cubs fans room to be patient
This friend of mine named Lamond has a brutal affliction: He's a diehard Chicago Cubs fan. In other words, he eternally is in a state of baseball misery. So, with the Cubs as wretched these days as they've ever been, you can imagine Lamond's pain.
Why isn't Lamond in pain? Instead, he sifted through the carnage of a Cubs team that only ended its 12-game losing streak this week after meeting an equally lousy San Diego Padres team, and he uttered the strangest thing over the phone. "For once," said the Chicago native who now lives in Fort Wayne, Ind., "I'm willing to be a very patient Cubs fan."
Translated: Lamond trusts Theo Epstein.
In case you missed it, the biggest free agent that the Cubs acquired during this past offseason wasn't a slugger or a pitcher, but an accomplished baseball exorcist. I'm talking about Epstein, 38, who became the youngest general manager in Major League history nearly a decade ago with the Boston Red Sox.
Soon after Epstein took over the Red Sox in the winter of 2002, he developed a plan to slay "The Curse of the Bambino." He acquired the likes of David Ortiz and Curt Schilling, and to the surprise of everybody, the 2004 Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.
They won again three years later.
Now, unless folks around New England do so with a laugh, they rarely mention that the Red Sox once sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for nothing worth mentioning.
That means billygoats are tougher to slay than Bambinos.
For instance: The Red Sox were even impressive during Epstein's first season in 2003, when they won 95 games. If not for Aaron Boone, they would have beaten the Yankees to make the World Series that year and maybe won it all.
The Cubs during Epstein's first season?
Despite the Cubs creating yawns by sweeping the Padres in a three-game series to end that losing streak, they still entered Friday's action at 18-32. They were 10 games out of first place. Which means unless some combination of Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ryne Sandberg walks into the Cubs' clubhouse in their prime by the All-Star Break, the Cubs are heading toward a third straight losing season.
Those other Cubs streaks also will continue: No playoff victories since 2003 (you know, before the Steve Bartman game), no pennant since 1945 (when the owner of a billygoat supposedly placed a hex on the Cubs for not allowing entry of his pet into a World Series game at Wrigley Field) and no world championship since 1908 (as in, that's ridiculous).
Consider, too, that the Cubs have $45 million left to pay on the contract of outfielder Alfonso Soriano, who mostly has been underwhelming since his arrival in 2007. They lack power despite playing in a ballpark that often creates bombers in a flash. They also are seeing large gaps of emptiness throughout their home stands that previously were packed.
That's what Lamond wants, because that's what Epstein is promoting, because that's what the Cubs haven't done in the past.
Patience means Epstein is covering his ears. He doesn't wish to hear all of those screamers who are clamoring throughout the Cub Nation for Cubs officials to rush two of their best prospects to the Major Leagues.
The screamers want Brett Jackson with the parent club within seconds, and they wanted Anthony Rizzo yesterday.
Jackson is a 23-year-old speedster who is prolific at the plate and on the bases. Since the Cubs traded center fielder Marlon Byrd earlier in the season to the Red Sox, the screamers want Jackson as Byrd's replacement. Now. Then there is Rizzo and his potent bat. To accommodate Rizzo, the screamers want current sensation Bryan LeHair switched from first to the outfield and Rizzo in the lineup. Now.
Epstein is resisting those urges. And, contrary to published reporters, he said the Cubs aren't thinking of trading gifted 22-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro -- at least, not for the moment. He also suggested the same applies to 27-year-old Jeff Samardzija, blossoming as a starting pitcher in his fifth season with the Cubs.
So the Cubs have pieces for the future, but they need to recall the impatience of their past.
Remember Lou Brock? He started with the Cubs in the early 1960s. Then, after barely two seasons, the Cubs claimed Brock wasn't progressing quickly enough. They traded the future Hall of Famer to the St. Louis Cardinals for somebody named Ernie Broglio.
There also was Greg Maddux. After he spent his first seven years in the Major Leagues with the Cubs building toward a Cy Young Award season in 1992, he watched Cubs general manager Larry Himes abruptly end a bunch of nasty contract negotiations.
Himes let Maddux walk ... towards Cooperstown.
Maddux won three more Cy Young Awards with the Atlanta Braves, and in the midst of it all, the Cubs added panic to their impatience.
The Maddux fiasco indirectly led to the Cubs signing pitcher Carlos Zambrano to a $91.5 million extension in 2007 that featured Zambrano providing more drama than victories. The Cubs also gave a three-year deal worth $30 million deal in 2009 to outfielder Milton Bradley, but Bradley was gone after the first season after a series of controversies.
Lamond remembers those Bradley controversies -- along with the Cubs overall history of woe, and then he sighs ... and waits.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.