WASHINGTON — The Loveable Losers are slowly morphing into The Hateable Winners.
Well, the Cubs haven’t actually won anything yet, heading into Nationals Park on Thursday night only three games above .500, slipping to third place in the National League Central. But you could see the fireworks coming with a brash young team that’s trying to create an identity.
“Well, I don’t want us to have the identity of hitting home runs and flipping the bat and doing cartwheels around the bases,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Absolutely not. Act like you’re going to do it again.”
No, this isn’t what Professor Maddon had in mind when he got a $25 million tenure position at The Cub University: Junior Lake pimping it at home plate, shushing Miami’s dugout rounding third base and sparking a bench-clearing incident during Wednesday night’s 7-3 loss at Marlins Park.
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But there was an inevitable sense that stuff like this would happen with Maddon’s liberal-arts approach and anti-rules philosophy. If you want players to be themselves, to show their emotions and not be afraid to make mistakes, then you can’t be surprised when they get carried away in the moment.
“Poor behavior is not part of what we’re looking for,” Maddon said. “There’s not even any correlation between the two at all.
“The risk is if you let them get away with it. That’s the risk for the first time. And if you don’t put a lid on it, then, of course, it can become something more complicated.”
This isn’t picking on Lake, who realized what he did wrong, took full responsibility for his actions and wanted to apologize to Miami pitcher Dan Haren, the rest of the Marlins and the kids who might be watching at home on TV.
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It’s just that it’s probably too late to put a lid on all this, because it’s bigger than any one moment or individual personality. It’s the “We Are Good” T-shirts and the Bloomberg Businessweek cover story trumpeting the “sports empire” now “in bloom.”
It’s all the battles with City Hall, the rooftop owners and their Lakeview neighbors in launching the $600 million Wrigleyville development.
It’s the six months it took the Red Sox to finalize compensation after chairman Tom Ricketts and president of business operations Crane Kenney hired Theo Epstein away from Boston to run the baseball side after the 2011 season.
It’s Major League Baseball getting involved again in the Maddon tampering case, with the Rays forcing an investigation that finally cleared the Cubs six months after they fired Rick Renteria and grabbed the star manager out of Tampa Bay.
It’s Anthony Rizzo predicting the Cubs will win the division in January. It’s the natural excitement after five consecutive fifth-place finishes — and what should be the pushback in a pennant race.
“We have no reason to get under people’s skin,” Rizzo said. “We should all be running the ball out hard, like we do, and hustling, like we do. We’re just playing the game hard.”
To be clear, the Cubs will need that edge and a sense of swagger to end this century-and-counting drought. Even Jon Lester — who owns two World Series rings and comes across as all business — seems to understand the postgame dance parties in the clubhouse.
“You go back to being with the Red Sox and everything is so regimented and serious all the time,” Lester said. “You’re expected to win. And when you do win, there’s really no celebration. It’s just on to the next day. It’s nice to take (the) two minutes out of our day and really enjoy what we just did on the field.
“I haven’t been around these guys for the past couple years and seen how they take losses. But to walk in the clubhouse and see how these guys handle losses is also good. They’re pissed off. They care. That’s obviously a step in the right direction.
“Winning in the big leagues is tough. (But) once those two minutes are over, then it’s on to the next one. And these guys have done a great job of that.”
The Cubs are also running the risk of retaliation if baseball’s fun police doesn’t like Lake’s act or Starlin Castro’s 30-second home-run trot showing up on “SportsCenter.”
“There’s no comparison between what Castro did and what Junior did,” Maddon said. “One is absolutely, demonstratively unacceptable. And the other one is just a slow stroll around the bases. I don’t see that one as being necessarily upsetting to the other team.”
Jake Arrieta got that question after the Cubs gave Kris Bryant the silent treatment, emptying the dugout in the middle of a game against the Brewers and celebrating his first big-league homer inside Miller Park’s visiting clubhouse.
“None of us here would disrespect the game,” Arrieta said. “Don’t do things that you feel would be disrespectful to teammates (or) to the other team. And we would never do that. But at the same time, you got to have fun.
“(If) we got our ass kicked yesterday, (then) we have to come in the next day with the same mentality. Stay loose (and) confident.
“The looser you stay in the clubhouse, and off the field as a team, the easier it is to kind of turn the page and come back with no apprehension or tentativeness the next day. (You) just come out and play the game.”
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Would you rather see your team making enemies or remaining afterthoughts?
“(As for the) baseball purists,” Arrieta said, “the game’s going to change a little bit and you have to expect that. There are 19-, 20-, 21-year-old kids in the big leagues and the millennial fans like that stuff. It creates a little excitement.
“If there is a line and there are boundaries, then we won’t cross those. But we’re still going to have fun.”