As baseball moves toward its trade deadline and its annual “buyer or seller?” debates… .
Readers of this space know what your humble and faithful narrator thinks of organizational quitting – “tanking,” in current parlance, local case studies being the Bulls and White Sox, the latter being a particularly amusing example given what was going on there about a century ago. Those Sox were banned from baseball for throwing the 1919 World Series, while members of the current Bulls or Sox have their mindset questioned for trying to win, fouling up a draft slot for an organization trying to do anything but.
Now it’s the organization that does the quitting on a season, dressed up a bit by euphemistically cloaking it with a veneer of respectability in the form of the descriptor “rebuild,” which justifies quitting on the present behind a pretext of getting back in trade some prospects, who rarely if ever reach the levels of the talent being dumped.
Players are excoriated for not running out a ground ball. But the culture of quitting has made it organizationally acceptable for not playing out a season. Help me with the math on this one, please.
It’s acceptable for an organization to quit based on a pretext of acquiring a higher draft choice or prospects via trade for supposed future pursuits of championships, but not for a player to, say, pull himself out of a game trailing by X number of runs after so many innings to save himself for tomorrow? Help me with with math on this one, too, please.
It’s all some twisting of the sports ethic involving ends justifying means, which might work. But it ignores the law of unintended consequences, and that doesn’t. The Bulls and Sox may be “rebuilding” something, but the unintended consequence may ultimately be in fact building and cementing in place a culture of losing. The Sox may come up with a catchy “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” marketing slogan, but they do quit, and get benched for it, and you do kinda wonder if somewhere there isn’t some perverse bounty system paying off for sloppy pitching, hitting or fielding.
Then there are the Bears… .
To their credit, the Bears have not appeared to subscribe to the tanking strategy. Just the opposite, and that may already be poised for a payoff (pun intended).
The Bears did need to stanch the talent bleeding that gathered speed under the Marc Trestman/Phil Emery administration. As or more important, they needed to eradicate the culture of losing that was setting in and deepening by the week.
That culture makeover was the prime directive for John Fox and was accomplished, without ever tanking.
GM Ryan Pace cited that fact even as Fox was being dismissed. “[Fox] has been a tremendous force in changing the culture and the mentality in this building,” Pace said. “He helped set the foundation for this organization to go to new heights… .
“Our guys were playing hard, competing, and that’s a credit to coach Fox and what he’s instilled.”
Which brings the conversation back around to tanking, which was never part of any Bears plan, certainly not for Fox and not for Pace, who simply took the draft slot that the Fox play-hard teams left him (No. 11 in 2016, No. 3 in 2017) and made aggressive moves to trade up for targeted players Leonard Floyd and Mitch Trubisky.
From the standpoint of the core culture, hiring Matt Nagy wasn’t a repudiation of Fox so much as building on a core of Floyd, Trubisky, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson, Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair and others, and on what Fox and staff put in place. The retention of coordinator Vic Fangio and virtually the entire defensive staff points back to the original hiring of Fox, Fangio and Adam Gase to reverse the Trestman/Aaron Kromer/Mel Tucker death spiral. Had management given Emery and Trestman another year or two, best guess is that the Bears would’ve played their way down to a No. 1-overall pick.
They almost made it anyway. But the team that Floyd and Trubisky came into wasn’t in quit mode and the Bears are the better for it. There’s a lesson in that.