Cubs

Embrace the Suck: Joe Maddon, Cubs have a new, perfectly-timed rallying cry

Embrace the Suck: Joe Maddon, Cubs have a new, perfectly-timed rallying cry

You might've heard, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon moonlights as a T-shirt salesman.

The team that leads Major League Baseball in T-shirts just added a new one to the batch Friday afternoon, though the mid-May 44-degree day did not make for great T-shirt weather:

Embrace the Suck is a blend of two phrases Maddon used as rallying cries during the championship 2016 season: "Embrace the Target" and "Try Not to Suck."

It's also a military term that the Cubs have been hoping to employ since spring training ever since Joshua Lifrak — the organization's director of mental skills program in the minor leagues — brought it to the manager's attention.

"[It means] exactly what it says," Maddon said. "... It's been a military phrase for probably the last 20 years. I had never heard about it before. It also includes Embrace the Target, Try Not to Suck — it's a morphing of those two phrases and we've been working with the military in order to be able to utilize it where we can sell it and use it for our team phrase."

Maddon and the Cubs are teaming up with KorkedBaseball.com again to sell the shirt and will split the proceeds with the military as well as Maddon's Respect 90 charitable foundation.

"Embrace the Suck" originated from the U.S. Army and is linked to the Navy Seals. It's also being used as a rallying cry for the Atlanta Falcons as of this week after head coach Dan Quinn used it to refocus his team this offseason following a collapse in the Super Bowl.

For the reigning world-champion Cubs, the phrase is remarkably applicable during the first 40 games of a season that has not lived up to expectations set forth by a team that won 200 games across the last two years.

"The message could not be more appropriate than it is right now regarding the start of the season," Maddon said. "We're embracing the suck, we're trying to continue to move forward. 

"Militarily speaking, I would imagine if you're fighting or in a difficult situation, it's never any good. But nevertheless, you have to embrace the moment somehow."

The Cubs spent last year embracing the target on their backs as the preseason favorite to win it all. They're still getting everybody's best shot as they were in 2016, but the 2017 team has yet to click on all cylinders and is still trying to settle into a groove.

So how, exactly, do the Cubs Embrace the Suck?

"It's never going to be the same path," Maddon said. "To this point, it's not run exactly the way we've liked it to. But again, to really expect utopia on an annual basis in the baseball industry is difficult and not really a good method.

"I want our guys to understand: Maybe we haven't done our best work to this point, but that's a good thing. To really stay focused and understand that the better days are coming.

"More recently, we've had three good days, but it's gonna take a lot more than that to get back to where we want to be. So the concept of embracing the target, try not to suck and then embracing the suck, to me makes all the sense in the world."

Of course, the Cubs are coming off a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, their first sweep since Sept. 19-21 of last season (also against the Reds at Wrigley Field).

The panic is gone — for now, at least — surrounding a Cubs team that is now 21-19 and has a chance to knock the first-place Brewers out of the top spot in the NL Central this weekend.

"We're over .500," Kris Bryant deadpanned, "so everybody can stop freaking out now."

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”

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Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."

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