Cubs

Tom Ricketts delivers state of Cubs address: Donald Trump, Steve Bartman, All-Star Game, global domination

Tom Ricketts delivers state of Cubs address: Donald Trump, Steve Bartman, All-Star Game, global domination

MESA, Ariz. – Chairman Tom Ricketts wants the Cubs to be known as one of the greatest sports franchises on the planet, a first-class brand synonymous with winning.

With that ideal in mind – and setting specific policy ideas or agendas aside – has the first month of the Donald Trump administration matched up with the organization’s values? 

“I don’t really know what that question was,” Ricketts said Saturday during his annual state-of-the-team news conference in Mesa.

It’s worth asking, because at this time last year, Trump cryptically threatened the Ricketts family on Twitter, and then later in spring training told The Washington Post editorial board that the family has done a “rotten job” running the team. Ultimately, the family’s right-wing influence shifted from a stop-Trump movement to helping bankroll the Republican nominee’s presidential campaign.      

Beyond ending the 108-year drought and finally winning the World Series, the Ricketts family laid out the planks of the franchise’s platform and has in many ways lived up to it: investing in high-character people; creating a vibrant corporate culture; being a good neighbor in Wrigleyville; and growing Cubs Charities.

Do those community concepts line up with the rhetoric coming out of the Trump White House?

“I don’t really know how to answer that,” Ricketts said. “I think the fact is that we do have a good culture at the Cubs. And I don’t think anything that the White House has done – or hasn’t done – has any impact on that at all.”   

Ricketts is a patient, big-picture executive who showed how to think beyond the next day’s headlines, giving the green light to modernizing the entire operation, upgrading the infrastructure in Chicago, Arizona and the Dominican Republic and allowing team president Theo Epstein to oversee a complete teardown and rebuild.

The Cubs are no longer defined by that history of losing, but on some level their brand is now also tangentially associated with an early-stage administration of alternative facts, Chicago-to-Afghanistan comparisons, the Muslim ban, the border wall, murky Russian connections and a Holocaust memorial statement that didn’t mention the Jewish people.

Ricketts posed for a photo with his two brothers and Trump at a black-tie inauguration event. Pete Ricketts, Nebraska’s Republican governor, posted it on his official Twitter account.

“Obviously, my brother Todd is a nominee for undersecretary of commerce, so he’s waiting for that process to play out,” Ricketts said. “My sister (Laura) was a bundler for Hillary Clinton. The family has different political views. Away from that, I don’t think anything that’s going on in D.C. has any impact on us right now at all.”

• Ricketts wasn’t certain if Todd would have to step down from the team’s board of directors to accept that Cabinet position: “I know there are the conflict of interest kind of things and ethics rules. He may have to. I’m not really sure. But he’s got to go through the nomination process first.”

• Ricketts addressed the team inside the theater in the Under Armour Performance Center, thanking the players for all their contributions on a rainy day that washed out the first full-squad workout.  

“I also said I think we have a unique opportunity to not only be considered one of the great sports teams in the U.S.,” said Ricketts, who recently returned from the Laureus Sports Awards in Monaco. “But I just got back from Europe and I think that our long-term goal should be (having us) considered one of the great sports organizations in the world.” 

• Up and down the chain of command, the Cubs believe they can be in that conversation, given their talent base, financial muscle and a stable ownership group that plans to control the team for generations (an arrangement that currently includes an equity stake in CSN Chicago).

“What separates a really good team from a truly great team is the consistency of results,” Ricketts said. “We’ve won one World Series. Hopefully, we’ll be in the mix again for many years to come.

“If you look at the Yankees of 15 years ago, the Patriots of today, they’re just always right in the mix. On the global side, you look at teams like Man U or Real Madrid or the All Blacks and they just set the standard for how people perform. And their team means something all over the world.

“I’d like to think that one day – if we’re consistent enough and if we win – that Cubs logo will mean something to people around the world. Not just a team that didn’t win for a long time.”   

• Amid the afterglow three months ago, Ricketts told USA Today that the Cubs would reach out to Steve Bartman at some point and try to come to an understanding after a foul ball during the 2003 National League Championship Series forced the fan into hiding.

“I personally haven’t,” Ricketts said. “The team was thinking about it. I’m not sure what they did or what they didn’t do, to be honest.”

• Ricketts will defer to Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer when it comes to Jake Arrieta’s countdown to free agency and how to negotiate with the Cy Young Award winner after this season.

“That’s a Theo and Jed decision,” Ricketts said. “They have the right perspective on (how) they have to put a great team on the field this year. But they also have a longer-term perspective in realizing that decisions that effect this year might hurt us in a few years.

“But I’ll leave it up to them. I imagine that they’ve got a strategy around that and they know what they want to do.”

• The competitive-balance-tax threshold – which the new collective bargaining agreement sets at $195 million this year – appears to be a kind of soft payroll ceiling for the Cubs moving forward.

“The way it’s structured, it can be very punitive if you just ignore it and just blow through it,” Ricketts said. “So we’ll be thoughtful and strategic about when we go over the tax and when we don’t. But I’ll leave that mostly up to Theo.”

• The Cubs are lobbying Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball officials to host the 2020 All-Star Game at a fully renovated Wrigley Field.

“I don’t think it’s inevitable,” Ricketts said. “I think that it would be great for the league, great for the game and it would be great for Chicago to have it at Wrigley Field. But nothing’s inevitable on that. There’s a process that we have to go through and hopefully at some point soon the commissioner will give us the nod.” 

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester had easily his worst outing of the year, allowing the Cardinals to score eight runs on seven hits, the veteran All-Star only managed three innings before Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen. 

The Cardinals would take game two of the series by the score of 18 to 5, and while none of the Cubs pitchers could silence the Cardinal bats, Lester didn't shy away from his poor outing. 

"You know, I don't want to chalk this up as bad days happen," said Lester. "I think mechanically this has kinda been coming." 

Lester knew he was struggling to hit his spots, and while his ERA was a sparkling 2.58 coming into this start, his peripheral stats had him pegged as a potential regression candidate in the second half of the season.

His 4.35 FIP and 3.30 walks per nine innings show a pitcher who is relying heavily on his defense to get outs, which isn't surprising for a 33-year-old veteran but the walks are a concern. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was aware Lester had been working on his mechanics, but even he was surprised that Lester's start went downhill so quickly. 

"I thought he had good stuff to start the game, hitting [92-93 mph] and I'm thinking this might be a good day," said Maddon. "But you could just see from the beginning he was off just a little bit." 

Over Lester's last four starts his ERA has been an uncharacteristic 4.57, issuing 10 walks over those four starts, and only making it past the 6th inning once. At this point of Lester's career, he knows the best way for him to get outs isn't through strikeouts but by inducing soft contact and avoiding walks. 

And while both his hard contact rate and walks have increased this season, Lester's experience and high baseball I.Q. has allowed him to navigate his way through sticky situations. 

"I've been getting outs," Lester said candidly. "I just feel like when I've had that strikeout or I have a guy set up for that pitch I haven't been able to execute it." 

And while this outing was one to forget, it's at least a positive sign that Lester is aware of his issues on the mound. The veteran knows how to get outs and he knows what he needs to do to be successful in the latter part of his career. He just needs to get back to executing those pitches. 

Just don't expect Lester to dive head first into the analytics on how to fix his issues, he'll stick to hard work and baseball common sense. 

"I'm not too concerned with the analytic B.S., I'm worried about my mechanical fix for my next start." 

Cubs set the wrong kind of history in blowout

Cubs set the wrong kind of history in blowout

Cubs fans had plenty to cheer about late in Friday's game against the Cardinals, but not in the way they expected.

With St. Louis absolutely wearing out the Cubs pitching staff in an 18-5 blowout, Joe Maddon turned to a trio of position players to pitch.

In front of 41,077 people at Wrigley Field for the second game of the official second half of the season, Tommy La Stella came on to pitch for the Cubs with 2 outs in the top of the sixth inning. After La Stella got 4 outs, it was Victor Caratini's turn for the eighth inning.

The Cubs have actually used multiple position players as a pitcher before, but it was back on June 16, 1884 in a 20-9 loss, according to historian Ed Hartig. Obviously, the game of baseball was quite different back then.

But just using two position players on the mound wasn't enough for this wacky day at the ballpark.

Ian Happ got the nod for the ninth inning on the mound, serving as the third different position player on the mound. He joked he was using his sinker effectively and that he's now the Cubs clubhouse leader in ERA after not giving up a run in his inning of work.

Was there a friendly competition between Happ, Caratini and La Stella?

"Yes," Happ said. "I won." 

How did Maddon determine who would get the opportunity to make history?

Well, for starters, the process began with getting a certain player OUT of the lineup.

"I had to take Rizzo out of the game because he would've been badgering me the whole time," Maddon laughed. "So it started by getting Rizzo out, and that made my decision-making process a lot easier. Otherwise just imagine him harping in your ear constantly that he wants to pitch and every time I go out to the mound and the game may be lopsided as I'm maybe bringing somebody else in, he reminds me.

"At some point, hopefully in a good situation where we're leading [he can get in and pitch]."

Seeing a position player pitch has actually been a pretty common occurence under Maddon as he's done everything he can to limit the stress on the bullpen:

"I think the fans kinda started to enjoy it, too, which is always fun when you're getting blown out," said Kris Bryant, who connected on his 11th homer of the season in the blowout loss. "Those guys stepped up for us to save the bullpen. So there ya go. We're making history."

Meanwhile, on the other side, Matt Carpenter had a record-setting game.

Before being removed from the game in the sixth inning, Carpenter smashed 3 homers and 2 doubles and drove in 7 runs. It tied a Cardinals record for total bases (16) while tying the MLB record for most extra-base hits in a game (5):

It also was only the second recorded game in MLB history where a player had 3 doubles and 2 homers. The other? Bryant, of course — in Cincinnati in 2016.

Of course, the fact he did it all before the game reached the seventh inning is remarkable:

Offensively, the Cubs left 12 men on base, which would normally be the focal point of ire for the fanbase if not for the rest of the day's events...