Cubs

What is Theo Epstein getting himself into?

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What is Theo Epstein getting himself into?

Theo Epstein convinced himself that hes ready for the platform that could one day put him in Cooperstown. The only way this ends as a total success is if hes cruising down Michigan Avenue on a float during the championship parade.

Andy MacPhail was a hotshot executive with two World Series rings from his time with the Minnesota Twins, but he never got it done here. Jim Hendry had the Cubs one victory away from the pennant in 2003, and assembled a 97-win team five years later, but he couldnt sustain it.

Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella are two of the best managers of their generation, and both could wind up in the Hall of Fame, but each man was worn out by the end.

Epstein is sold on the challenge, with only the final details to be worked out between the Cubs and Boston Red Sox. The deal will give him almost absolute power over baseball operations for a franchise that hasnt won a World Series since 1908.

But at some point across the next five years perhaps after what Piniella once termed a Cubbie occurrence Epstein will almost certainly pause and think: What did I get myself into?

This is the lay of the land youve inherited.
Take the power back

As baseball czar, you will have to unify a divided front office. There are Hendrys buddies, the numbers guy (Ari Kaplan) hired by chairman Tom Ricketts and the new people Epstein will inevitably bring into the organization. There is a team president (Crane Kenney) who awkwardly inserted himself into baseball matters, but should now be focused solely on business operations.

Fans dont want to read anymore about how ownership instability undercut Hendry, but its foolish to think that it didnt impact the on-field product, and nave to think that freezing the major-league payroll wouldnt have consequences. The Cubs have paid the price after going all in when Tribune Co. had the team up for sale. The worst of it seems to be almost over.

Look in the mirror

Ricketts wanted an adaptable leader, not some slash-and-burn executive who would fire everyone. There are some capable people already in place, but it will be up to Epstein to decide whether Mike Quade is the right manager to lead this team. The Cubs view Ryne Sandberg as having a problem with Hendry not a grudge against the entire organization after being passed over for the job last year.

Bench coach Pat Listach has a presence in the room, and players trust hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. First-base coach Bob Dernier has institutional memory and good relationships with the young, homegrown players after being a minor-league coordinator. You have a reputation as a good guy to work for, someone respected by the people on the ground. They all deserve answers as soon as possible.

Build an empire

The Cubs were late to the game in the Dominican Republic, and slow to expand their international scouting operations, but they essentially cover the globe now. You have to pour more money into those efforts. Ricketts already gave a four-year contract to vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita, to maintain a sense of continuity and keep some major projects moving forward.

Even if Fleita doesnt keep the same title or portfolio, he has a valuable network in the Dominican Republic, where the Cubs will soon break ground on a new academy, and family roots in Cuba. Ricketts loves Jose Serra, Fleitas Latin American coordinator, the scout who signed Starlin Castro and the godfather to Carlos Marmol. All the kids Serra scouts want to be the next Castro. You must capitalize on that buzz.

Invest in the future

Roughly 48 hours before the 2007 draft, scouting director Tim Wilken still didnt know exactly which direction his staff could go or how much money would be allocated for their picks. The sale of the team, and the uncertainty at the top of the organization, handcuffed the department. If the next collective bargaining agreement doesnt bring major changes to the amateur draft, you should spend big.

Wilken is signed through 2012 and has been assured by Ricketts that there will be a place for him in the organization next season. Wilken once worked for future Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick, back when the Toronto Blue Jays were winning World Series titles, and signed Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter out of high school. Find the next big thing in the draft.

Feed the beast
Hendry went underground when he had to, but he also built up goodwill by talking with the media and telling his side of the story (and a steady stream of off-color jokes). Despite his silence during this search, Ricketts slowly seems to be learning this lesson: You have to be accessible. Otherwise the offhand quotes a guy to watch my baseball guy never go away.

Just like in Boston, the narrative will play out almost 12 months a year. Maybe the local media wont be as obsessed with your personal life, because you didnt grow up here. But all the questions exhausted even Piniella, who came of age in the middle of the New York tabloid newspapers wars, while the Bronx was burning. This wont be a holiday weekend on Marthas Vineyard.

Act in cold blood

As much as Ricketts appears to be committed to player development, the chairman really finds comfort in numbers. He wants data to drive more decisions. Hendrys interpersonal skills enabled him to close deals and bring in talent, but he sometimes got too close to the players. Then again, you made some of the same mistakes with free agents.

This could mean fewer no-trade clauses, holding off on the extra year tacked onto the contract, perhaps telling Aramis Ramirez to find a multiyear deal elsewhere. If you have any questions about the office politics and turf battles to come, you can always call Hendry, who thought highly of your work in Boston.

Soon it will be time to build a new machine here in Chicago.

Remember That Guy? Gary Gaetti

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AP

Remember That Guy? Gary Gaetti

There have been 1,052 players in MLB history born in Illinois (or at least that’s how many we know of).  And of those players, the one with the most home runs is… Jim Thome with 612.  But the player who’s second; the player who had the “record” prior to Thome was Gary Gaetti with 360. 

Gary Gaetti homered in his MLB Debut (in his first at-bat) on September 20, 1981 for the Twins.  As a rookie the following season he hit 25 long ones. He was a mainstay at the hot corner for the Twins in the 1980s, winning four Gold Gloves (1986-89) with two All-Star selections (1988-89).  He was part of the 1987 World Champions (and was ALCS MVP).  By the time the Twins won their second World Series in 1991, Gaetti was in California with the Angels.  In 1995 at age 36 he had a renaissance for the Royals with 35 home runs and collected his lone career Silver Slugger before moving onto the Cardinals for the next few seasons. 

After being released by the Birds in mid-1998, Gaetti arrived on the North Side where he hit 17 home runs in 150 games (in 1998-99). In that 1998 season, he was a teammate of both Mark McGwire (who hit 70 HR for the Cardinals) and Sammy Sosa (who hit 66 HR for the Cubs). He remains the last player age 40 or older to homer in a Cubs uniform (all 17 of his home runs with the Cubs came after he turned 40).  Gaetti even made an appearance on the mound for the Cubs to close out what would end up a 21-8 rout at the hands of the Phillies on July 3, 1999 at the Vet.  He allowed two runs, including a solo home run by Marlon Anderson and an RBI triple by Doug Glanville. Gaetti concluded his MLB career with five games for the Red Sox in 2000.

After his retirement as a player, Gaetti had some coaching gigs in the minors and majors. In 2012, when 50-year old Roger Clemens came back to make two starts for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, Gary Gaetti was the manager, as he was three years later when 50-year old Rafael Palmeiro played a game for the Skeeters. Gaetti led the team to the Atlantic League championship in 2016.

Quite a career.

Glanville Offseason Journal: Traded in the offseason, but life goes on

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AP

Glanville Offseason Journal: Traded in the offseason, but life goes on

My mom’s father, my grandfather, in his North Carolina accent, used to ask me nearly every time I saw him.

“You still hittin’ that ball?!?!”

He knew my brother took extensive time to groom me in the game of baseball as soon as I could walk. So he recognized early on that my passion for the game only grew with time. So when he passed away during the offseason nearing midnight into Dec. 23, 1997, it was tough. I could no longer answer his question with a baseball career update.

He passed away in the same hospital where the legendary Negro League player, Buck Leonard, would pass away less than a month sooner. It is just so happened that Leonard’s passing coincided with the day my grandfather was first admitted into the same facility. I took it as a sign as I reviewed baseball and family history thinking about how I could honor my grandfather through both.

1997 was not the offseason I had envisioned. After coming off my breakthrough major league season, my first full season as a major leaguer with the Chicago Cubs, I had hit .300 and earned a chance to be in the starting lineup nearly every day. We had an exit meeting that year in the Astrodome. Cubs general manager at the time, Ed Lynch, was blunt and honest.

He explained very clearly that the organization tried to give the everyday job to “everyone else but you,” but was complimentary in how I was able to take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself.

I was a speedy center fielder that was in left field for most of the season after a revolving door of our top outfield prospects didn’t quite do enough to lock down the every day role. A platoon gave me a chance to play against lefties, which grew into against righties too.

The talent was deep from my vantage point: Ozzie Timmons, Robin Jennings, Pedro Valdes, Brant Brown, Brooks Kieschnick, Scott Bullet and so on. There were a ton of a good outfielders, and when the smoke cleared, I was the one holding the starter trophy. I was hoping the offseason was a time where I could cement that status as a Chicago Cub.

So I went into the offsseason with hope. Hope that only strengthened while I was on Lake Shore Drive and heard Ed Lynch on the radio talking about my season and how the expansion of the league (1998 the league added the Rays and the D-Backs) was going to force him to make tough decisions about who to protect from the expansion draft.

He conceded that I would be seeking a significant raise after my season. Then, the minimum salary was $109,000 (I made a little more than that in year two) and because of my strong year as a second season player, Lynch was making a reasonable conclusion. I knew my agent was happy.

My grandfather’s health had been declining over time, so his passing was not a shock, but before I fully digested the loss, the phone rang around 12 hours after I got word that he was gone. Who was calling?

I took the call in the basement of my parent’s house. This was while I was in the midst of a sea of unwrapped Christmas gifts strewn all over the ping pong table, the main wrapping station in the Glanville household during the holidays. My first thought was it must be my mom, who was in North Carolina pivoting from savoring his last hours to working on funeral arrangements. My brother was with her. It already was an awkward holiday from our geographically broken family.

It was Ed Lynch on the line, telling me that I had been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.

What?

I fielded all of the media calls the rest of that day. It was an all-day affair. Between the fresh news of my grandfather’s passing, the shock of being traded after finally breaking through as a starter, and the exhaustion at the idea of learning a new organization, I was not that thrilled.

In fact, one member of the Philadelphia press core finally asked me why I was sounding so unenthusiastic about being traded to the team I loved growing up as a kid. So I had to tell him about my grandfather’s passing and the reality sinking in that I was about to celebrate my first family Christmas with our nuclear family broken into pieces.

For the first time during the holidays, there was this divider in my family. Separated by life’s harsh terms. My father and I were home and my mother and brother were not. My dad and I celebrated at a long-standing friend’s house, a thousand miles from my mom and big bro, and a million miles away from truly accepting that I had been traded.

I had just completed my sophomore year in Major League Baseball and it was a moment when I felt like I had figured out some of my mechanics of the game. I was learning how to be consistent, learning the ropes about managing life in season and now offseason.

I was being traded to a team whose organization brought me great joy in 1980 as a die hard fan, a place where I could start in center field, but this was different. This was the business of baseball. The day I became a movable commodity, traded away for present value in Mickey Morandini. The Phillies were betting on my next chapter being my best years.

Can they do that? Just trade me away without asking me? Of course they can. Wait, why can they?

My 1980s memories of that Phillies championship was more than about the trophy. It framed an era. By my following that team since I was five or six, I saw that team build, I pulled my hair out when the Dodgers kept knocking them out in the ‘77 and ‘78 NLCS. But most of all, they had the same personnel. A core of players, nearly untradeable. Garry Maddox, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa and so on. They were practically glued together for several seasons.

But in the modern game of the late '90s, that dream of being drafted by a team, growing up with that organization, winning with the Cubs and retiring a Cub was no longer possible. That was how the game was evolving.

Although I was a big leaguer, I still was a fan. I still was caught off-guard even after I knew the Cubs protected me in the expansion draft. I understood that at all times, lurking were many ways in the game where I could change teams. Some voluntary, most not.

I realized that the offseason was not just this big training session to get ready for the next season. It was also a chess match of competing value. What you are worth versus what you think you are worth. The 2018 Cubs have many players asking that question. Will Kyle Schwarber be traded? Will Kris Bryant sign?

All players will experience life hitting them in the face when they least expect it. During that downtime, the reflection time, the break. That is why it can sting so much. And loss spares no one in this game, even after you hit .300. The rumors alone can eat you up.

I would attend my grandfather’s funeral and reunite with my mom and brother days after the trade. I took a moment during the time with family to make one simple declaration to the sky above.

“Granddad, I am still hitting that ball.”

Just this year, instead of Cubs blue, I would be wearing Phillies red.