Cubs

A World Series ring controversy and a Hall of Fame dispute? That's Cub

A World Series ring controversy and a Hall of Fame dispute? That's Cub

A ring controversy and a petty dispute with the Hall of Fame? That's Cub.

This is the franchise of the 108-year drought, a place where almost anything can go viral, from the constant turf battles with City Hall and neighborhood businesses, to the 400-pound "Cake Boss" creation for the Wrigley Field centennial that wound up in the garbage, to the Opening Night bathroom fiasco in 2015.

But after finally winning the World Series, are you surprised this is still where the Cubs — and the media covering the team — are at now?

"Um, can I get hit by a foul ball?" general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, laughing during batting practice before a 9-7 comeback win over the Milwaukee Brewers. "I think it's just the nature (of it). There's a lot of focus and attention on us."

To be honest, this isn't really Hoyer's fight. It's not like his job description involves formulating IRS defense strategies or authenticating Kris Bryant's Adidas cleats or shipping Anthony Rizzo's game-worn gear to upstate New York.

But Hoyer is a good soldier and a good talker, a counterweight to baseball boss Theo Epstein and someone who can bring his two World Series rings from the Boston Red Sox into the conversation.

Hoyer disputed one key element to a Chicago Sun-Times report that said all employees — in order to receive their championship bling — must sign a document that gives the Cubs the right to buy back the ring for $1 if they ever decide to sell the jewelry. Players are exempted from signing that agreement, Hoyer said, and the Cubs are willing to find ways to pay down the taxes on the gifts.

"I signed that thing willingly," Hoyer said. "I know Theo did. Everyone except for the players signed it. I look at it like the Ricketts were so unbelievably generous in the cost of the ring and then the number (1,908) they gave out.

"When you're paying for the ring for a lot of people — and helping out with the taxes along with that — it just seems appropriate to say: 'I don't expect you to take the gift I'm giving you and run out to the market with it.' And I do think there's something a little bit different with the Cubs' 2016 ring, given how valuable it is and how long people waited."

Why would ownership even care when the franchise value has soared from $845 million after the 2009 purchase — including a stake in CSN Chicago and assorted Wrigleyville developments — to $2.68 billion in the latest Forbes rankings?

"I do think you devalue the ring for everyone if all of a sudden people are going to race to the market to see who can make some money off it," Hoyer said. "If you get a Heisman Trophy, they put that stipulation on it. If you win an Oscar, they put that stipulation on it. It's not a rare thing to be given a gift of something like that and also put those kind of stipulations on it."

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But it's not like Ben Zobrist would feel any differently about his World Series MVP performance if a few behind-the-scenes employees eventually sold rings under pressure, responding to a medical emergency or dealing with a financial crisis or trying to send their kids to college.

Credit chairman Tom Ricketts for hiring the right people to run baseball operations, having the patience and long-range vision to build a serial contender and securing the future of Wrigley Field. Estimates on the tiers of rings have ranged from $20,000 to $70,000.

"I certainly think in terms of the number of rings — and the cost of the rings — I'd be shocked if any professional sports team has ever spent more to take care of their employees," Hoyer said.

"Disparaging that, I feel like you're kind of taking a shot at what was really unprecedented generosity by the Ricketts. I think they went way above and beyond what other teams have done."

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but these two April 13 headlines from USA Today and The New York Times sure appeared to be sending a calculated message to 1060 W. Addison St. and Crane Kenney's business-operations department: "Baseball Hall of Fame Sorely Lacking Artifacts from Cubs' World Series Run" and "Cubs Fans Waited 108 Years. Cooperstown is Still Waiting."

"Honestly, I think the (delay's) been administrative, making sure you log everything," Hoyer said. "Certainly, there's no reason to hold out on Cooperstown. I think that's the biggest honor — to have a little display in Cooperstown about the team — so it's not a desire to not have it there.

"I just think it's cataloguing it and deciding what to send, but we'll be well-represented. It's kind of too bad that became a story, because obviously it's not about a lack of respect for Cooperstown, that's for sure."

After ToiletGate, Hoyer did another media scrum and talked about some of the growing pains while rebuilding an iconic ballpark: "Hopefully, we get all that stuff behind us and just focus on the players. And hopefully our team is what you want to talk about — not bathroom lines or porta-potties."

Two years later, that's still the organization's greatest asset, a spectacular collection of young talent and battle-tested veterans who won't be signing those promissory notes.

"Everyone knows the carriage of our guys and the quality of our team," Hoyer said. "In general, the stories are probably not going to be about controversies within that clubhouse, because I think we have a good group.

"Everyone knows they work hard and they're good guys, (but) there's always going to be little things that pop up."

'We gotta bring it' — Cubs looking for motivation with five games left

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USA TODAY

'We gotta bring it' — Cubs looking for motivation with five games left

Thanks to a 6-0 loss to the Pirates Tuesday night, the Cubs are in an uncomfortable position in the NL Central division with just a half-game lead and five left to play, yet the clubhouse remains confident.

In fact, Mike Montgomery — who surrendered five runs on seven hits in four innings Tuesday — said after the game that this loss might serve a positive purpose.

"We got a resilient bunch of guys. We know where we’re at, and it’s kind of a little bit of motivation," Montgomery said. "We gotta bring it these last five games. Our guys know that, we’re not going to get discouraged. We’re going to regroup and get ready for tomorrow."

The Cubs have little choice but to bring it, especially with the red-hot Brewers scoring more runs on Tuesday night (12) than the Cubs have in their last three games combined. The Cubs did score 8 and then 6 runs on Saturday and Sunday on the South Side, but they turned around and put up only a single run Monday night before being blanked Tuesday. 

Joe Maddon said after the shutout loss that the up-and-down nature of his offense is a frustration.

"We're not happy. And again it’s really coming down to the one component of the game we just haven’t been good at recently, and that’s offense," Maddon said. "And then you have to be careful because guys start pressing even more."

In the loss, the Cubs got four hits off of Pirates starter Chris Archer, but he struck out nine and squashed any remote scoring opportunity almost as quickly as it arose. Whether or not the lineup is pressing, they struggled to put together good at bats against Archer.

"This has been going on for a bit — our offense has been very inconsistent. I mean, Archy was good, but we just got to fight through that, especially this time of the year," Maddon said.

Leadoff man Daniel Murphy started the game with a promising single for the Cubs, but the rest of the lineup couldn't turn that into a go-ahead run. The Pirates followed up with a three-run homer in the second inning, setting the Cubs up to chase for the rest of the night. 

"Our concept of scoring first is going to be pretty important," Maddon said of the next five games. "We have to grab the lead and hold on to it."

But, like Montgomery, Murphy saw some positive takeaway from Tuesday's loss.

"I think that what this club has done a really good job of is kinda washing off a poor performance, which is unfortunately what we've had the last two nights," Murphy said. "We'll go home, we'll sleep up, see our families, and see if we can come in here tomorrow and play a little bit better."

The pressure of a very close division race that is coming down to the final days is real, and Montgomery said that it creates the win-or-go-home playoff atmosphere in these last games. That's a challenge he and his teammates are up for. 

"We’ve grinded out this whole year. We have a lot of good players, a lot of guys who have been through a lot of different things," Montgomery said.

He knows a bit about that, having pitched the final out of the 2016 World Series. The core of the group that won that championship is largely still intact, but the success of the postseason two years ago feels further away in history when the picture to win the division is looking increasingly bleak. 

Unless the Brewers slow down, the Cubs are in a position where they have to nearly win out to keep from losing their hold on the NL Central. That said, they are a virtual lock for a postseason spot no matter what, thanks to the wild card. 

Not really a desirable outcome for a 90+ win team, but a loss for the Cardinals and a win for the Rockies on Tuesday put the Cubs' magic number to at least get in to the postseason down to one.

But that's not the outcome the team is expecting, and certainly not the one they're shooting for. Montgomery said that losing both the pitching and the hitting battle to the Pirates Tuesday is a little fuel for the Cubs.


"Take it like every game matters from this point on," Montgomery said of the team's mindset for the next five days. "Our guys are equipped for that, and mentally this gives us a chance to really come together as a group and go out there and perform our best baseball."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Can the Cubs clinch the playoff berth or will the Brewers continue to sneak up on them?

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Can the Cubs clinch the playoff berth or will the Brewers continue to sneak up on them?

Ozzie Guillén and Scott Podsednik join Leila Rahimi from the studio to talk about the Cubs potential for clinching the playoff berth. Will the Brewers continue to sneak up on the Cubs?

Plus, Is Moncada's season considered a success?

Listen here or in the embedded player below!