Last Dance, the sequel: Can Cubs avoid trap of 1997-98 Bulls?

Last Dance, the sequel: Can Cubs avoid trap of 1997-98 Bulls?

When Anthony Rizzo opened spring training with the Cubs by telling reporters — from two lockers away — that “money talks,” it might as well have been the opening scene to the sequel to "The Last Dance."

Never mind that he said it with a smile and that it was in response to a reporter’s contract question to teammate Kyle Schwarber.

Rizzo meant it.

The first cornerstone player in the Cubs’ improbable rise from last place to baseball’s most celebrated World Series title in two years, Rizzo — like Scottie Pippen more than two decades earlier — had signed a team-friendly, seven-year deal early in his career for deeply personal reasons that made security at the time important.

RELATED: Cubs’ 2015 NL wild card win over Pirates was 'The First Dance'

And like the all-time Bulls star 22 years ago, Rizzo is at the end of his deal, wants an extension and wasn’t about to get one any time soon as his organization weighed younger, bigger fish (Kris Bryant, Javy Báez) against how to build its next window — all while in the midst of a current window.

“This is a business,” Rizzo after being rebuffed in the offseason. “It’s as cutthroat as ever now.”

Maybe the Rizzo-Pippen parallels end there. Rizzo’s the guy who came back from a “season-ending” ankle injury after two days last September to try to win the division, not the guy who intentionally scheduled ankle surgery late enough in his offseason to miss the first 10 weeks of a championship season.

But the echoes bouncing off the empty clubhouse and dugout walls of Wrigley Field are unmistakable as ESPN airs the 10-part perfect storm of conflict and timing that ultimately closed Michael Jordan’s championship window with the Bulls.

Last Dance, the sequel?

Look no farther than 5 1/2 miles north for the setting, and the only question becomes whether the Cubs’ Last Dance is set in 2020 or whether the music stopped a year before the coronavirus stopped it for them.

Who gets the Jerry Krause villain role? Who gets the more stoic, enabler role of Jerry Reinsdorf?

That might be in the eye of the beholder.

But this is a group that already fired its Phil Jackson after putting Joe Maddon on the hot seat as soon as his team finished its fourth consecutive playoff season in 2018.

And while we might be pretty sure that David Ross isn’t the Cubs’ next Tim Floyd, we’ve already been told repeatedly by Cubs bosses Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer since before Ross was hired that the moves they make next — including possible trades of All-Star core players — will be made with the primary intent to “build the next Cubs championship team.”

Call it a de facto rebuild, a bridge period or take that any other way you want.

But so far that meant an entire winter of Bryant trade talks and the promise of more by July involving the former MVP if the team didn’t get off to a fast start. And it meant (so far unsuccessful) efforts to try to get their best player, Báez, signed to a long-term extension before the same kinds of considerations would come into play.

Since then, the far more significant force of the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out the first four weeks of games with no way to know when — or if — a season will be played, much less how it might impact all these decisions on the brink.

RELATED: Why MLB’s plan to eliminate minor-league teams won't impact Cubs

And whether the result is the ability for the Cubs to kick the can into next winter, or even next spring, with much of its core in the final years of contracts, it’s anybody’s guess whether the music starts again for the Cubs when baseball starts again.

Will the pandemic’s economic impact mean a recalculation of values when teams such as the Cubs are allowed to restart the business of contract negotiations with players? What will the impact be on one-year arbitration values next winter after whatever becomes of the 2020 season?

Never mind the implications for a collective bargaining agreement that expires after the 2021 season.

For now we’re left to bedevil our minds with what-ifs and wonder if two or three decades from now we’ll think of these Cubs more in a Last Dance context or more in the context of the one-shining-moment 1985 Bears. Or, like those Bulls, if they might have had one more chance to win with that group before Krause-ing it up.

The only thing that’s certain is there’s no Michael in this version of the Dance.

In fact, if one exists anywhere in baseball, he’s in L.A. with Maddon in the form of Mike Trout as the Angels ramp up to contend with their decorated new celebrity at the helm.

Where have we seen that before? Talk about Showtime.

Talk about a sequel. 

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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made an interesting revelation Wednesday about negotiations between MLB and the players union. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Manfred said the 2020 season was never going to be more than 60 games given the spread of the coronavirus — at least by the time they got to serious negotiations two weeks ago.

“The reality is we weren’t going to play more than 60 games, no matter how the negotiation with the players went, or any other factor," Manfred said on The Dan Patrick Show. "Sixty games is outside the envelope given the realities of the virus. I think this is the one thing that we come back to every single day: We’re trying to manage something that has proven to be unpredictable and unmanageable.

"I know it hasn’t looked particularly pretty in spots, but having said that, if we can pull off this 60-game season, I think it was the best we were gonna do for our fans given the course of the virus."

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Manfred unilaterally imposed a 60-game season after the two sides couldn't come to terms. The union rejected the owners' final proposal, retaining the right to file a grievance against the owners for not negotiating in good faith.

Whether Manfred's comments become a point of contention in any grievance the players might file is unclear. The league would likely argue Manfred was referring to negotiations after his face-to-face meeting with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark on June 16. Manfred's comments to Patrick's follow up question — if the league would have been willing to go to 80 games, had the players agreed to all their terms — also points to this.

"It’s the calendar, Dan. We’re playing 60 games in 63 days. I don’t see — given the reality of the health situation over the past few weeks — how we were gonna get going any faster than the calendar we’re on right now, no matter what the state of those negotiations were.

"Look, we did get a sub-optimal result from the negotiation in some ways. The fans aren’t gonna get an expanded postseason, which I think would have been good with the shortened season. The players left real money on the table. But that’s what happens when you have a negotiation that instead of being collaborative, gets into sort of a conflict situation.”

The players' final proposal called for a 70-game season. At this point in the calendar, 60 games in 69 days (Sept. 27 is the reported end date for the regular season) leaves room for a couple more games, not 70 (or more).

So, Manfred's right that 60 games on the current timetable was probably the most MLB can fit in amid the pandemic. But you have to wonder if the union will use those comments in a potential grievance. 


Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

When you wait more than 100 years for a championship, you must maintain a strong sense of loyalty to your favorite team. 

Cubs fans have done that, supporting the club through thick and thin, from the mediocre years to the curse-breaking 2016 World Series season. They pack the Wrigley Field stands, consistently ranking in the top 10 in attendance season after season.

That devotion led to Forbes naming Cubs fans the second most loyal fan base in Major League Baseball, second to only the Red Sox.

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Per Forbes, the rankings are based on "local television ratings (per Nielsen), stadium attendance based on capacity reached, secondary ticket demand (per StubHub), merchandise sales (per Fanatics), social media reach (Facebook and Twitter followers based on the team’s metro area population) and hometown crowd reach (defined by Nielsen as a percentage of the metropolitan area population that watched, attended and/or listened to a game in the last year)."

All that science aside, does the 108-year wait for a championship warrant the Cubs being first on this list? In fairness, the Red Sox waited 86 years before winning the 2004 World Series, their first since 1918. Plus, in terms of attendance, the Cubs have only out-drawn the Red Sox in six of the past 10 seasons, a near-equal split.

Two historic clubs. Two historic ballparks. Two historic championships. In a loyalty ranking, you can't go wrong with either franchise. Here's how the list's top 10 panned out:

10. Braves
9. Phillies
8. Indians
7. Giants
6. Brewers
5. Dodgers
4. Yankees
3. Cardinals
2. Cubs
1. Red Sox