Theo Epstein passionately responds to Joe Ricketts' racist emails: 'All fans are welcome'

Theo Epstein passionately responds to Joe Ricketts' racist emails: 'All fans are welcome'

MESA, Ariz. — For a moment, it looked like Theo Epstein was simply going to sidestep the Joe Ricketts topic at the Cubs' initial spring training press conference Tuesday afternoon.

When the issue of the racist and controversial emails from the patriarch of the Ricketts family was broached, Epstein started by saying Tom Ricketts, Joe's son and the chairman of the Cubs, would meet with the team on the first full day of spring camp and address the players then.

A lot of team presidents may have decided to leave the discussion at that. After all, it's a very sensitive topic and is only related to baseball because Joe Ricketts' money purchased the Cubs. 

But not Theo Epstein.

Once again, Epstein showed that the Cubs could not dream up a better frontman for their organization.

At least a half-dozen times since the Cubs' 2018 season ended in disappointing fashion, Epstein has met with the media and passionately discussed a host of sensitive issues, from the team's collapse and lack of urgency to the Addison Russell situation to the Joe Ricketts emails.

After bringing up Tom Ricketts' future plans to address the team, Epstein took the opportunity to explain his own stance:

"Since you asked the question, I'd just like to take a moment to join Tom to state unequivocally that the views expressed in those emails have no place in our organization, in the sport of baseball or in society overall," Epstein said. "And join him in condemning racism and Islamophobia in all forms. The emails were upsetting to read and especially upsetting to think that some of our fans were put into a position where they had to even consider a conneciton between their favorite teams and some of those types of views. 

"So I just wanted to make that clear. I know I speak for all of us — that's where we stand. I think we all grow up in a bubble in some form or another and part of growing up is getting outside of that bubble. And for us and for almost everyone in this building, baseball has been a great vehicle to help us grow and to get outisde of our own little world and to start to appreciate difference and to start to celebrate diversity and to start to understand different people's perspectives. 

"When you play baseball, when you work in baseball, when you're around baseball every single day, you're forced to be exposed to and start to understand and respect everybody's different backgrounds. And to appreciate and celebrate difference and diversity. It's been such a force for good, for helping us expand our own views, help us develop empathy. If you want to win, in baseball, you have to embrace diversity fully. Being around people from different backgrounds has to help you increase your empathy and understand people, or else you won't last long in this game. 

"Honestly, that's what I think of when I think about baseball. When I think about the Cubs, I know it's an easy target right now, our slogan — Everybody In — but that's genuinely what I think about. When you look across our clubhouse, when you look at our front office, when you look at how we treat each other, when you look at how much respect we have for people of different backgrounds. We do stand for everybody in and so now that this has happened, I think the burden falls on us even more, not just to talk about it but to show it. 

"All fans are welcome. Diversity is to be celebrated. Every different background is to be respected. Everybody is welcome. Everybody in. Now we have a greater burden to show it. But I think this organization is up for that and that's something that we look forward to doing over the course of this year."

Epstein was again given something of an exit off the highway of the topic, asked by a reporter if he just chalked the whole thing up as one person's thoughts and opinions. But instead, he doubled down, talking again about the terrible position it put some fans in thanks to the "ugly" and "disgusting" views expressed in the email by the patriarch of the family that owns their favorite team. 

Epstein wants all fans to feel welcome and make sure everybody knows he and the Cubs stand on the opposite side of those emails and they want to show it with their actions, not words. They want to prove they believe diversity is important in every aspect — from running a team/business to the fans.

"Every single one of our fans should feel as welcome as the next," Epstein said. "One of the great things about baseball, when you walk through the turnstiles and you come into the ballpark, you should be able to set aside the problems of the real world for 3-3.5 hours and just enjoy the game. The reality of the situation now is some of our fans are forced into a position where there are other things we have to think about.

"We need to demonstrate through our actions that we believe in Everybody In and that walking through the turnstiles at Wrigley Field is a sanctuary from some of the broader problems of the real world and that baseball is a diverse, welcoming institution and it's here for all."

Similar to how he's approached the Russell domestic violence situation, Epstein would prefer to let the Cubs' actions take the lead because "words are cheap." Instead of sitting up there and spouting off how the organization plans to rectify this wrong, he instead wants to prove it with their actions. 

The day Joe Ricketts' emails were leaked, Tom Ricketts made a phone call to a Muslim-American organization to set up a meeting.

"Not as a PR effort," Epstein said, "but just to say clearly, 'We need to talk. We need to tell you how seriously we're taking this. We know this is a major issue and we want to start the conversation so we can get this right.' And not just announcing we're holding a day of appreciation so we can say, 'everything's better.' No. That might come down the road, but as part of a broader program of ourtreach.

"I hope that our actions as an organization, how we treat people, how we treat our fans, how we run the organization will speak for itself over the course of the year because we have this additional burden now to prove what we're all about."

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Why it matters that the Cubs bullpen is 'deeper' than David Ross expected

Why it matters that the Cubs bullpen is 'deeper' than David Ross expected

The Cubs pitching staff is staring at a block of 17 straight games to start the season. After just three weeks of Summer Camp.  

“There’s a reason why Spring Training’s so long,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Because we want to stretch it out, make sure everybody’s healthy. So, outside of the virus factor, there’s a risk-factor of injury as well.”

Expecting starting pitchers to consistently throw seven innings at the beginning of the season isn’t realistic, so pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has built in a cushion. While most Cubs starters are upping their workloads to three-plus innings this week, some middle relievers are stretching to multiple innings as well.

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Late this week, Hottovy said he expects Rex Brothers, Dan Winkler, Casey Sadler, Duane Underwood Jr. and James Norwood to throw two innings in simulated games.

“As much as it is important to get these guys going multiple innings,” Hottovy said. “It’s also important to get them the volume they need, that you would see during a regular season. So throwing a two or three inning stint and having three or four days off, it may help us in one game, but over the course of the season … we’re going to need guys to be able to bounce back.”

Those who aren’t expected to throw multiple innings will, for the most part, still work up to a batter or two over one inning.

Kyle Ryan, who was delayed by what Ross called “protocol technicalities,” is in that category. He arrived in Chicago Wednesday night, according to Ross. Ryan was scheduled to be tested for COVID-19 along with the rest of the team Thursday. He will be quarantined until the Cubs receive his tests results, as long as they come back negative.

But Hottovy still believes there’s a chance Ryan could be ready to pitch in time for opening day in two weeks.

“We still have to get our eyes on him,” Hottovy said. “I feel like there is because of the work that he’s done and what he’s had access to back home.”

Either way, the Cubs hope to avoid having him pitch in back to back games early in the season.

“I don’t think anybody,” Hottovy said, “no matter what work you’ve done, is going to be ready to go back-to-backs at least consistently and definitely not those three days in a row.”

Not even closer Craig Kimbrel. Hottovy anticipates several of those pitchers will need to fill late-inning roles due to the compact 60-game schedule.

The Cubs starting rotation may be lacking in depth, even more than the Cubs originally expected after southpaw Jose Quintana lacerated his left thumb while washing dishes. But even with swingman Alec Mills expected to join the starting rotation, Ross has been pleasantly surprised with the overhauled Cubs bullpen.

“It’s definitely deeper than I had in my mind going into it,” Ross said. “These guys have really taken it upon themselves to be in tip-top shape.”



Cubs injury update: Anthony Rizzo sits out of intrasquad scrimmage

Cubs injury update: Anthony Rizzo sits out of intrasquad scrimmage

Anthony Rizzo sat out of in the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmage Thursday, after missing the two previous days of team workouts with lower back tightness.

“I spoke to him yesterday and he felt much better,” Cubs manager David Ross said, “so he’s moving the right direction.”

David Bote filled in for Rizzo at first base. Rizzo remains day-to-day. The first baseman has a history of back injury, and Ross said the Cubs are taking a cautious approach to Rizzo's health during Summer Camp.

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But he was still a presence in Thursday's intrasquad game. Rizzo, in uniform, spent the first few innings of the scrimmage next to the on-deck circle. He chatted with several players, including Ian Happ and Javy Baez, before they headed to the batter’s box. Rizzo then moved to the left field bleachers, bat in hand.