A Letter to the Frustrated Cubs Fan

A+Letter+to+the+Frustrated+Cubs+Fan

Eli Aronson
Dear frustrated Cubs fan,
For the last four years, you have had the pleasure of watching the Cubs play into October and even into November. However, all good things must come to an end.  
Last Wednesday, the Cubs were officially eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since 2014. You saw the Cardinals come into Wrigley Field and celebrate on your home field, and you saw the Brewers do the same a few days later.  
How did they get here? The Cubs were supposed to be the next dynasty. Filled with young superstar players, they were on the verge of not just breaking a 108-year curse with one championship but two or three or four. Now, the dynasty has paused.  
It all started on a rainy night in Cleveland, Ohio. Yes, the night they broke the curse.  Nothing has been the same. The Cubs had been the “lovable losers” for over a century’s time; they couldn’t expect everything to instantly change. That team had a certain vibe, something that a 3-1 series deficit couldn’t touch. The team was young, resilient, and nothing could stop them.
Fast forward to the beginning of this season. This team had its flaws, causing it to repeatedly bend but not break. It felt inevitable that they were going to break out of their funk at some point. However, that was not the case. Describing his emotions on the season, Mr. Baer remarked that “as a generally optimistic Cubs fan, this season has been a slow, steady descent into despair.” 
Now fast forward to three weeks ago. Much is the same: a similar core group of players, the same manager, and an opportunity to not only make the playoffs but win the division.
The Cubs were three games back of division rival St. Louis when the Cardinals came to town for a four-game series. Things were looking good; the Cubs had won seven of their last nine, their superstar captain was playing with a sprained ankle, and with ten games left, seven were against the Cardinals. Everything was shaping up to have a Hollywood ending. Until it didn’t. The Cubs lost four straight by one run, essentially knocking them out of playoff contention. Comebacks that came up short and blown leads, you saw it all on a windy and rainy weekend. St. Louis, Chicago’s little brothers for the last four years, came into the Cubs’ room and beat them up, leaving them limping to the finish line. What else could you expect from a franchise that took 108 years in between World Series championships?
From here, Cubs management had a couple of choices. The first of which was parting ways with manager Joe Maddon, which was announced last Sunday before the season finale; it was an emotional ending for the best manager in Cubs history, the man who broke the curse.  The two parties “mutually agreed” to part ways, ending the best run in Cubs history by any manager. Maddon took it like a true professional, stating that “there is nothing to denigrate, nothing to bemoan, nothing to lament. It’s been fabulous.”
So why is he getting fired after one bad season? It isn’t his fault that the Cubs led the National League in errors, made the second most outs on the bases, and had the third most blown saves. Shouldn’t that be blamed on the people who assembled to roster? Yes, but he led a superstar-filled team with a payroll of over $200 million. He was expected to win and win big, and he still had a chance to do so. When your two biggest rivals are both in the playoffs and you’re watching from the couch, the easiest thing to do is to scapegoat the guy leading them on a downward trajectory.
Nonetheless, Maddon was still the guy who developed Chicago’s young talent. He kept his players loose by bringing magicians into the locker room and having team dress-up days on road trips. However, Maddon hasn’t done these same quirky things as often since they won the World Series. His crazy slogans, “Try Not to Suck” and “Do Simple Better,” disappeared.  Nothing has been the same since that rainy night in 2016. It has been written on the wall for a while that this might be his last season in Chicago, but it left a lot of players and fans emotional to see him go.
Replacing him will be hard. Anthony Rizzo was crying after the season finale while Willson Contreras took to a heartfelt Instagram post. Maddon is a unique character. Because of his laid back style, chances are, the Cubs will have to go with someone who is the complete opposite: a hands-on, younger, former player. An early candidate is the Cubs’ current bench coach Mark Loretta. A former player, Loretta brings a younger perspective to the game while being familiar with the Cubs organization. Another candidate is former Cubs catcher and member of the 2016 World Series team David Ross. Ross has close relationships with many of the current Cubs players, but he has never coached in an MLB dugout. While President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said experience is a factor in their head coaching search, he wasn’t writing off Ross. “Rossy will be evaluated for the same things as other candidates are,” he said. Ross would be a fun story, and his hands-on personality could be exactly what the Cubs need. Other names in the mix are former Cubs infielder/outfielder and current MLB analyst Mark DeRosa and former Cubs catcher and Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
While it is easy to blame Maddon for the Cubs’ failures over the past three years, some of it will go onto the players. Some players, maybe even core pieces, might get traded. Will Ben Zobrist retire? Cole Hamels? Pedro Strop? Some younger players might sign long term extensions. After being acquired in July, the Cubs will need to decide whether they will sign their bundle of energy, Nicholas Castellanos, to a multi-year deal. Most importantly, the Cubs will need to find a way to get some bullpen arms. There will be some tough decisions, but something has to change in order to get back the vibe of 2016. The theme of this offseason is change.
“It feels like it signifies the end of the best Cubs run of my lifetime,” says Mr. Baer, a lifelong fan.
While this may seem like the final blow to this dynasty, Cubs fans must remain optimistic and maintain hope. Epstein is not giving up on this group. “When you have the worst possible outcome, like we’ve had,” he said in an interview last week, “it reveals everything. As painful as it can be, it creates a real opportunity to learn from it and grow.”
To the frustrated fan–even you Mr. Baer–don’t lose hope. The beauty of sports is watching your favorite team bounce back and create something special.
Sincerely,
A diehard fan