The Cubs Way

The Cubs Way Book Cover The Cubs Way
Tom Verducci
Sports & Recreation
Crown Archetype

I am a Red Sox fan. I was drawn to this book because I was interested in how Theo Epstein managed to take teams from cursed to World Series Champions. I did not know that Epstein had modified his Sabremetrician (Moneyball) approach from his time with the Red Sox and used a different strategy with the Cubs. I came away with an appreciation of Manager Joe Maddon too. One of the better “baseball” books I have read – Verducci is a pro. But also a great strategy/tactics and leadership book.

“In football, you break the other team’s will through the relentless execution of fundamentals.” Said Maddon, “I love that. I friggin’ love that. ‘The relentless execution of fundamentals.’ ”

Theo Epstein, once known as the number-crunching wizard who broke the championship curse of the Boston Red Sox, built this team with an emphasis on people who would create the right ethos.

“I’m really not superstitious,” Maddon said. “I’m—how can I say it?—I’m into thoughts. It’s like you channel your thoughts in the right direction, and if you think it has a chance of happening, it has a better chance of happening. If you don’t, it has less of a chance of happening.”

It has to be about the whole organization. To win you have to have a lot of people rowing in the same direction.”

Ricketts’s three major criteria—a commitment to player development, an analytical background, and a track record of success—made for an exact definition of Epstein.

Epstein’s father is a Rhodes scholar and an accomplished novelist who directed the creative writing program at Boston University. Epstein’s grandfather and great-uncle, Phillip and Julius Epstein, won the 1944 Academy Award for screenwriting for the movie Casablanca, which also won for Best Picture. Phillip Epstein died in 1952. For years his Oscar rested in the den of Theo’s parents. Theo’s sister, Anya, would become a screenwriter.

An Epstein house rule stipulated that every minute spent watching baseball on television had to be equaled by reading books.

The reading material, nuanced and evocative, nurtured what would become one of his greatest traits as a general manager: empathy.

Epstein read a book by Hall of Fame football coach Bill Walsh that summer in which Walsh wrote that the voice of a coach or executive turns stale after about a decade with one organization.

“He talked about it as a sports executive, but it applied to almost any situation in a leadership role,” Epstein said. “That it benefits not only the individual but also the institution to seek change every 10 years. And I’ve seen it, with managers or coaches in other sports, leaders.

create a sustainable champion.

hate it when people blame their environment, because, especially in a leadership position, you’re responsible for how you react to your environment and how you change your environment, and being a positive force to change it for the better if you think something is toxic.

“He is what we want to be: how he prioritizes winning, how he cares about his teammates, how hard he plays, how much he loves the game, how much he wants to win,” he said.

“He became part of our heartbeat,” Epstein said. “You can’t put a dollar figure on that.

Talent wins, but…It’s like every year I did the job I just developed a greater appreciation for how much the human element matters and how much more you can achieve as a team when you have players who care about winning, care about each other, develop those relationships, have those conversations…it creates an environment where the sum is greater than the parts.”

“We want players who are invested in their teammates, we want players who are going to understand what it means to play in a World Series for the Cubs and their fans. We want players we trust can respond to adversity. We want players other players like being around. We want guys who care about winning, and prioritize it, and are happy when the team wins and they are 0-for-4 and are pissed even if we lose and they are 3-for-4.”

“We built our scouting department around the idea that the currency in the draft is information. That’s it. The currency in the draft is not, ‘I’m a little bit better of a scout than you.’

Epstein gave his scouts very specific marching orders. On every prospect he wanted the area scout to give three examples of how that player responded to adversity on the field, and three examples of how that player responded to adversity off the field. They

was important to Epstein that he involved everybody in the room. Yes, he opened the summit with a long speech about what was important to him about winning baseball, and his overall vision to turn the Chicago Cubs into an elite franchise with sustained success. But he knew just about everybody in the room had been hired by somebody else, and he wanted to establish the kind of environment in which he and most humans worked best: a collaborative one.

We will treat the development of every player as if we were making a personal investment in him.

devise the most precise and thorough Individual Player Development Plan.

“make a commitment to team spirit by maintaining a positive attitude, treating my coaching staff and fellow teammates with dignity and respect while appreciating individual differences.

key component to The Cubs Way was what Epstein called Individual Player Development Plans. The

Minor league players meet with the vice president of player personnel three times a year: spring training, midseason, and after the season.

The review covers the player’s physical, fundamental, and mental strengths and weaknesses. The information is logged on a review sheet that the player must sign. The player keeps one copy and the team keeps another.

Epstein wanted a culture in which the players could trust the front office. And the way to help build that trust was to develop an open and honest personal connection.

to reach their ceilings, they’re starting to take responsibility and accountability for their own development.

“The kids who really start to take responsibility start to run the meeting. ‘Okay, here’s what I need to work on. Here’s where I’m at.’ That’s the key to player development—when you stop developing them and they start to develop themselves.

Whenever somebody executed a winning-type fundamental play—advancing a baserunner, executing a relay, taking an extra base, or anything straight out of The Cubs Way—a coach or coordinator might shout, “That’s Cub!” Soon players picked up on shouting the honor themselves.

“Ultimately what it means is that something was done that is right on point with what we are working to accomplish in this organization,” the manual stated. It even turned “That’s CUB” into an acronym: C stands for the courage “to do the right thing,” even if it is scary or uncomfortable; U is for the urgency “to do the right thing right now”; and B is for the belief “that we can do it.”

The Cubs attitude is positive, powerful, action-oriented, and resilient. It is an attitude that says, “I am” and “I do.” It is an attitude that says, “No matter what happens, I will continue to grow, and I will always find a way.”

developing with an attitude that they were winners—that they were supposed to be good.

Force, in overabundance, is the enemy of artistry.

Mauch affirmed Maddon’s natural inclination to create a positive working environment by creating trust with his players, which he believed began with honest, open communication.

there was no room for negativity in a clubhouse.

“You will remember 75 percent of what you write down,” Maddon said. “And you will remember 90 percent of what you teach.

“It was purely, purely philosophical,” Maddon said. “You get to a certain point career-wise, you want to be able to go to work where you want to go to work. And with people you want to work with.”

He learned that the value of connecting with people exceeded whatever could be gained from ordering them around.


Here are the 13 core principles of managing, according to Joe Maddon:


The greatest responsibility of the manager is to create a positive environment that promotes growth and success.

For me, my first thought is to get to know you. Then we trust each other. And then we can exchange ideas. Then we can talk about methods and ideologies and whatever you want to call it. We can go there then.

“Whatever you put out there will come back to you.”

a player respects those 90 feet between bases enough to run hard all the time, good things flow from such an attitude.

“The more you restrict freedom the more you restrict creativity. To restrict creativity—which a lot of people do unknowingly, they don’t even realize they are, they don’t even realize the importance of creativity, they don’t understand the role freedom

plays in all this—to restrict that you really are losing out on a tremendous opportunity to find out how good someone actually is. When you attempt to create a contrived version of somebody before permitting that person to show you what they are, you’re automatically setting restrictions. Automatically. You don’t know that you are. But you are.

4. NEVER HOLD A TEAM MEETING IN YOUR HOME CLUBHOUSE. “It poisons the room,” Maddon said.

meetings are a reaction to negative events, such as too many losses, a lack of effort, or a lack of discipline. Calling out such negativity in what you have strived to create as a positive, physical place is harmful to the environment. The negativity lingers.



“There were a lot of times guys wouldn’t even dress up,” Maddon said. “They thought it was silly, unprofessional. I never worried about that. That’s fine. You don’t have to do it, then don’t worry about it. But I can promise you the guys that didn’t do it really weren’t the team guys we were looking for. I promise you that.

“It’s a method where you are building camaraderie, the team-building situation. If we can impact one guy every day, whether it’s by the ‘thought of the day’ or the ‘joke of the day,’ that’s always good. All these little things that you do every day definitely serve the bond bringing people together.”



You have to permit them to be themselves, and, of course, like everybody else, if they mess up they have to be told about it. But you don’t have to get hyper-angry at them or send them back [to the minors], or explain it to them in a way that absolutely fractures their self-confidence. And I have seen it.”

“But you just can’t give the veterans a free wheel regarding how they interact with these guys and instruction.

Just because the back of his baseball card reads well doesn’t mean he’s a leader.


He needs to be as physically close to the game as possible because he needs to “feel” and sense the vibe of the game.

“You have to pay attention to trends. Don’t tell me trends don’t matter. Don’t tell me that. You go sit in the dugout. Because everybody wants the large sample size. I get it. I





it encourages a passive mind-set on the bases. The

He knew the first step toward flipping a culture, and it would be the theme of his first-day speech. It was his golden rule of managing: connect, trust, and lead—in that order. “What you need to understand,” Maddon told the assembled members of the organization, but especially the players, “is that we need to get to know each other. We need to start trusting each other. And then we have to start bouncing ideas off one another without any pushback. In other words, once you’ve trusted me and I’ve trusted you, we can exchange ideas openly without this concern about who’s right. That’s natural. That’s human nature. You’ve got to get beyond the ‘who’s right’ moment.”

Improving your performance through methods like visualization, mindfulness, and proper breathing were resisted by some traditionalists as something between quackery and a service for the weak-minded.

“One of the things you feel right away is the genuineness when he talks. He’s just talking about the fundamentals of baseball. He wants to be fundamentally sound.

“It’s the fundamental itself. I want your best effort when you go through it, when you go through a fundamental. Whether it’s cutoffs and relays, rundowns, first and third defense, bunt defense is big—I just want them to give the drill their full attention until we move on.”

“Let’s get our concentration back on the hitter,” he told him. “Let’s work on what we do well, not on what we don’t do well. The more attention you put on what you don’t do well, the stuff you do well is getting away from you. And my contention is if you continue to do well in what you do do well, the other stuff is going to become moot.”

Day one’s motto derived from Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi: “Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

Replied Baez, “Try not to suck.”

Maddon started with a green circle, and inside the circle in red ink handwrote six key principles for the season:
1. Embrace the target
2. We all have to set aside our personal agendas
3. All do our jobs (9 on 1)
4. Know we are not perfect, but can be present
5. We are our own little planet
6. Rotate around same goal

Atop the circle were two words followed by arrows pointing up, as well as notations that defined those words as having positive connotations: Expectations. Strong belief something will happen in the future. Pressure. A motivator. A positive. An indicator you are in the right place. Below the circle Maddon wrote more notes, which included: Do simple better The process is fearless The process lacks emotion The process is the moment The process is the mental anchor The process simplifies the task The area below the circle also included a few favorite quotes: Change before you have to.—Jack Welch Wisdom is the reward for a lifetime of listening when you would have preferred to talk.—Doug Larson Communication creates collaboration. Big ears are better than big egos. When you’re not listening, ask good questions.—Bill Walsh

Spring training is not about batting practice or side sessions or how many repetitions you get in. The most important thing is to get them thinking properly. It’s not about how many repetitions of what occur. I want us to think well.”

Individual Player Development Plan meetings.

The Cubs sent seven players to the All-Star Game, a game that featured a whopping 11 players who had been acquired by Epstein: Anthony Rizzo, Jon Lester, Mookie Betts, David Ortiz, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts from his Boston days, and Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Dexter Fowler, and Jake Arrieta from his Chicago tenure.

“He hires people that are going to stand up for their own opinions. He doesn’t surround himself with yes-men. He likes hearing what you have to say and why. Ultimately he makes the decision, but he’s really good at getting the information he wants from everybody.

With Theo you always feel like he knows he has people working for him who can be a resource, who know people, like if you want a background check on somebody. I may know a clubbie or a bullpen catcher who caught this guy. So it’s not just the stat sheet he’s looking at. It’s, ‘What’s his personality like? What’s it like when things are going good? What’s it like when things are going bad?’ ”

“Understand this right now,” Maddon told his players. “Something bad is going to happen. It will. And when it happens, we have to keep our heads and we’ve got to fight through it. “Too many times in the past, in the postseason, I know we’ve got the other team by the look in the other team’s eyes. There’s a distant look. They’re anticipating bad. It’s almost like a concession look. I never want us to be that team. So know that something bad is going to happen. Know it is. Expect it to happen. And when it happens, we have to keep our heads and fight through it.”

You have to be prepared for something shitty to happen and when it does, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.”

He’s so passionate about the whole game—his part of the game and the team’s success. He’s really into it. You have to let him play with that passion, but also, mentally, you have to keep him in the right frame of mind. He gets frustrated and overall he’s very emotional. But it’s like I told him, ‘Do not change who you are, because that’s why you are the player that you are.’ ”

39 years old, Ross became the oldest player to hit a homer in the seventh game of a World Series. Ross was wearing a microphone for Fox. As he rounded the bases, the mic picked up…nothing. Ross, one of the biggest chatterboxes on the team, was dead quiet sprinting around the bases.

One of the Cubs’ in-uniform support personnel walked back to the dugout. There, Chapman sat alone atop the bench. He was told, in Spanish, there was a players-only meeting and that he should come right away. The hulking man Maddon said was built “like wrapped steel” stood up slowly, as if wounded or exhausted. At the time, to get out of the rain from my spot in the first-base camera well, where I was stationed for the Fox broadcast, I stood in the Cubs’ dugout toward the rightfield end.

Chapman turned to me. He was crying. Tears ran down his face. As he walked past me, as if to comfort or steady himself, he reached his right hand toward my left hand and gently held my wrist. The pain he wore was visible.

“Keep grinding!” “Chappy, we’ve got you! We’re going to pick you up.” “This is only going to make it better when we win.”

Ross saw Chapman still in tears, and knew the big man cared much more deeply than he let on. “Hey, man, we wouldn’t be here in the World Series without you,” he told Chapman. “This ain’t over.”

From my position, I can see it: the sacrifice the scouts make when they drive the extra miles to get that last look at a player, the minor league coaches putting in extra hours, the big league coaches crushing video, the players working on their weaknesses, picking their teammates up—you get to see that stuff all the time. That’s what makes a great organization. That’s Cub.

was the first time in postseason history a team used three catchers and all of them had an RBI.