The Chicago Cubs waited 108 years between World Series victories, so many fans were more than willing to wait out a thunderstorm that delayed the pre-game ceremony more than an hour Monday night at Wrigley Field.
The game ended after midnight, when Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo drove in Kyle Schwarber with a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth.
Tom Verducci, a baseball reporter for Sports Illustrated and author of the new book The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse, joined Morning Shift’s Tony Sarabia to talk about last night’s win and unique manager Joe Maddon.
Tony Sarabia: What was your take on last night’s game?
Tom Verducci: Let’s face it, a lot of things went right for the Cubs last year – there was some magic, there was some karma there. There is still some left over in 2017. Anthony Rizzo is the one chosen by his teammates to raise the championship banner. Anthony Rizzo is the one who brings the trophy out onto the field. I think that surprised a lot of people at the ballpark. And, of course, how does the game end? With Anthony Rizzo getting the walk-off hit. Who is writing this stuff?
Sarabia: As a national baseball writer, when did the Cubs rebuild become a story for you?
Verducci: They became a story for me later than they did for (Cubs President) Theo Epstein, because he knew in the second half of the 2013 season, when they were still losing a ton of games, that he was sitting on something special. A lot of it was underneath the surface. A lot of it was still in the minor leagues. I didn’t see that, to be quite honest with you.
I think in the second half of 2014, for me, you could see it coming. I remember being at spring training in 2015, now (manager) Joe Maddon is there, and he is the missing piece of a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle who makes this whole thing work. I remember in spring training watching just the vibe around the team – and the talent as well, don’t get me wrong – and especially the culture of the team, and I said: “This team’s got it.”
Sarabia: What do you think it is about Joe Maddon’s background, and this long road to where he is now, that makes him the manager that he is?
Verducci: He, like Theo Epstein, has a lot of empathy, and that is a characteristic that we don’t hear a lot of in sports, especially in a management position that has historically been “dictatorly.” Coming from Hazleton, Pennsylvania, he has really blue collar works. Old school ethics. And we think of him as this hipster dude who brings new-age philosophies to baseball, but he’s also a dyed in the wool baseball guy that spent so many years in the minor leagues as a scout, as an instructor, as a coach as a manager. This guy over paid his dues to get where he is at. I think he has never forgotten the struggle of what it took to get there. And he is also, as he likes to say, a child of the ‘60s – so there is a little bit of a rebel in there as well. So he relates to so many different people on so many different levels.
Sarabia: Can you describe Joe Maddon’s World Series Game 7 lineup card, and tell us what this says about Joe Maddon’s character?
Verducci: It is a window into his personality. The lineup card is a combination of art and science. I’ve never seen anything like it. The way it looks, and especially the personal touch with it. He has notations there, a lot of acronyms. “Do simple better” — “DSB” — is on there. He has a whole string of names, actually initials, of deceased family and friends that he writes on his lineup card every single night. Last year, he added the words “positive” and “optimistic,” just to remind himself during the course of the game always to be optimistic.
Sarabia: What is the organization doing right when it comes to pitchers?
Verducci: Jake Arrieta is a great example of what they are doing right. They don’t try to pigeonhole people. Joe Maddon’s whole philosophy on life, especially in the clubhouse, is “be yourself.” This is a man who, when it comes to a dress code, says “wear whatever it is that you think makes you look hot.” … Theo (Epstein) traded for (Arrieta) because at the end of every year he asks his scouts to identify people who could benefit strictly from a change of scenery and his name kept coming up. He made the trade for him and they said “we want you to be yourself.”