One of the Chicago Cubs’ biggest tenants in the last seven years? ‘The Cubs Way’ This building block laid the foundation of the team’s long-term success.
Fast forward to 2018 and the foundation of that culture and a winning mindset have helped create a Chicago Cubs clubhouse built on love and trust. Even in defeat, this group of players is as close as any in the entire league, as detailed by The Athletic’s Jon Greenberg following the team’s Wild Card loss to the Colorado Rockies.
Although team success is not always a product of clubhouse culture, it is clear that there is a correlation when it comes to the recent triumphs experienced by the franchise.
Theo Epstein understood back in 2011 that establishing a core group of young players was pivotal in turning Chicago into a winning franchise, but he also placed a premium on a supporting cast of veteran players that could help nurture the young talent.
From Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood to Jon Lester, David Ross and Ben Zobrist, the presence of savvy veterans have perhaps been as crucial an ingredient as any in galvanizing the development of young players like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez.
Really, Lester’s signing in 2015 jumpstarted this notion of Cubs culture. It was the first move made by Epstein that indicated the Cubs were very serious about winning… sooner rather than later. Lester himself not only added championship pedigree and star power but a grit and toughness this young ball club desperately needed.
Of course, winning helps solve everything. And while a 97-65 record in 2015 was attractive enough, a mix of young talent and wily old veterans having fun was perhaps more important.
The culture Epstein helped to create bore fruit in 2016 when the Joe Maddon favorite Zobrist signed with the Cubs and center fielder Dexter Fowler spurned more money to return to the team in late February. Just over eight months later, the Cubs had their first World Series title in 108 years.
Free agency will be a huge focus in Chicago this offseason, and with good reason. But sometimes, the maintenance of clubhouse culture and player retention can prove to be just as important as any singular addition.
Likewise, Hamels is almost certainly set to return after the Cubs pick up his pending contract option.
The fact that two players that the Cubs acquired with just months remaining in the season are so adamant on staying on the North Side speaks to the surrounding clubhouse environment.
So long as that environment survives, the Cubs will remain a hot commodity among free agents and, perhaps more importantly, a contender.