Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci

The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci was a really solid read from the Sport Illustrated writer who I’ve posted on a number of times. The book features the subtitle The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse and details the 2016 World Series victory that broke 107 years of futility, with the Cubs last world championship in 1908.

The Cubs Way does an excellent job of avoiding the common sports book trap of just covering how "this happened, then this happened," as along with chapters on each of the seven games of the World Series, Verducci writes about the path taken around team construction, principles, and the personalities involved with the Cubs.

Detailed is how Theo Epstein took over baseball operations in 2012 after great success with the Red Sox in Boston and in Chicago built one of the youngest World Series teams ever around position players Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell. Also playing a huge role were starting pitchers Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks, along with two relief pitchers acquired at the 2016 trade deadline in closer Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery, who was on the mound for the final out of the World Series.

There was also quite a bit about manager Joe Maddon, who won the championship in his second season with the club and the book covers well how both Epstein and Maddon combined the best of modern and old school approaches to the game. Verducci noted work around things like the tracking of curveball spin rates and mental skills development and timeless concepts like the importance of empathy in working with people and building relationships, along with a focus on character in player evaluation and acquisition. Also interesting was how Maddon quoted in the book saying “you will remember 75% of what you write down and 90% of what you teach” and Verducci details the huge focus on communication, including individual player development plans, with management open and frank with players about their strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, a story about Maddon that struck me was his love of a statement made by Arizona Cardinals assistant coach Tom Moore with "in football, you break the other team's will through the relentless execution of fundamentals."

From an actual game perspective, Verducci writes of how the Cubs were down 3-1 in the series, with then a close win in game five, a game six in which Chapman came out for the ninth with a 9-2 lead, and of course the seventh game, in which Chapman lost a lead in the eighth on a Rajai Davis two run homer and then held the Indians scoreless in the ninth. After a fortuitously timed rained delay, Kyle Schwarber (who played the first two games of the 2016 regular season, tore ligaments in his left knee, and then returned for game one of the World Series) led off the 10th with a single and became the first of two Cubs runs in the inning, leading to an 8-7 win.

It was amazing stuff to watch on television and written of very well in book form by Verducci, with also some excellent immediate aftermath of the game writing done, including "In Chicago, the final wait for a Cubs win mixes joy and sorrow" by Wright Thompson for ESPN.