The morning after Cubs president Theo Epstein warned of the importance of staying “humbled and hungry as an organization,” a national newspaper referred to the team in a headline as “the next great dynasty.”
Later that day, a Las Vegas oddsmaker installed the Cubs as co-favorites with the Giants to win the 2016 World Series.
It’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in so many ways, at least according to the Mac Davis song. And it’s going to be particularly difficult for the 2016 Cubs to stay humble when their coronation has been announced months before Opening Day.
The term “Cubs dynasty” is an oxymoron, of course. They have come close to being a dynasty only once in their 139 years of existence, after back-to-back championships in 1907 and ’08. The Cubs managed to win 104 games in 1909 but finished 61/2 games behind the Pirates. The window promptly closed.
The rest is history, and a rather sad history at that. So instead of hyping the next Cubs dynasty, it’s probably better to take it one year at a time and hope for the best.
There certainly are reasons for Cubs fans to be optimistic. But things have gotten a little crazy since the signings of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, two big-name free agents who should provide offensive and defensive upgrades.
Now, as hype would have it, if the Cubs make the World Series, they will be deemed an unsuccessful team if they don’t win it.
History tells us great expectations don’t mesh well with the Cubs. From 1973-2003, they finished above .500 only six times — in 1984, ’89, ’93, ’95, ’98 and 2001.
Perhaps the only times they have entered a season with as much hype as they will see in 2016 were in 1985 and 2004, when they missed the postseason, and in 2008, when they won 97 games before the Dodgers swept them in the National League Division Series.
So when Cubs University commences Feb. 19 in Mesa, Ariz., maybe management can provide the players with a class in the importance of being humble and hungry.
Lesson 1 can focus on 1985, when the Cubs were among the preseason favorites after winning the NL East in ‘84, making the postseason for the first time in 39 years before blowing the NL Championship Series to the Padres.
Like the 2016 Cubs, the ‘85 edition returned most of the same position players and pitchers, including reigning MVP Ryne Sandberg and Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe. Those ‘85 Cubs, however, didn’t have to worry about being humbled because general manager Dallas Green was available to downplay the hype.
“You never know what might happen,” Green said as spring training opened. “There is always the possibility of injuries to key players. You can’t predict or anticipate too much.”
As it turned out, Green resembled Nostradamus. Most of the rotation battled injuries, and the ‘85 Cubs went 77-84 to finish in fourth place.
Perhaps the team that dealt best with the preseason hype was Lou Piniella’s 2008 club, which endured constant reminders of the 100-year anniversary of the 1908 championship. But despite cruising to another division title, the big bats of Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez failed to produce in the postseason.
The Cubs did a great job ignoring history in 2015, ending the 12-year drought since their last postseason victory.
Now they may enter 2016 as the team to beat, which presents new challenges for manager Joe Maddon and his players.
“Everybody is the team to beat at the beginning,” Heyward said. “I’ll say this, and not being cocky, but I feel like every (contender) in the NL Central is the team to beat when it comes down to it.”
Sounds like he’s just being humble. Epstein’s edict is working already.