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The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse Hardcover – March 28, 2017
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“Few who have covered the game in any era can match Tom Verducci's combination of baseball insight and elegance as a writer. Those dual qualities make him the perfect guy to not only capture the experience of what the Cubs at long last achieved, but to explain the thinking and planning that led to last Fall's crescendo of emotions.” —Bob Costas
"Verducci, a longtime baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, is perhaps the perfect scribe to tell this definitive tale, a generational talent who can talk numbers and remain awed at the game’s beauties. In one moment he’s describing player valuations, and in the next he’s admiring a grand painting. And to fully understand a modern-day championship team, that’s essential." —The Washington Post
“The Cubs Way is a lush accounting of one of the most thrilling championship runs in American sports history—by the numbers and by the personalities that made it happen.” —The Wall Street Journal
"The Cubs' epic triumph almost demanded that Tom Verducci, arguably the best baseball writer of this generation, weigh in with his perspective. The longtime Sports Illustrated veteran delivers in a big way with unique analysis that takes a deep, deep dive in trying to explain the wizardry of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Joe Maddon and the entire Cubs braintrust." —The Chicago Tribune
“A must-read for any Cubs fan.” —SB Nation
“In Mr. Verducci’s entertaining book, he notes that the ‘construction of a championship team is granular’ and the ‘final picture is a Seurat painting’ with ‘many tiny dots of color’ and ‘millions of reasons and thousands of cascading events.’ He’s right: The artistic brush containing the power of positivity helped make the Chicago Cubs winners once more.” —The Washington Times
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It is not a great work of literature, but there is some pretty writing. It is also, first and foremost, about the team and the Cubs organization - there are no fan interviews, no attempts to situate the incredible 2016 season in the broader cultural context of that crazy year. The story, and the people in it, exist in isolation. But it is a beautiful story about good people, and for any baseball fan, a well-written dive into the best baseball story of the last century. Highly recommended for a Cubs fan, recommended for a baseball fan, and enjoyable enough for anyone else.
According to author/sports writer Tom Verducci, Maddon is “the Johnny Appleseed of aphorisms.” On the first day of the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 spring training camp, Maddon delivered his first of three “annual meetings” speeches to the players—and his pithy observations were boiled down to six points (#1: “Embrace the target.”), two key words—Expectations and Pressure—and then six more one-liners, including “Do simple better” and “The process simplifies the task.”
Time-out! Wait-a-minute! Is this a baseball book—or a management book? Yes…and it’s already on my Top-10 list for 2017, and just might be my Book-of-the-Year pick. It’s amazing—and I’ve already shipped copies to two friends.
"The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse," by Tom Verducci, senior baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, is 375 pages of leadership/management savvy, page-turning drama, and behind-the-scenes sports innovations.
Are you trying to change the culture in your organization? Imagine arriving as president of Cubs baseball operations in 2012 (and enduring a 101-loss season), keeping fans engaged during the building process, then hiring a new manager in 2015—and WHACK!—in 2016, the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908!
Did I mention that the instant-classic-of-a-series with Cleveland culminated in a sudden death Game 7 in Cleveland on November 2, 2016? Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win! (Did I mention it was also my birthday?)
OK…slight conflict of interest. I’m a Cubs fan. I endured 21 winters in the Chicago area, but enjoyed numerous summer afternoon baseball games at Wrigley Field, nicknamed "The Friendly Confines", a phrase popularized by "Mr. Cub", Hall of Fame shortstop and first baseman Ernie Banks (“Let’s play two!”). Read my review of A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred.
But trust me—whether you’re a baseball fan or not, whether you’re a Cubs fan or not, you’ll love this book—if you have any inclination to enrich your leadership and management style.
So…back to Maddon’s speech in 2016. His iPad notes also included three favorite leadership 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)
Those insights are from page 261, just one of 54 pages I noted on the blank pages in the front of my book. (I learn with a pen.) Actually, I tried to read the book just for fun. Couldn’t! Fifty pages in I started making notes.
Let me tempt you with nine more management morsels. Chew slowly:
#9. Recalibrate. In Game 7 of the World Series, the heavens opened and a 17-minute rain delay sent the players to their locker rooms after the ninth inning, with the score tied. In a players-only meeting, the Cubs used that “divine intervention” of 17 minutes to recalibrate. Memo to managers: consider a 17-minute recalibration exercise when your team is stuck. (See Chapter 19.)
#8. Activate. Theo Epstein was hired as the youngest general manager in MLB history when the Boston Red Sox hired him in 2002 at age 28. In 2004, the Red Sox won their first World Series championship in 86 years and won another championship in 2007. So when Epstein joined the Cubs in 2012, he systematized almost everything with a 259-page manual. (Imagine!) He then asked the staff to be responsible “for turning those words into a workplace environment that promoted growth.” (See Chapter 6 to understand “The Cubs Way.”) Have you activated a “words into action” plan?
#7. Read. To develop the communication skills of a future team leader, Manager Joe Maddon gave infielder Addison Russell (“too quiet for a middle infielder”) a reading assignment: Stephen King’s historical novel, 11/22/63: A Novel. “Maddon asked Russell to report back every 50 to 100 pages to discuss it.” By the way, Russell hit a grand slam in Game 6—just the 19th player to do so in a World Series.
#6. Exploit. In addition to the hyper-focus on analytics and technology in baseball today (stunning!), Epstein made a bet on an “old-school resource: people.” The author quotes their early aspirations:
--“…maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players and the relationships we develop…
--Maybe our environment will be the best in the game…
--Maybe our vibe will be the best in the game…
--Maybe our players will be the loosest and maybe they’ll have the most fun…
--And maybe they’ll care the most.”
#5. Communicate. One of Epstein’s big a-ha! moments: just for fun, he pulled out a scouting report on a player-turned-coach—and his coach was stunned to read that the scout noted areas needing improvement, but no one had told him during his playing days! Who needs to improve but has never received feedback from you?
#4. Relocate. “After the 2012 season, as he does every year, Epstein took a Change of Scenery survey. He asked his 40 or so scouts and baseball operations people to submit a list of names of major and minor league players they believed would flourish with a change of scenery and why.
#3. Balance. Even baseball players crave a balanced life, so when the Cubs were recruiting Pitcher Jon Lester in 2015, they noted that “the Cubs fly the fewest miles in baseball over the course of a regular season, and how a home schedule heavily tilted toward day games would allow the Lesters to have breakfast with their kids and tuck them in at night on 63 game days.”
#2. Prioritize. CEOs and managers will pick up immediate interviewing techniques from "The Cubs Way." Example: Epstein interviewed Maddon with “a long list of a manager’s responsibilities, including empowering the coaching staff, working with the media, handling the bullpen, creating lineups, dealing with a petulant superstar, and running spring training.” The assignment: place them in order of importance and explain why.
#1. Teach. In his early years, Maddon led baseball clinics across Europe and “the preparation and teaching emboldened him.” He observed, “You will remember 75 percent of what you write down…and you will remember 90 percent of what you teach. So I wrote it down and then I taught it.” What’s the learning style of your team members?
There are three major elements to this 363 page book - how key players were acquired, how some of the innards of baseball applied to the 2016 Cubs, and how each of the seven games of the World Series played out. By innards I mean all those components that impacted on players' performance throughout the year - from sabremetrics to pitchers' release points to Maddon's witty sayings. For example, ever hear of TrackMan? This is a system that provides information on a pitcher's speed, spin rate, spin axis, release point, and stride. I give Verducci tons of credit for introducing such material without inducing reader drowsiness. He covers a number of interesting details of the game like this without getting too techie; he always seemed to have the right balance of not too much, not too little. Ditto for his occasional mentions of how sabremetrics continues to develop to as a management tool and how pitching coaches work with pitchers to fine tune their mechanics. I particularly enjoyed a detailed chapter on how the Cubs negotiated with Jon Lester to sign with them as free agent. Verducci also goes in-depth to describe Jake Arrieta's performance, mechanics and regimen - not just as one of the all-time greats for the Cubs, but also as one of the all time worsts for the Orioles.
Interwoven with chapters on acquisitions and performance, are chapters on each of the seven games of the 2016 World Series. I watched each of those games, heard a lot of analysis of the games during their telecast (including a lot by on-air Verducci) but still learned a lot by reading some of his comments on the games in "The Cubs Way".
It's not a perfect book. But what I felt to be flaws were only minor things. He mentions -perhaps on three or four different points in the book Rizzo's naked recitation of great inspirational movie lines; it makes the book feel like some of the chapters were written in a vacuum. Some players are mentioned to illustrate a particular point, e.g. Stephen Ridings and TrackMan, an though it's not key to the point Verducci is making, readers, particularly this one, want to know "OK, thanks for telling me the Cubs drafted him in the 8th round of 2016 but where's Ridings now? How's he doing?". But those are nits. This is a 5 star book. A winner for Cubs fans, a winner for most baseball fans.
Top international reviews
I admit, I am a Cub fan for more than 25 years. Living in Europe, I follow the Cubs most recently mainly via the internet, the MLB At Bat app and some printed media. My last trip to Wrigley dates back to 2007.
It goes without saying that I followed the development of the Cubs very close. And I remember, that when Theo Epstein took over, hope for the break of the curse started for me as well.
The book is a grand slam for sure. It give such a good insight how the Cubs were built and what happened in particular in the last two seasons with Joe Maddon in charge. Thanks to all the people who shared their thoughts and views with Tom Verducci and thanks to him for writing this book.
Game 7. I woke up in the early morning hours of November 3rd, grabbed my IPAD and opened At bat and tuned in to the radio broadcast.
8th inning, Cubs lead – this cant be true I thought.
Then Chapman could not hold the lead for us. Well, we are the Cubs, aren’t we?
Then the rain delay – what else could go wrong ?
10th inning – suddenly the guys take the lead again, Almora Jr. with one of the greatest baserunning efforts in Cubs history.
Bottom of the 10th, 2 out. Let’s get this final one I wish. Bang - 1 run in, now Montgomery (who ?) is in.
The radio announcer said something like “Wherever you are now, you will never forget this moment in your life”.
Groundball to KB, “This is gonna be a difficult one”. I remember I thought “Please make the throw, please”.
Rizzo catches, pockets the ball, game over.
6:47 am in Germany. I start to cry. The Cubs win the World Series – what a magical season it was.
Thanks for bringing back the season for us in this book, I still start to cry, when I think of the last hours of game 7 and I guess I will do so for years to come.
As I red the book, I re-lived the World Series, it was exciting.
It is one of this books thay you don’t want never to end.