What can patience teach us: Learning from the Cubs long-time-coming success

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by Peter Gagliardi

A look back at last year’s amazing—and century-long Chicago Cubs’ effort—to win the World Series.
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Patience is a difficult problem for all of us as we live in a world of instant gratification, Patience is waiting for positive results while wrestling with the difficulties and problems of life. It requires hope for the future, and self confidence during difficult times.

My late father was the most impatient man I have ever known, but he knew he needed patience. His favorite motto was “Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can.” One of his favorite Italian words which he said often was “pazienza” which means patience.

The Chicago Cubs, one of the most patient organizations in the world, last year memorably demonstrated that patience is the key to success; if we are patient we can achieve our goals.

This story is personal for me as I live in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania but I am a life long Cubs fan.  When I was a young boy I loved baseball and animals. When I heard the team name, the Chicago Cubs, I thought that name has a special ring to it so I became a Cubs fan. After all, everyone loves little bear cubbies. My family supported my love of sports and baseball, even though they were logical and great Philadelphia Phillies fans. In 1969, when the Cubs had a big lead and it appeared that they were on the way to win the National League Pennant and the World Series, my late Uncle Patrick, who we affectionately called “Uncle Doc,” said he would take me to Chicago to see a World Series game if the Cubs were in the series. Of course, the Cubs folded that year and did not even win the National League Pennant. I thought the Cubs would not win the World Series during my lifetime.

Then the miracles started to happen. Thomas Ricketts bought the Cubs, and he was determined to win that elusive World Series. He spent a lot of money remolding Wrigley Field. Then he hired Theo Epstein, arguably the best executive in baseball, who brought enormous talent into the organization. The final step was hiring Joe Madden to manage the team. Madden did a great job leading the team to their World Series victory in 2016. Joe Madden is from Northeastern Pennsylvania, so for me, the Cubs awesome victory had a local flavor to it.

The Chicago Cubs, one of the most patient organizations in the world, last year memorably demonstrated that patience is the key to success; if we are patient we can achieve our goals.

I have enormous respect for the Chicago Cubs and the great city of Chicago and its people as they have demonstrated an awesome display of patience. Incredibly, the Cubs did not win the World Series for 108 years. Yet, in all that time the team never gave up, and year after year they gave 100 percent to the game and never quit. They had some heart breaking defeats along the way. The most memorable for me was the collapse of 1969.

Yet the citizens of Chicago supported their team throughout this long drought. They bought tickets and went to the stadium, read about their team in the newspapers, watched them play on television, listened to them on the radio, and bought the souvenirs. This inspiring story demonstrates that one can accomplish anything by simply being patient.

Buying the Cubs was the opportunity of a lifetime for Tom Ricketts. That process of buying the Cubs was a difficult and complicated process and he patiently completed the project one step at a time. The first objective was to convince his family to support the project as this was going to be a family business that would last for generations. Joe Ricketts, Tom’s father, was initially against the move. Joe was not a fan of the Cubs or Wrigley Field. As a successful businessman, he had many new ventures to consider. Tom needed something spectacular to convince his father. He came up with a brilliant idea. He took his father to the rooftops where people sit and watch Cub games. Joe agreed that this was an awesome sight, and when he was told that the Cubs sold three million tickets a year, he changed his mind and supported the effort to buy the Cubs. Tom’s siblings were also very skeptical, so he took them to the rooftops and they changed their minds too.

When Sam Zell, the owner of the Chicago Tribune, announced that he was selling the Cubs, Tom Ricketts was well ahead of the competition. Tom had patiently spent months obtaining financing, meeting with other baseball owners, and getting the league comfortable with him so they would feel confident selling the Cubs to Tom Ricketts. Of course a lot of successful and powerful people also wanted to buy the Cubs. Mark Cuban, the flamboyant owner of the Dallas Mavericks, announced his intention to buy the Cubs. Cuban looked like a stronger candidate as he was well known and Tom Ricketts was virtually unknown. When the Ricketts entered the competition in 2007, they were a long shot, but Tom’s patience and hard work paid off. From out of nowhere, the Ricketts family became the front-runners and eventually won the right to buy the Cubs.

It took two years of patient and agonizing negotiations with the Tribune to complete the deal. The purchase price was $845 million and the Ricketts had to use funds from a family trust to buy the team. The process took an extended period of time to complete. First there was a credit freeze, then the stock market crash of 2008, and finally the Tribune filled for bankruptcy. Many people would have given up, but Tom Ricketts was incredibly patient and completed the process one step at a time.

When he bought the team he thought he could run the team better than the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper wasted years signing free agents to mega-contracts while delaying badly needed repairs and renovations to Wrigley Field. Tom realized that this short term approach was no way to build a winning organization and win the World Series. He accepted two great challenges; renovating Wrigley Field, and hiring the right leaders. Wrigley Field was in desperate need of upgrades and repairs. The bathrooms reeked and the locker rooms were too small and squeezed the teams into uncomfortable boxes. The Cubs were one of the few teams that did not have a batting cage where pinch hitters could warm up.

Initially the team sought and asked for a freeze on the 12 percent amusement tax it pays to the city. This is the second highest tax in the major leagues. A deal seemed close, and then came the New York Times story about Joe Ricketts’ potential anti-Obama campaign.

Mayor Rahn Emanuel, former chief of staff for President Obama, went ballistic. It was a golden opportunity to bash a conservative businessman for the obvious hypocrisy of asking for public funds while complaining that the government spends too much money. The criticism stung and damaged the Ricketts. Tom remained patient and kept a cool head. A few months later, he offered a new plan. Now the team would fund the renovations on its own.

Ricketts patiently searched for the right baseball executive who could build a winning organization, and a manager who led the team to victory on the field. His patience paid off and he eventually hired Theo Epstein, the top baseball executive in the world, to initiate a patient long term rebuilding program, and Joe Madden to manage the team on the field.

When Ricketts took over, the Cubs needed a great manager who could lead the team to the World Series. He initiated a long and patient search for a great manager. First he hired Dale Sveum an impressive baseball man who only lasted two years. In his second year the Cubs finished with a dismal 66-96 record. Next came Rick Renteria who lacked experience as a major league manager and lasted only one year. He improved the Cubs record to 73-89, but the Cubs were not even close to reaching the playoffs.

Then Ricketts’ patience paid off. The Cubs got their big opportunity as Joe Madden, one of baseball’s best managers, became available. So the Cubs fired Renteria and hired Madden in October 2014. Madden was probably the most qualified manager to take over this promising roster of young, talented, and ambitious players. At Tampa Bay, Madden skillfully guided several young Rays teams into contention in the rugged American League East. During his tenure, he led the Rays to four playoff berths, won the American League East twice, and the American League pennant once. In 2008, The Rays lost the World Series in a five game series with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Theo Epstein joined the Cubs after the 2011 season and there was intense media attention on the Chicago Cubs. The highly respected Chicago Sun-Times published on its front page a full page photoshop of Epstein walking across Lake Michigan implying that just by showing up Epstein was going to quickly and miraculously change the Cubs future. Epstein remained steadfast and announced a patient long-term rebuilding program which focused on acquiring young players and winning in five years. In his first year, the Cubs lost 101 games and the Chicago Sun Times ran the identical photo on the front page, but this time the only part of Epstein’s body that was above water was his nose!

Epstein realized that the winning edge is in hiring the right players, and the right people. He methodically analyzed the data on numerous players who were available to be drafted or signed. He built a team that is much more than just a collection of individuals, as his players can cooperate and work together to win a championship. Epstein recruited players with character who can play the game, and care about the other players while they are fiercely determined to win. While the other teams were drafting pitchers, Epstein focused on position players who play everyday and do more for a team than pitchers who only pitch once every five days. Epstein resolved to find young future stars and patiently wait three to five years for them to develop in the minor leagues. First came first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who displayed incredible courage and determination by surviving cancer and continuing to play baseball. He was followed by third baseman Kris Bryant who has the potential to wind up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Next came outfielder Kyle Schwarber who was compared to Babe Ruth by a professional scout and shortstop Addison Russell who was acquired in a trade. zTheo Epstein built a great pitching staff by signing free agents and making great trades. He added ace pitcher Jon Lester, starters Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks, and reliever Pedro Strop to form a great pitching staff that enabled the Cubs to win.

Waiting for players to develop while the Cubs lost a whopping 289 games during Epstein’s first three years was one of the most incredible displays of patience in the history of professional sports. In 2016, the Cubs World Series lineup featured six players who were 24 years old or even younger. These players were talented enough to play successfully at the highest level of professional baseball. They were extremely mature and poised and did not panic or turn on each other when they fell behind the Cleveland Indians three games to one. Instead, they came roaring back and won three games in a row to take the World Series at last. Epstein’s patience in building a young championship team paid off, and the Cubs should prosper for a long time to come.

Now, if only the rest of us could learn the many lessons of developing patience.

Peter Gagliardi is a freelance writer, former government worker, and longtime Cub baseball fan in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

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