The Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein was just on the radio with Laurence Holmes on 670 The Score, and he touched on so much worth sharing that I started scrawling down paraphrased notes to share. I’ll include the full interview link when it’s available. As usual, Epstein gives me a great deal to think about, perhaps especially at a time like this.
• Since we haven’t heard from Epstein much at all since baseball shut down back in March, Holmes asked about what it was like when that happened, and how the Cubs proceeded. Epstein: Initially the focus was health and safety of the entire organization, get people home safely, etc. None of us are medical health experts, but you had to try to follow the science and do the best you could to take care of people. Then communications adjustments, while getting new information every day. The only thing we knew was that we didn’t know anything, and trying to make good decisions without good future visibility is tough in any industry.
• What is it going to be like if baseball returns? Epstein said what you’d expect about it looking very different, especially for the players, than what we’re used to, but he added something that really resonated with me, going beyond baseball: It helps to not compare things right now to what we’ve been used to, because then you’ll just see the negatives. Look at it as an opportunity to craft something new in a difficult time. It won’t be the same, but it’ll have substance and meaning, and resonate with people in an important way. Try to make something beautiful out of it. To be able to deliver something redeeming for fans would be something we’re all proud of.
• (That right there is something I could stand to do better about in this moment. I’m not running a baseball team, but I do have a job, a family, friends. And I get fixated on what things were, and how soon I can approximate them again. Instead, at least at the margins, I’ve gotta do a better job of remembering that although this period of time sucks (suuuuuuuucks), maybe I can do more to craft something new – to offer some substance and meaning, and let that resonate with the people around me. Thanks for that, Theo.)
• As for the ongoing negotiations between the league and the players: Everyone is getting a look at how the sausage is made, and it’s not pretty. When these types of negotiations happen, it’s a select group at the Commissioner’s Office and at the Union that are most involved. From there, yes, there is communication down through the ranks. People in the game stay in talks, too, and there’s a little more open engagement on the issues, and it isn’t so “partisan.” It helps to have developed the skill of empathy to see other perspectives. It doesn’t have to become pure lobbying or persuasion or adversarial. 99.9% of people in the game, including me, feel like spectators in this. We’re just eager to get back on the field. There are important issues at stake, and I’m not trying to minimize. But it’s not as if everyone in the game is dug in on one side or the other. We hope for a resolution that’s good for baseball going forward.
• Speaking to the Cubs’ first round pick, Ed Howard: Any time you take a chance on a high school kid in the first round, you want someone with character and maturity and work ethic, because it’s a long road. Our scouts got to know Ed, and he’s one of the most mature high school seniors we’ve ever been around, highest character, parents did a great job raising him, and has been involved with some great institutions. And Ed has been smart enough to take advantage of the resources around him.
• We’ve known him for a long time, not just the Jackie Robinson West team, but he also participated in pre-draft work at Wrigley Field back when he was a sophomore, playing with seniors, and he was the best shortstop out there. Great athlete, very projectable frame, gonna add strength without losing athleticism. He’s got work to do on his swing, all high schoolers do, but he does already hit the ball hard. He’ll learn to get more direct with his path, improve his launch angle, etc. But he already hits the ball hard. That’s good. A chance to be a plus defender at a premium position, and hits the ball as hard as he does, and his character, we were thrilled he was there for us to pick.
• On the ongoing demonstrations around the country about racial injustice: It feels different than other galvanizing moments in the past that have seemed like they were the beginning of a movement and then have died off …. People in the streets are very inspirational, and when I rode my bike down to see demonstrations, it’s people of every age and race and it’s everywhere in the country. The next generation, though, really has it figured out. It’s up to us pave a path for them, or get out of the way. Because they’re making a more just world.
• The status quo, as horrible and unjust as it might be, as much institutionalized racism as it might have, is easy to tolerate sometimes. We get caught up in our own lives, we don’t even recognize it. As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, institutionalized racism is like dust in the air. You don’t see it until there’s just a little light coming through, and then you see it’s everywhere. The murder of George Floyd let a little light into the room.
• At the Cubs, Epstein says the organization does not have a representative number of African-American employees, especially for a team in a city like Chicago. Even if the Cubs are up to “Major League averages” in those areas, that’s not good enough. Epstein is proud of the 30 organizations standing up during the draft to contribute to, and speak out in favor of, Black Lives Matter and causes that support racial justice, but that’s just a first step. We have to listen to our players and coworkers, and look inward and examine whether there are things we can do better.