It’s been interesting to hear over the past week how Cubs manager David Ross and Cubs players are leaning into the idea that they have such a unique volume of guys this year who have more “individual” incentives. Proving that he can do this. Earning that next contract. Showing he can bounce back. Justifying the chance he’s been given. And on and on.
“Everybody is on a different mission,” Ross said of the message he presented to the team before the season opened, per The Athletic. “There are guys in here that are young, trying to prove that they’re established big leaguers. There are guys that have played roles and are trying to establish that they’re everyday players. There are guys that have been labeled ‘they can’t do this’ or ‘they can’t do that.’ There are guys that are on one-year deals and on the back end of contracts. Everybody is on their own journey. It’s a powerful thing to be able to prove what you truly believe.”
Pulling together by pulling for yourself?
“I think it’s exciting,” Jason Heyward said of the concept, per Cubs.com. “Rossy talked about it [this week] in our opening meeting – a lot of people have things to prove as individuals. But that’s a fun thing when you talk about a group pulling together toward trying to win a championship. It’s very easy to root for your guys.”
This wouldn’t be the kind of thing you would usually hear as a rallying cry for the “togetherness” of a team, but it tracks with something we heard back early in Spring Training from Kris Bryant, who has as much to play for individually as anyone on the team (NBC):
“Something me and [Ross] talked about was, I felt like we were so focused on the team identity that everybody kind of lost their individual identities,” the third baseman said.
There’s been plenty of talk this spring about decision-making at the plate, hitting high fastballs and moving on from a shortened 2020 season. Core hitters like Bryant, Javier Báez and Anthony Rizzo all watched their numbers dip last year. But some of those adjustments might take care of themselves with a full 2021 season and a dose of selfishness.
“It’s a weird word to say,” Bryant said. “Nobody wants to be labeled as ‘selfish.’”
But, he added, it’s cool to hear his manager give players the freedom to be “a little selfish” this season.
“I think what he means when he says that is, inherently in this game, you’re defined by what you do, the back of your baseball card – whatever it is,” Bryant said. “That’s what you’re defined as. But at the end of the day, you do have to find your own individual identity to ultimately help the team.”
Clearly, this was an approach Ross and the organization thought would work as a rallying cry for this particular group, I don’t really have a strong reaction either way. Like I said – and like Bryant suggested – it’s just not something you really hear. But the reality of baseball is that there is so much solo action in it, despite it being a team sport. Sure, you can do better if all oars are pulling in the same direction, but it’s also a sport where if each individual guy were kicking ass for his own selfish reasons, you’d probably have a whole lot of success as a team anyway. And then you pull in the team element by way of guys pulling for each other’s individual, selfish success?
Maybe there’s something there. Can’t hurt to try that messaging, given the state of the team and what might happen to the roster this year.