Vacations are great and needed, and recently, I had the opportunity to enjoy the combination of some R and R and my favorite sport on a baseball cruise. Former Cubs 20-game winner Jon Lieber gave me a one-on-one on my radio show.
In Part 1, he talks about why he thinks the Cubs have never won at Wrigley Field, what successful teams do differently and what the Cubs don't do that could change that.
Darrell Horwitz: Since you played for the Cubs, how come they haven't won the World Series for 103 years?
Jon Lieber: That's kind of a tough question. I think obviously there has been some bad luck involved. I believe the game revolves around luck at times. They definitely have had some teams capable of being able to go that far. I've always wondered if a lot of day games have hurt the Cubs. That's kind of the impression I got when some free agents would come over, and halfway through the season, the day games would be wearing them out.
You can probably think of many different reasons of why they haven't won, but things just haven't come together. I don't know if it's a missing starting pitcher, position player, management or front office, but I'm really excited about what they have this year in the front office from top to bottom, and the manager, especially Dale Sveum. I had a chance to play with him in Pittsburgh back in 1997, and I'm looking for bigger and better things for not only this year but in years to come.
DH: Having played with different organizations in your career, is there an organizational issue the Cubs have had that has caused them not to succeed in the past?
JL: Having had a chance to play with the Yankees kind of opened my eyes to how an ownership will do it at all costs to win a championship. It makes me realize that maybe there were situations where the Cubs could have went out and paid for a player.
They probably thought we're not going to overpay for a guy, this guy is too much, where in the situation with the Yankees, they don't even think twice. If they know he's the missing piece to a championship team, they're going to pay it at all costs. I think sometimes, even if you don't want to pay the price for a certain player, you might just have to do it to get to that next level and get that championship and win the World Series.
DH: Aside from money, is there anything else that a team like the New York Yankees, who have won so many championships, do that is different from the way the Cubs do things?
JL: I think managers. Joe Torre did a tremendous job in that clubhouse with all those egos coming through those doors. If you try to put 20 superstars all on one team, sometimes that is a little difficult over a 162-game season. I think he did a tremendous job keeping the team together and (focusing) on the ultimate goal you're trying to play for and that's winning the championship.
It's not about yourself or stats. We're here to pick each other up, we're here to play for each other, and I think that's why they have been so successful.
DH: Is there a different attitude and aura in that they expect to win?
JL: Without a doubt. I think that was ever since George Steinbrenner took over. It all started with him and the attitude, and it all carried down. To me, playing there at that time, made me realize that this is what this thing is all about. This is what you strive for, and this is what you want. I definitely think it starts with the ownership.
DH: Do you think any of the decision has to do with the fanbase? In New York, you have an educated consumer. In Chicago, it's more of a tourist attraction, so no matter what record they end up with, they always have among the highest paid attendance in baseball. Do you think the owners put any kind of weight on that?
JL: I definitely do. This isn't the Chicago Cubs 30 or 40 years ago. This is a whole new generation. Wrigley Field is one of a kind. It's different. it's not like your everyday stadium. I think right now fans are getting fed up with ho-hum seasons, okay we finished third, or fourth, whatever.
We want to win the championship, and I think the Ricketts family made a statement this past winter by going out and getting Theo Epstein. He did a tremendous job in Boston, and there's no reason why he can't do it here in Chicago.
DH: These days there are very few complete games from starting pitchers, where in the 60s and 70s, it was a regular occurrence. Why do you think that is?
JL: There is too much value. Unfortunately, the salaries have come in place, and the setup guys have such a valuable role now. I think they're trying to protect the players, maybe sometimes a little bit too much instead of stretching them out. I think it all comes out to what players make today compared to what they made 20 or 30 years ago.
DH: So you're saying the money is why they're babying them now?
JL: Yea, I hate to say that, but when you have a $100 million investment out there, he's only supposed to pitch every five days. You're expecting him to be healthy down the stretch for the playoffs and the World Series, and you want to make sure he gets there. You don't want to look back and regret maybe after he pitches the third or fourth complete game and say maybe we didn't have to do that.
It is a long season, and your body does tend to wear down. The older you get, going into your 30s, you don't have the same makeup you had when you were in your 20s. I think they really rely on the relievers to come in and save the starting pitchers.
DH: Do you think because teams do have to carry so many pitchers in today's game that they are sacrificing that bat that maybe can put them over the top?
JL: It could be. If you talk about what really wins championships, it's pitching and defense. I think more teams are looking at who's that guy who can get on base. Maybe not so much the power or the long ball, though you would like to have a couple of those guys in your lineup, but the guys who can get on base and make things happen on the base paths.
If I was building a team, it would be guys who can get on base and make things happen, and have your one or two power guys batting third and fourth.
DH: The Cubs have never done that. They have consistently built their team on power and it never works. They have almost never built their team with the speed game, and the few times they have had success were in 1984 with Bob Dernier and Ryne Sandberg at the top, and in 2003 with Kenny Lofton leading off. Do you think not doing that is something that has held them back?
JL: It could have been. Everybody loves to see the home run. Let's face it. Nobody likes a 1-0 ballgame as much as I do, but that's what drives people to the ballpark. I'm not saying that was their motive, but in got tempting in certain situations where they could bring in a power hitter to make the lineup tougher. But if you run into a really good pitcher, he can shut down some of the best lineups in baseball on any given day.
Maybe they've had a change of attitude there to where we're going to do things much differently than they were in the past, and let's give it a shot and see what happens.
Stay tuned later this week for Part 2 where Lieber tells what it was like pitching at Wrigley Field and playing with Sammy Sosa, along with other tidbits.