Shortly after the All-Star Break, George Ofman and Dave Kaplan were fielding calls on the WGN post-game show from lots of people who were very upset that George and Dave were being such Negative Nellies about the Cubs chances to rebound in 2010. These were the people who fervently believed that a run like the 2007 Rockies or this year's White Sox was possible for the Cubs.
These are people who really want to believe that the Cubs have just run into some bad luck, and some unfortunate injuries. They wanted to believe that Tyler Colvin is the next coming of Albert Pujols. They wanted to believe that Carlos Silva could continue winning at the rate he did before the All-Star break. They were in denial that Ted Lilly would get traded.
I don't understand how they could have those beliefs as Cubs fans, but there they were calling in and blasting George for suggesting that the Reds and Cardinals would not fall apart down the stretch, and that the Cubs aren't that good anyway.
Over the last couple of weeks, the Cubs have done their best to figuratively hold the believers' heads in the toilet while tearing off their fingernails with pliers and beating them with a sack of oranges. I can't imagine anyone believes this team can even win as many as four in a row against the middle-aged members of the Cubs Fantasy Team camp, much less the run of actual contending teams that face the Cubs in the next couple of weeks.
Of course, the Cubs still have to find ways to get people interested in the team. Not only are they losing ticket and concession revenue, but people aren't even bothering to watch them on television anymore. Lower ratings means lower ad revenues in the future.
Luckily, the Cubs front office is on the job and Aisle 424 was able to get some exclusive footage of one of their closed door meetings:
In the end, the Cubs will sell what they always sell in the absence of actual good product on the field: hope.
That is all there is left. I haven't actually been in a strategy meeting (and neither do I expect I would ever be invited to one), but that is how they will get season ticket holders to renew. That is how they will get the tens of thousands to come out to Wrigley in February to buy single game tickets. That is how they convince people to open up forty browsers on their machines to get through the virtual waiting room. That is how they will get people to pay 20% above face for a chance to buy tickets a little earlier than everyone else.
But how? How is that possible after the repeated groin kicks of the 2010 season? Ted Lilly is gone! Our plucky, not-terribly-bright-but-cute-as-the-dickens second baseman is also gone. They can't get anyone out because even when the pitchers get someone to accidentally hit a pop fly or weak groundball, the defense manages to screw it up. It doesn't matter anyway since the offense scores runs about as frequently as I win the lottery. How in the name of all that is holy will they get people to have hope again?
We will hear lots of talk about a revitalized minor league system that is starting to bear fruit. There will be an insistence that Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro are just the beginning. They will leave out that pretty much anyone who has a realistic chance of helping out in 2011 is already here. We also won't hear much about Justin Berg.
We will hear about the new attitude being brought in by whoever the new manager will be. It doesn't much matter who it is. The talking points will be the same. Just fill in the blanks with the appropriate names and imply that Lou was at fault all along:
"We are very pleased to have ____________ join us with the Chicago Cubs. He is the right man for the job as can readily be seen with his success with _____________ and ____________. We were looking for someone who can handle the major media market of Chicago, the egos of a veteran ballclub such as ours, and can interweave the burgeoning young talent from the farm system into the existing team. No disrespect to Lou Piniella, but we believe that _________ is the right man for the job right now and we are looking forward to celebrating a World Series title with him in the near future. Let's all welcome ____________!"
Aramis Ramirez will uncharacteristically show up at the Cubs Convention and talk about how painful his thumb injury was, but that it was no excuse and he will be ready to return to his former self in 2011. No one will mention that a thumb injury doesn't usually make one swing at pitches over one's head or that Ramirez hasn't really been the model of good health when he was younger than his 2011 age of 33 years old.
Carlos Zambrano will be shipped out of town and there will be lots of talk about how disruptive having a situation like that dragging out over the course of the year can be. The consensus among players will be that the locker room will be much more relaxed in 2011 and they will be able to concentrate on the job at hand. They will leave out the fact that the Cubs will be paying about 90% of Zambrano's salary to play for someone else and that they used that script last year when Milton Bradley was sent on his way.
If the entirety of Cubs history can be likened to a compost heap (and I think that it can), then the concept of hope is the biggest weed growing out of it.
But it will work because Cubs fans can be convinced just about anything is possible if you spin it the right way. We WANT to go there. We want so desperately to believe in unicorns and the possibility that THIS IS THE YEAR! that we will gladly believe whatever the Cubs machine decides to feed us. Then we get out our wallets.