As a Cubs fan I like to think I know a thing or two about patience.  My father learned it from this ballclub and my grandparents have been asked for a lifetime of it from this organization.  I have invested more than a few words in my support of the new administration over these past two years and I’m as sold on the plan of building through the draft and player development as one could be.  But I’ve got to be honest, this managerial search has brought me to my limit.

Back in 2011 when Theo & Co. rolled into town they told us all that it wasn’t going to be easy and frankly they essentially stated that it was going to get worse before it got better.  And worse it got.  That’s fine though, they were upfront and transparent with the plan and I can both respect and support that.  By natural inclination I’m in favor of the home grown approach to most things as opposed to going out and purchasing one’s success.  Watching a team of in-house talent grow up, take their lumps, and ultimately reach the highest pinnacles of their sport is the best experience a fan can have (see the 2010 Blackhawks).

Something changed with this managerial search however.  Word broke during the last week of the season that Dale Sveum’s job might not be as secure as the remaining year of his contract may indicate.  By October 1st it was official that Sveum was out and the managerial search, which we had thought had just concluded two years before, would begin anew.

When hired in 2011 a lot was made about the fact that Sveum would not be judged by wins and losses.  As alluded to above, the Cubs brass knew they were going to be putting an inferior product on the field for the next few years and thus their measurement of their manager was going to be based on changing the culture, providing leadership, and developing the young talent as it arrives at 1060 W. Addison. 

In hindsight you can go back and find instances of Sveum not meeting each of the stated goals above, but one could argue the other way as well.  By all accounts the Sveum-led staff made Alfonso Soriano accountable in the outfield; preached a selective aggressiveness approach at the plate (even though the players didn’t respond very well – it’s worth noting that it’s difficult to teach a cat to bark as well); he stood up for his team and never pointed fingers except at himself; and despite Castro and Rizzo perhaps not developing at a pace the fans wanted you can also point to Samardzija (a bullpen arm in 2011), Travis Wood, and Wellington Castillo becoming far better players than anyone would have anticipated while under Sveum’s watch. 

I’m still unclear as to exactly why Sveum was let go but if you read the tea leaves baked into the link above Theo gives some clues.  In the press conference he states,

“We are clearly going to prioritize track record and managerial experience or, in lieu of extensive managerial experience, leadership,” Epstein said. “There has to be someone that is a proven leader.”

You could read that and think, if their priority is to find a leader then the implication is that Sveum wasn’t one.  My guess is the tipping point came during a famous-in-Cubbie-lore week-long stretch in September where Edwin Jackson was pulled from a start and shared his opinion of the move with Sveum in the dugout, Jeff Samardzija got into an argument with 3rd base coach David Bell after a defensive alignment gone bad, and Kevin Gregg ran his mouth to reporters about his uncertain position as the team’s closer.  The writing on the wall was that Sveum had lost the locker room and that more than anything probably closed the book on his tenure as the skipper of the good ship Cubs.

That’s all happened now and is behind us.  The Cubs are a team without a manager and the process to find one has been less than efficient.  The initial reaction to Sveum’s firing was that the Cubs had cleared the way for Joe Girardi - the prodigal son (he’s from Peoria, went to Northwestern, & came up through the Cubs system) - to return and chauffer the Cubs to the promise land.  Unfortunately Girardi never left New York.  Now the Cubs were left hat-in-hand looking for the next best option. 

Their search turned up AJ Hinch, Manny Acta, Dave Martinez, and Rick Renteria.  All are fine guys but each has their flaws.  Hinch and Acta have been managers elsewhere and have failed for various reasons.  Martinez is quickly becoming the guy who’s interviewed for twenty different jobs and not gotten any of them so one begins to wonder why so many have chosen to pass, and Renteria is known as a swell person who did manage Mexico in the last WBC but that’s really all that he’s got on his résumé at the moment.  The Cubs conducted their interviews and vetted each candidate and then decided to wait…

For whatever reason the manager search committee decided that after all of the candidates interviewed it would be a good idea to expand the search again.  The Cubs will tell you that they want to consider all possible candidates but the cynic will say that none of the four names listed did enough to make the hair on the back of their collective necks stand up so the search continued.

New names like Eric Wedge (who was just fired by the equally woeful Mariners), Brad Ausmus (the hot young name with no experience), and Torey Lovullo (Boston’s bench coach) rose to the surface.  With Boston playing right up to November the process continued to get delayed as you can’t interview a candidate whose team is still playing meaningful baseball.  In the meantime, just a day or two after interviewing in Chicago, Ausmus took the same position with the ready-to-win Tigers in Detroit.  Now with the World Series over, Lovullo is technically eligible to interview however the Cubs and Boston agreed back in 2011 that Theo would not be able to poach Boston’s organization of its best and brightest for up to three years following his departure.  One can pick nits here and point out that Lovullo left and came back to Boston in that time (he worked in Toronto last year) and an unwritten rule in any major sport really is that you don’t stand in the way of your people moving to a new organization for a promotion (which this would be for Lovullo – bench coach to manager) so shame on the Red Sox there.  Regardless, a very real chance exists that Lovullo will not be eligible to fulfill the skipper position for the Cubs and thus they are forced to return to the original candidates.

This scenario reminds me of how I handled the Homecoming dance my freshman year of high school.  I knew there were a few girls I could ask that would say “yes” without thinking twice.  What can I say, chicks with a lazy eye or butch haircuts love me.  My dilemma was whether I was selling myself short with this lot as there were bigger fish on my radar.  Maybe I take a stab at asking the captain of the dance team and if she said “no” I’d always have the originals to fall back on.  What happened you ask?  The dance team captain and her then boyfriend’s relationship wasn’t quite as rocky as I had been led to believe and in turn she was spoken for.  I went back to the original crew and it turns out they had found dates as well.  My friend and I went on to throw an epic anti-Homecoming party the night of the dance instead but that’s beside the point (we brought in a half-pipe and everything!).

The Cubs find themselves in a position where Girardi got back together with his love interest in the Bronx and all the other cute candidates that will earn you street cred at the lunch table have been spoken for as well.  Now they’re left to pick from the collection of hair-lips and uni-brows that they started with, only this time they’re doing so with their tail between their legs.

At the time of this writing it sounds like Rick Renteria will be the choice and it will be made officially as early as the next few days (they’ve said they want their manager selected before the GM meetings which start this weekend in Orlando).  Again, all reports out of San Diego (Renteria’s current employer) are nothing but positive, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod speak highly of him from a front office perspective and reportedly Anthony Rizzo likes him after coming up through the Padres system.  Unfortunately he’s just got that second or third choice stink on him and that’s a tough place to start from when you’re expected to be a leader. 

I hope everything goes well and there are no more surprises in this process for the Cubs’ sake.  They rolled the dice that their ideal candidates (presumably Girardi or Lovullo) would fall to them and it didn’t work out.  Renteria brings to the clubhouse a lot of experience in working with and developing younger players while also having a background and language skills that appeal to the Latin American talent on its way to Wrigley. 

The key here is that this is the first instance (outside of some minor trades) where under the media’s bright spotlight everything Theo & Co. touched did not turn up roses.  Over the past few months any Google search involving the words “Cubs”, “Manager”, and/or “Wrigley Renovation” have brought nothing but negative PR to the top of your browser.  Hell, even WGN is opting out of their side of the Cubs radio deal as they’re losing money due to the poor product on the field (EDIT: It was announced today that in tit-for-tat fashion the Cubs are now enacting their opt out of the WGN TV deal at the end of 2014 as well – take that network who built our fan base!).  Am I living in a cuckoo clock?!  That is not the Camelot image many have been sold with the new ownership and the new front office who figuratively rode in on white horses two years ago to lead history’s most tortured organization and fan base to the holy grail. 

The shine is off the armor and everyone is starting to take note of the smell coming from the stable.

I’m still a believer that the best of days are still ahead of us, and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is as I will be investing in a season ticket package for the first time this coming season (Ben Graham taught us to buy low, sell high).  But reality is knocking at the door Cubs fans and we’re reminded that not all that glitters is gold.  Theo has been saying from day one that this process of making the Cubs a consistently competitive ball club that’s in the hunt for the playoffs year in and year out is not going to be easy.  I guess this is just the first time we’ve been exposed to the fact that he wasn’t just saying that to moderate our expectations after all.