By:  Holly Horning

Last week, we explored the evolution of the Chicago Cubs that started with the hiring of President Theo Epstein. Catch it here at:

Today, we’re going to dig deeper into Theo’s philosophies and the specifics he introduced to the entire Cubs organization. And unlike most organizations, he didn’t look at the stats first. Theo started with the philosophy of the team, the mindset – and what many would call the corporate culture. And he didn’t like what he saw.

As fans, we are told – and we believe – that baseball players live to play baseball in October. So wouldn’t you be stunned to learn that’s not necessarily the case?

Epstein learned that there were players who actually couldn’t care less if they were in the playoffs. And their reasons were primarily based upon not getting paid for extra days of work beyond their yearly contract, the long season and the desire to get home.

Avoiding this mindset was a crucial cornerstone to developing what Theo calls “Character and Chemistry” – a philosophy where a player’s character and leadership were given significant weight in which players were signed or released. A checklist was given to all of the evaluators (scouts and Front Office) that identified the areas of the player to be explored: how they handled adversity off the field, what their family life was like, how they treated people in everyday life (including when others weren’t watching) and their motivations for playing baseball. Friends, enemies, parents, siblings, teammates, counselors and girlfriends were interviewed. Not mentioned is whether ex-girlfriends were included in this group.

To Theo, it was all about the mix of stats and character that determined who was signed, not just the numbers.

But he also evaluated everyone who worked for the Cubs. Scouts and coaches were evaluated for their work several times a year and the willingness to do what it took, coupled with new philosophies, technology and increased challenges to their jobs were part of the review. All of this was added to their body of work and accomplishments – or lack thereof. In the beginning, there was a lot of turnover.

The medical, training and conditioning staffs also fell under this system. They were tasked directly with overseeing the entire health and safety of the players on and off the field. And their jobs run 365 days/year, not just during the season. Of Theo’s greatest priorities, these departments were required to ensure that every player was in shape upon arrival to spring training. Players understood that they needed to meet certain requirements in order to play the first pre-season games.

It’s interesting to note that Epstein spread the recognition and credit around. Everyone who did their job getting the players to the desired levels, received acknowledgement publicly. Which brings us to another Epstein tenet: “Connection.”

Another “C” word. Theo believed that when everyone is connected to one another whether it be with teammates or anyone else within the organization, it creates a feeling of belonging. A human need often overlooked especially in sports. And the strong ties to studies done that show people who feel like they are truly part of a group go beyond their expected capabilities and push to do better.

But of course, Theo needed a mouthpiece to help get the message out, especially to the players. Someone who believed in the same things and was capable of providing regular encouragement and guidance.

Joe Maddon. But you knew this was coming.

Maddon mirrored his boss in teaching his players to embrace expectations and the pressure that comes with it. He taught them never to quit and helped them understand how to prioritize winning. He knew how to enhance respect of players which, in turn, created a more disciplined and better athlete. A guy who also believed that while stats are important, it’s the heart that wins it in the end.

The heart that was perfectly exemplified in the last game of the 2016 World Series. A game in which the Indians rallied from a 3-run deficit to tie the score in the 9th inning and take the wind out of the Cubs’ sail. At least temporarily. That is until one Cubs player called a team meeting during the rain delay to remind his teammates what this was all about.

And the rest is history. But then you knew this was coming.

21 thoughts on “BUILDING A WINNER (PART 2)

  1. ASA factory worker with a three year degree I knew there were people ‘beond’ me. Thanks to Holly’s Epstien piece he’s beond anything I imagined. To bad the tigers are less. Epstien is my bettor, the tigers, frustratingly, are not.


  2. I saw the Cubs this past February in ST. It was early on a Monday morning. Maddon had his players doing calesthenics. BBQ was being cooked on the grill and rock n roll music was being blared on the loudspeakers. Maddon had his players happy, motivated and each wondered what their WS ring would look like. What a feeling!


  3. Great blog today. Contrary to what we often hear, character matters. I’m laughing to myself imagining the response of your TDN critics if they were to read this one. 🙂


  4. Holly, your 2 part “Building a Winner” does a wonderful job delving into the basic premise behind developing a champion. I can attest that the “all-in” theme works because I was part of a similar process that employed these strategies. We grew from 30 people to over 450 team mates that were willing to do anything to help us win.


  5. I don’t doubt it, but I would love to know which Tigers are happy to skip the postseason and head home in October. And how do we know this to be true?


  6. I do have to wonder at what point during a losing game does Joe Maddon start thinking up excuses for his players? Watching the Tigers lately it looks like they know there are no consequences for poor play. They look like a team that is devoid of Team Chemistry. Where does the manager fit in to all of this?


  7. Geez, I cannot keep up with all of this: First Einstein’s theory, then the Theo Philosophy, then the Tiger Way, and now the Horning Doctrine. Baseball used to be so much simpler.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is one of the best sports articles I’ve ever read. It nails the key to success…the foundation on which to build a winning team. Speed, coordination, strength, talent and execution are great characteristics, but don’t go far without love. It is the most necessary ingredient to success.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great piece Holly. During my working years, our organization used the idea of treating employees the way we wanted our best customers treated, bringing them into a team concept. It worked!


  10. The column is well written. What is being described is what all winning teams do. Cut out the selfish players and bring in winners. It has been done for decades now. Theo’s way is getting everyone in the organization on board. Just a bit different. Not the only way.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Totally right receipe for building a winner. But do the Tigers bring down the tent and start from scratch? I think NOT!! Tigers are not in the same degree of “sink hole” the Cubs were. A couple of smart trades, a couple of walking papers issued and A NEW Manager would do wonders for this team.


  12. What does it say that a player in today’s world with so much money on the line would not keep himself In peak physical condition. I was honored to meet Luciano Pavarotti once and the great tenor said to me that his voice was his instrument, and he constantly needed to protect it and fine tune it.


  13. Well, the Tigers do have an analytics department now. Another 3-4 years and they’ll be ready for baby step number 2.


  14. Character counts and treat your employees as valuable assets with much to contribute. Not as bothersome expenses that must be constantly put in thier place like prisoners. Affermation from you and Theo. Same reasons I was a bill Walsh fan . As long as Theo and maddon guide the cubs I guess I’m a cub fan now. Thank you Holly for your two Theo pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

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