At the end of the 2011 season, Theo Epstein began the next phase of his baseball life with the Chicago Cubs.
Tom Ricketts, whose family has owned the Cubs since January 2009, wanted someone who could build a team that can contend on a consistent basis, and quite possibly accomplishes the goal of ending their World Series drought.
So, with that thought, he sought for the man who broke the Bambino Curse. On October 12, 2011, Epstein was named the President of Baseball Operations for the Cubs.
The Loveable Losers of the Windy City were coming off a 71-win season as their last postseason appearance was in 2008- when they last won the National League Central Division. Epstein told reporters he was “ready for the next big challenge” as he was destined to break the “Curse of the Billy Goat“.
The curse goes back to 1945. During Game Four of the World Series, Billy Goat tavern owner William Sianis had a goat named Murphy, who he brought to the game. Due to his odor, fans were bothered by that and Sianis was asked to leave Wrigley Field- the most iconic baseball field of them all.
Angered by the result, the bar owner allegedly said that the Cubs were never going to win anymore. The Cubs would go on to lose the World Series to the Detroit Tigers. After the incident, the Cubs never made it to the World Series for the next 71 years.
Yes, this was another challenge for the youngest general manager in the history of Major League Baseball. Epstein was now overlooking a team who hasn’t had much success as the team’s last pennant came 66 years prior, and 103 years without winning a World Series.
Epstein made a promise to build a foundation of sustained success rooted in player development.
When Epstein left for Chicago, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, who worked under Epstein in Boston, were hired as the general manager and the director of scouting. Hoyer had previous experience when he was the general manager for the San Diego Padres while McLeod was an assistant general manager with the Red Sox.
One of Epstein’s first moves with the Cubs was hiring a new manager and he turned to former player Dale Sveum. Sveum was also a part of the Red Sox coaching staff back in 2004-2005. He eventually became the manager for the Milwaukee Brewers for the 2008 season.
On January 6, 2012, Epstein took his next step of action. He acquired first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates from none other than the Padres. The Cubs sent pitcher Andrew Cashner, and outfielder Kyung-Min Na to the Padres.
Interestingly enough, the All-Star first baseman was drafted in 2007 by Epstein and now-Cubs GM Jed Hoyer in Boston. He was then acquired by San Diego when Hoyer was the general manager.
Despite making bold moves in his first offseason with the Cubs, the team would go on to lose 101 games in the 2012 season. They finished dead last in the Central Division and that was their worst record since 1966.
The painful losing season pushed Epstein to build the Cubs behind the scenes even more. On July 31, 2012, the Cubs sent pitcher Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers in exchange for pitching prospect Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva. The deal was an early illustration of Epstein’s tough ability to part with a solid contributor who still held trade value but nevertheless was on slowly coming out of his prime.
Epstein continued his promise to the fans in the offseason but he only made one significant move. On December 5, 2012, the Chicago Cubs signed relief pitcher Hector Rondon from the Rule 5 Draft.
In the 2013 season, the Cubs lost 96-games even though they continued to rebuild under Epstein’s sabermetrics philosophy.
The player acquisitions would become a significant stepping stone for the Cubs rebuilding phase. The 101-loss season in 2012 became a benefit for the team was the Cubs selected third baseman Kris Bryant with the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft.
Almost a month after drafting Bryant, the Cubs would make one of the most lopsided trades in baseball. On July 2, 2013, the Cubs acquired pitcher Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop from the Baltimore Orioles for low-key free agent signing Scott Feldman, Steve Clevenger, and cash considerations. Arrieta had underachieved with Baltimore for years, but in Chicago, he turned into a combination of an All-star pitcher and a CY Young Award winner.
Arrieta would go on to win the 2015 Cy Young Award, and for Strop, well, he has become one of the League’s better setup men.
The 2013 season resulted in the Cubs having a record of 66-96. On September 30, 2013, Dale Sveum was fired as the manager after two years of being under Epstein. Sveum accumulated a 127-197 during his time. The Cubs would name Rick Renteria as the new manager where they signed him to a three-year contract on November 7, 2013.
The 2014 season marked the 100th season of play at Wrigley Field, though the Cubs did not start playing there until 1916. That season also saw a decrease in losses as the Cubs only lost 89 games.
Though another poor season led to another high draft pick. The Cubs drafted Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft.
The team continued to make moves at the deadline. They traded pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland A’s for minor league prospect Billy McKinney, major league pitcher Dan Straily, and top-five prospect Addison Russell.
After the 2014 season, Renteria was released by the Cubs after one season. On November 3, 2014, the Cubs announced the signing of Joe Maddon to a five-year contract as the manager of the team.
The Cubs decided not to retain assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley. Bill Mueller, the hitting coach, resigned over the decision. On October 9, 2014, John Mallee, formerly the Houston Astros hitting coach, was hired as his replacement. Eric Hinske was the assistant hitting coach and Doug Dascenzo was signed to replace him as first base/outfield coach.
Those were some of the significant changes made with the coaching. The Cubs brought back Jason Hammel on a two-year deal worth $18-million. The team improved the rotation by adding another veteran arm, former Red Sox Jon Lester. Lester signed a six-year, $155 million deal.
On December 23, 2014, the Cubs signed veteran catcher David Ross to a two-year contract worth $5 million. They weren’t done there as they traded for outfielder Dexter Fowler from the Houston Astros. The Cubs gave up Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily in the deal.
The 2015 season turned out to be a successful one. The Cubs would go on to finish with the third-best record in the 2015 season. They finished with a 97-65 record as they finished one game back of the Pittsburgh Pirates and two games back of the St. Louis Cardinals. That was good enough for to play in the National League Wild Card Game where they defeated the Pirates.
The Cubs moved on to the Division Series against the Cardinals. The Cubs swept their long-time rivals in four games and advanced to National League Championship Series for the first time since 2003.
Unfortunately, they were swept by a youthful New York Mets team. With playoff experience at hand, the team knew that they had what it takes to win a World Series. An accomplishment no one saw coming until next season.
For their efforts, Joe Maddon would win the National League Manager of the Year Award. Kris Bryant made his debut on April 17 and he would go on to win the National League Rookie of the Year. Javier Baez would also make his debut, but not until September 1.
They started off by signing veteran pitcher John Lackey from the St. Louis Cardinals. Then they signed Jason Heyward who was also a Cardinal before signing. The Cubs signed second baseman Ben Zobrist, who had won a World Series with the Kansas City Royals in the 2015 season. Starlin Castro would be traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Adam Warren and a player to be named later (Brendan Ryan– who was later released after the trade).
There were a lot of expectations for the Cubs coming into the 2016 season. They were considered one of the favourite’s to win the World Series and they used that as motivation throughout the season.
Opening Day got off to a horrific start after Kyle Schwarber tore his ACL and his LCL in his left knee after colliding with Dexter Fowler. Schwarber would miss the remainder of the season until he came back for the World Series. The injury did not seem to affect the club at all.
The Cubs had their best 30-game start since 1907, going 24–6 (went 22–4 in 1907). They would finish with the best record in Major League Baseball with 103-wins. The most wins for the franchise since 1910. On top of all of that, they won the National League Central title for the first time since 2008.
The Cubs defeated the San Francisco Giants in the National League Divison Series and returned to the National League Championship Series where they would defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. The Cubs were headed off to the World Series for the first time since 1945.
The Cubs were against the Cleveland Indians. The two teams entered the Series as the two franchises with the longest World Series title drought. A combined total of 176 years. It was Cleveland’s sixth appearance in the World Series and the club’s first since 1997. Though their last Series win goes back to 1948.
Dexter Fowler, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, and Carl Edwards Jr. became the first African-American baseball players on a Cubs roster in a World Series. Additionally, Fowler was the first African-American to appear and to bat for the Cubs in a World Series game. As well both Fowler and Russell were the first African-Americans to start for the Cubs in a World Series game.
It was Cleveland manager Terry Francona’s third appearance in the World Series. He previously won the World Series with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007.
This was Maddon’s second appearance in the World Series as a manager. He managed the Tampa Bay Rays when they beat the Red Sox to win their first A.L. Pennant in 2008. They would lose to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games. However, Maddon was the bench for the Anaheim Angels in 2003- the same year the Angels won the World Series.
The 112th Fall Classic was similar to a heavyweight boxing match. Cleveland had a 3-1 lead over the Cubs before winning the next two games to force a Game 7.
Game 7 of the series would go down as a classic, with some calling it the greatest game in World Series history. Dexter Fowler led off for the Cubs with a home run off of
Dexter Fowler led-off for the Cubs with a home run off of Corey Kluber. Fowler became the first player to ever hit a lead-off home run in Game 7 of a World Series.
Things got more dramatic in the eighth inning. Maddon used flamethrower Aroldis Chapman despite pitching in the previous two games. Cleveland’s Brandon Guyer would hit a double off Chapman, setting it up for Rajai Davis who hit a monstrous home run over the left field wall to tie the game up 6-6.
With the game tied after nine innings, heavy rain rapidly approached the area, and the game went into a 17-minute rain delay. The delay would come in favour for the Cubs.
After an intentional walk to Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist stepped up to the plate. Zobrist delivered a huge RBI double into the left field corner, scoring pinch-runner Albert Almora, and breaking the tie. After another intentional walk to Addison Russell, Miguel Montero singled into left, scoring Rizzo and making the score 8–6.
Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. was called upon to finish up the game in the bottom of the 10th. After retiring the first two hitters, he walked Brandon Guyer. Rajai Davis, following up on his eighth-inning heroics, lined a single into center, making it a one-run game.
For the first time in 108-years, the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series.
Zobrist won the World Series MVP. The sense of relief in the Windy City led to a big night of celebrations throughout the city. The Cubs became the sixth team to come back from a three-games-to-one deficit in a best-of-seven World Series. They join the 1925 and 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, 1958 New York Yankees, 1960 Detroit Tigers and the 1985 Kansas City Royals.
Epstein pulled off another feat no one thought could have happened. Not only did he break the Curse of the Bambino, but the Curse of the Billy Goat was also broken thanks to his remarkable management. Epstein is a definite shoe-in for Cooperstown one day.
With a World Series goal accomplished with two teams who suffered for a long time, Theo Epstein will now set his sights on building an empire for this season and beyond.