Consummate baseball reporter Tom Verducci's "The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse" gives an in-depth, insider's look at how the Chicago Cubs ended 108 years of futility by winning the 2016 World Series.
After covering the Cubs' victory over the Cleveland Indians for Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated, Verducci gathered information and wrote the book in two months, finishing on New Year's Eve, according to a Poynter report.
While minor editing glitches and patches of loose writing reflect the rush, the book is impressively thorough, setting the standard for future authors. While Verducci followed up the series with additional interviews of Cubs leaders and players, he drew on a deep well of knowledge in writing the 140,000-word book.
Verducci gives a detailed game-by-game World Series analysis of Cubs manager Joe Maddon's strategy and the Cubs' performance, but much of the book looks at how Cubs President Theo Epstein changed the franchise's "lovable losers" mentality into the major leagues' top corporate powerhouse of sabermetrics, technology, and motivational techniques.
Epstein, who earlier built the Boston Red Sox into world champions to overcome the team's curse from trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees, drafted a foundation of young players to transform the Cubs: Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Kris Bryant. Unlike other teams, he concentrated on drafting everyday players rather than pitchers. Later, he depended on trades to build an outstanding pitching staff.
Along with the latest analytical methods and play-enhancing technology, Epstein sought players of strong character and leadership ability. He compiled an extensive manual detailing the "Cubs Way," covering playing techniques, positive attitudes and dealing with the media. To transmit his philosophy to the field, Epstein brought in Maddon, known for his unconventional strategy and creative motivational techniques in managing the Tampa Bay Rays.
"The Cubs Way" discloses fascinating details of Maddon's career as a baseball lifer, rising from minor league instructional and managerial jobs to a long stint as the top assistant coach for the Los Angeles Angels. A pioneer of computer statistical analysis, Maddon at last received a major league manager's job with the Rays, leading them to one World Series appearance. His Cubs appointment allowed him to fully explore technology and his outside-the-box stratagems to build interpersonal relationships with his players. Any aspiring Maddon biographers will discover a wealth of background in Verducci's pages.
Verducci also gives high praise to Cubs owner Thomas Ricketts, the TD Ameritrade heir who spent millions on such projects as renovating the archaic clubhouses at Wrigley Field. With Ricketts' support, Epstein gave his players a dizzying array of enhancements, from hitting, fielding and catching specialists to "mental" analysts and nutritionists who would whip up made-to-order smoothies after workouts. Cubs PR writers would have a difficult time matching Verducci's soaring praise of Epstein. and his new age baseball. Somewhere, old Cubs ace Grover Cleveland Alexander is chuckling over his whiskey.
A note of doubt rises in Verducci's look at Maddon's World Series pitching strategy, which nearly proved disastrous. After the Cubs built a 6-3 lead in Game 7, the overused Alroldis Chapman allowed the Indians to tie the game. A 17-minute rain delay was the Cubs' salvation. A team meeting called by right fielder Jason Heyward revived the downcast players, who came back to score two runs and win the title. If minute analysis is Maddon's strength, overthinking is his biggest fault.
Veducci's account of the seventh game and the rest of the series emphasizes inside baseball analysis at the expense of drama. Intensive fans will value the insider views, but more casual readers will wish for more excitement. Perhaps Verducci had been too close to the action, and the games had lost their freshness.
Books to come will give more pulsating accounts of the series. For now, Verducci shows how Epstein and Maddon built the Cubs into champions.