It's a little tough for me to defend Kevin Gregg after sitting in Wrigley Field during the 9th inning and watching him blow the game by giving up 4 runs to the cocky Braves, who's racist fans were tomahawk chopping their way to yet another successful year. Sure, I guess it's Gregg's fault we lost the game yesterday, but he's been infinitely better than any of us would have imagined when we heard he was signed off the scrap heap in April. He's notched 32 saves and, until yesterday, had a sub 3 ERA. These stats for a last place team, that often times puts him into the game in "non-save" situations, such as yesterday's tie game. This year, he's taken the ball professionally, and not only saved half our wins, even though he didn't even join the team until the 3rd week of the season, and he "saved" us from watching a year of Marmol meltdowns and closer by committee.
Now to call what Gregg said yesterday a "rant" or a "blast" of Cubs management is overstating the matter considerably. All he said was that after a conversation with Dale Sveum a few days ago, Gregg felt he was out as closer, and not part of the Cubs' future plans. Apparently they want to try out Strop in the closers role. The worst thing Gregg said was "I expected to be treated a little bit better than this. They can treat their players how they want. Unfortunately we are under their control. It is not necessarily how I would have done it, but they have to do things the way they want it." He said this all calmly and articulately, and seemed only disappointed in managements decision to "move forward" or "go in a different direction". He wasn't angry or shouting. This was by no means a rant.
Anyone that's ever heard the Dale Sveum show with Keith Moreland pre game on WGN, knows that Dale is not the most articulate man on the planet. He may have a decent baseball brain, (though you'd be hard pressed to find an example demonstrating that over the last two seasons), but listening to Keith and Dale talk reminds me of Hank Hill and his cronies leaning up against a pickup talking about propane in Fox's King of the Hill. Dale says "ya know", and much as Lou Piniella said "Look" during press conferences. *On a side note, if I hear Keith say "innersting" one more time, I may just jump out onto the field dressed as Morganna the Kissing bandit at the final home game, having been driven mad by his poor diction. (sorry, needed to get that off my chest).
Dale has a knack for stating the obvious, like if Rizzo strikes out with the bases loaded and 1 out, Dale will say something like, "well, we've got to get better in those situations". Duh!!! You can barely hear him at his press conferences because he mumbles, and his general Hokey-Do "Aww shucks" demeanor may keep the clubhouse calm, but it certainly doesn't result in an aura of success, or confidence that this is the mastermind who will "win it all" for the long suffering Cubs' fans. Nor, do I think Dale is a particularly impactful or noticeable man, given that Robin Yount once mistook him for a duck and shot him in the head.
Given Gregg's post "rant" apology, where Dale and Theo explained the situation more clearly to him, it becomes obvious that the "situation" was not explained to Gregg well in the first place. In other words, Dale Sveum led Kevin Gregg to believe that he was not a part of the Cubs organization's plans, even though he had a really good comeback year. This is probably true, and perfectly fine with me, but why this couldn't wait until after the season is beyond me. When you define a guys job as "closer" and then take it away from him, thus diminishing his value both as a free agent and from a personal human standpoint, well, don't be surprised when there's a bit of blowback. And it was just a bit. Imagine your boss coming up to you and saying, listen, you've been great, but you're fired, and only 9 days before vacation! Add to that, Sveum's mumbling, unmasterful command of the English language, and you've got yourself a misunderstanding!
Now Theo Epstein, who reportedly was hopping mad after learning of Gregg's "tirade", immediately called Gregg and Sveum together for a meeting, at which Gregg was "scared straight" into toeing the company line. Gregg ran to to the press room and immediately apologized publicly for his comments. Epstein is young and successful, or at least he was successful until he came to Chicago. He's the kind of guy I'd probably dislike if I met him because he thinks he's so damned smart. He just looks like a wall street hot shot who got rich on a penny stock once and now thinks he's Warren Buffet. My punk rock heritage has carried me into midlife with a healthy skepticism and "Die Yuppie Scum" still lingering on the tip of my tongue, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
Of course I hope the new "Cubs Way" results in a championship for the Northsiders, but I am not one of the faithful who will drink the Kool-aid until I see results on the field. No player does or should play this game in order for the front office to get higher draft picks. And though the Cubs farm system definitely seems juiced after dumping every player anybodies ever heard of by the trade deadline, I need to see at least a .500 season before I can declare the "Boy Wonder" Epstein anything but a guy who happened to catch the timing right in Boston. "The Cubs Way" has ruined Starlin Castro's natural talent, signed the weak hitting Rizzo until the end of the decade, and called Jeff Samar249ry2ifu their ace, despite an 8-12 record and a 4.42 ERA. Yes, the core of the "2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs" seems to be lacking in well....a core....
This situation with Kevin Gregg reinforces my perception that Theo is nothing more than a sniveling rich kid who can't be criticized by his underlings with out getting his underpants in a knot. He wasn't even criticized! Or at least barely criticized. Gregg only said he wished the situation had been handled better. But Theo immediately knee jerked and talked about releasing Gregg, just to prove a point. What point is that? Obviously, it's I own you, and if you say anything against me, no matter how trifling, you're out. Epstein can't even muster the same respect he demands of his players, publicly musing about the fate of Kevin Gregg's job, while Gregg himself must stay quiet and run "tail between legs" back to the press in order to save his own hide. I find Theo's actions even less professional than Gregg's! Theo said he'd "sleep on it" as to whether Gregg would face disciplinary action. So great! If Gregg IS still on the team this afternoon, and not DFA'd, he will have to do it without any sleep. Not that he would have slept anyway given his horrible performance yesterday. But to have this yuppie wonderboy "sleeping on it" (on a 25,000 canopy sleigh bed no doubt) as to whether you have a job tomorrow is indicative as to the cultural stranglehold Epstein hopes to have over this organization. Who does he think he is? George Steinbrenner? In other Epstein news, the press has been a a titter this week about the future of Dale Sveum, which Theo telegraphed at least an indifference to Dale's performance and future as the Cubs' manager, then quickly backtracked in order to instill confidence in the manager who has led us to two basement finishes. As I see it, Mr Loose Lips Epstein is demanding something of his players he can't even do himself. That is the definition of poor management.
I don't pretend to know what goes on behind closed doors. It's easy to forget that these are human beings with real emotions, goals, and dreams. I'm certain Kevin Gregg felt as if he was being demoted, and it hurt his feelings. He blamed his performance yesterday on it, and I'm not sure he's wrong. Team culture is hard to put your finger on, and it seems the best teams have a healthy mix of stars, vets, and hotshot rookies. The Cubs currently have none of those elements. The best thing I've seen Theo and company do, besides beef up the minor league teams, is get good production out of a platooned third base position, and successfully pick up "watchable" players off of the Major League scrap heap. I personally don't think an inexperienced and inarticulate manager is the answer for inexperienced players. But who am I but a knowledgeable fan at best? If Gregg didn't understand the situation, that's on Sveum. He's the manager. And as far as Theo goes, practice what you preach. In sports you're only as good as the last thing you did, and the last thing the Cubs are going to do this year, is play two teams who are going to clinch the playoffs against them. The Braves, likely today or tomorrow, and The Cardinals in the last series of the season. It's been a frustrating year for Cubs' fans, to state the obvious, and it's going to to be a long, cold, dark off-season in Chicago. Unfortunately for Kevin Gregg, the off season might have just gotten a little longer and darker.
Update: Kevin Gregg on the team until next Sunday. Guess Scrooge McDuck got the Christmas spirit....