A excerpt from Tom Verducci’s forthcoming book “The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse” was published last week and has been making the rounds among my friends. It’s the snippet about Game Seven: you all know the story, we were leading, then we weren’t, then the rain and a fateful team meeting led by Jason Heyward turned everything around.
It’s a classic story, it will never get old.
Two words of Verducci’s retelling of it, however, caught my eye this time because they seem to be everywhere these days. In Verducci’s rendition, as Theo Epstein stealthily listens to the team meeting and reflects on the character and heart of his team, right before he concludes they are going to win, he thinks: That’s Cub.
From Verducci’s retelling:
“It snapped me back,” he said. “It reminded me of how much I admired them and how tough they are, how connected they’ve stayed, and the great things human beings can accomplish when they set out to achieve for other people, not for themselves.
“From my position I can see it: the sacrifice the scouts make when they drive the extra miles to get that last look at a player, the minor league coaches putting in extra hours, the big league coaches crushing video, the players working on their weaknesses, picking their teammates up—that’s what makes a great organization. That’s Cub.”
If you live in the Chicago area or are obsessed with following the Cubs year-round (and let’s face it, if you’re reading this in March counting down the days to April 2 you probably qualify) you’ve seen these two words a lot lately. In fact, the Cubs have embraced “That’s Cub” as their motto for the 2017 season.
Tom Ricketts unveiled the motto on February 27th at the City Club of Chicago, and the Cubs Twitter feed has been cycling through a series of That’s Cub ads like the one below:
It’s a great motto for a bunch of reasons, it’s catchy, it fits nicely on signs that are popping up from the Brown Line to Iowa. I’m sure there will be many more signs, tweets, and mentions throughout the year. But that wouldn’t have been as interesting of an article. What is an interesting article is the story of those words and how an organization re-branded itself from the quintessential loser to the quintessential winner.
This motto wasn’t dreamed up in some advertising board room. This wasn’t kicked around Mad Men style before being focus grouped and delivered to you. It was something that Cubs minor-leaguers started saying to each other at the start of the Ricketts era when things went right to reinforce what it meant to be a Cub. From that Tribune link:
Minor-league players came up with the term to define team expectations. “They meant it in a very positive way,” said Alison Miller, Cubs marketing vice president. “So a guy hits a ground ball and he runs it out, he’s about to beat out the throw and make it to first. Like, that’s Cub; that’s hustle. Or a player off the field taking the time to sign autographs or going to do something great in the local community, that’s Cub.
Minor-league staffers, such as mental skills program officials Josh Lifrak and Darnell McDonald, incorporated the saying in their training, and prospects such as Albert Almora Jr. and Carl Edwards Jr. rose to the pro ranks having already adopted the phrase as part of their dialect. During 2014’s “On Deck” event, a sort of state-of-the-Cubs address, president Theo Epstein shared the slogan with season ticket holders to give a positive outlook on the team’s direction after a 96-loss season in 2013.
For my entire Cubs existence, and well prior, That’s Cub had a substantially different meaning and in 2015 when it looked like the franchise might finally be turning the corner on bad luck and curses marketing executives started writing articles about re-branding the “Lovable Losers.” Last year as the Cubs were winning the World Series Eric Gautschi had an excellent write up about the lessons we can learn from the Cubs and re-branding. The whole article is worth a read, but this part is the crux for me:
The W flag, which dates back to the 1930s as a low-tech way of communicating across the city when the Cubs won, has taken on a new life as a trending hashtag and the hottest selling item in Wrigleyville.
Winning will do that.
Maybe the best way, indeed the only true way, to rebrand isn’t through an ad campaign or a new logo but through rethinking everything that you do, reimagining what’s possible and executing a game plan to change the very product you’re bringing to the market.
And that brings us to 2017, and two words that mean something different to all of us now than they ever would have meant in the past, because from the front office to the minor leagues the Cubs organization decided to rethink everything they did.