clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Book Review: ‘The Plan’

Theo Epstein’s plan worked to perfection.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

You know this entire story, and you know it well. The Ricketts family buys the Chicago Cubs and hires Theo Epstein to institute a plan to revamp the baseball organization from the bottom up, with the goal being winning the World Series.

It had a happy ending for everyone from the Ricketts family to Theo to players and coaches to every Cubs employee to every Cubs fan, with the World Series victory last November.

So why should you read “The Plan,” the book by longtime Chicago radio & TV sportscaster David Kaplan?

Because this book has detail you likely hadn’t heard before. Example: The Ricketts family was in on buying the Cubs even before Tribune Company officially put them on the market. Kaplan goes into great detail about the entire purchase process.

But more than that, this book has quotes from Tom Ricketts, and Theo Epstein, and Jed Hoyer, and Joe Maddon, and just about every person who had a key role to play in making the Cubs champions. You’ll get a look at how Theo built “The Cubs Way” (which, of course, is the title of another book about the champion Cubs) and how that “way” became the mantra of the entire organization from the ground up.

One thing I was particularly struck by in reading Kaplan’s book was the human side of the organization. The Cubs had been a team known for not using analytics before Theo took over, and the book certainly details how the Cubs ramped up the effort to bring analytics into the organization.

But Kaplan also details what he calls the “humanist” side of Theo and how he brought that into team decision-making. He writes:

The perception of Epstein and Hoyer is that of computer geeks who allow technology to make every decision for them but that couldn’t be further from the actual truth on how the two men run the Cubs. “Our family finds it sort of hilarious the way he’s portrayed as this computer nerd or stats guy because while he was good in math, he was never particularly interested in it,” said his mother Annie Hoyer, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, with a laugh. “He just loved baseball,” she said.

In fact, on the glass wall in the Cubs baseball operations department is a series of mathematical equation that an observer would probably expect to see in a Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer office. Except, as Epstein told Wright Thompson in an ESPN The Magazine article in September 2016, the numbers are meaningless. “It is all fake numbers dressed up with sines and cosines,” he told Thompson.

That’s something that Epstein and Hoyer have been really good at — not just identifying talented players, but high character men who have produced a clubhouse full of players who have but one goal, winning. And their leader, Joe Maddon, understands human beings well and how to motivate them. Kaplan details the entire process that brought Maddon to Chicago, something you also well know, but the added detail the book brings make it well worth reading.

There are chapters on every significant event in recent Cubs history, from the Jake Arrieta trade to the rooftop dispute to the signing of Jon Lester to details on how the 2014 season transformed into 2015, and then the title year of 2016, all with quotes from the key people involved. Kaplan also includes lists of Cubs draft prospects, Cubs sponsors (who the team signed up in record numbers over the last couple of years), the key clauses in the rooftop contract, and Tom Ricketts’ letter to fans after the Cubs won the World Series. Speaking of which, this is always worth watching one more time:

It’s all that detail that makes this a fascinating read. Anthony Rizzo wrote a foreword. There have been many books written about the Cubs’ rise to victory, and this one is definitely worth your time.