One of the most corporate of terms now frequently applied to pro sports teams is “changing the culture.” Often an empty phrase, it generally demands little more of existing employees than “showing up on time” or “not stabbing teammates” if the opposite was the case under a previous regime.
The Cubs are undergoing a change of culture under new baseball overlord Theo Epstein, according to Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. Sullivan reports Epstein is under orders from majority owner Tom Ricketts to enact change, hoping Theo can capitalize on his considerable sway to bring the stodgy Cubs into the 21st century.
Sullivan notes several sticking points, items which make the Cubs the Cubs, whether the team and players like it or not. He specifies the organ music that serves as all in-game entertainment and at bat music. Marlon Byrd begged to have the players walked up to the plate via the traditional 30-45 second clips of indistinguishable reggaeton or hunger-dunger-dang douche rock to which they are accustomed. After Rickets allowed the change in 2010, so many Cubs fans complained about the change that the team relented and returned to folksy organ music in 2011.
The lack of an official jumbotron-style videoboard blotting out the sky might be an attraction to many fans tired of the bombardment of ads and barking seal rhythmic clapping but it sure makes watching replays easier, not to mention those ads sure pay a lot of bills. With Epstein’s experience as a part of the Red Sox — who managed to merchandise every square inch of their ballpark and the surrounding six blocks — it seems natural to better leverage the earning opportunities presented by a historic gold mine like the worldwide appeal of the Cubbies.
Whoops. “Cubbies” is a bit of a sticking point on the North Side of Chicago. The childish, “baby bears” moniker may not be long for this world, as the team looks to toughen up its image to accompany their new killer instinct on the trade market.
As much as the smart people in charge of the team would like to make changes, the fans and the city are behind many of these antiquated practices. Considering municipal by-laws limit the number of night games the Cubs can stage, how will local policitians react to a gigantic video screen screaming across residential Wrigleyville 81 times a year?
As with most things in North American sport: winning trumps all. If Theo and the hirsute Dale Sveum can put a winning team on the field and break the centuries-old curse, they can sacrifice a live bear on the second base every night for all most Cubs fans care. Old habits don’t die that hard.