Cubs embrace the benefits of a little 'swagger'
MESA, Ariz. -- Anthony Rizzo is a ground-floor guy with the Cubs' rebuilding program, so he knows of humble beginnings.
Now Rizzo, the Cubs and their fans have a suite in the penthouse after the rebuilding project culminated with a World Series championship.
The Cubs have been one of the most beloved franchises in pro sports, much of it stemming from their past reputation as "lovable losers" and a patient and loyal fan base.
Now that they've won, will success spoil the Cubs? Will they come to be seen as "arrogant," much as the Boston Red Sox -- who broke and 86-year championship drought in 2004 -- did after winning three recent titles?
"I had an older man in the gym tell me -- he was a big Red Sox and Patriots fan -- he goes, "Yeah, congrats, you guys won one, but you haven't done anything until the whole country hates you," Rizzo said Thursday before working out. "In a way, it's true because growing up a die-hard Dolphin fan, I hated (Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady because he was the best. Now, I'm almost a Patriots fan because he's so good.
"This team has a lot of good personalities where it's going to be tough (to hate the Cubs), but that's the way it goes. If we just respect the game, it'll make it hard for people to not like us. But it is what it is."
Of course, after a century of being the butt of jokes for having not won a World Series since 1908 until last year, the Cubs and their fans might enjoy being a little arrogant.
It was 10 years ago that then-new manager Lou Piniella talked of developing a "Cubbie swagger." Piniella's teams won division titles in 2007 and 2008, but instead of swagger they staggered in the playoffs, getting swept in back-to-back division series.
The Cubs got it done last season under manager Joe Maddon, who says he doesn't mind a little swagger.
"Of course," Maddon said. "It's all about that. Just go back in history. I've often talked about the Dodgers when I came up in the minor leagues. Their uniforms were whiter than everybody else's. They thought they were better than everybody else, and then they went out and won all the time. And I kind of liked it. I hated it, but I liked it at the same time. The Yankees have developed that kind of a culture.
"Teams that win, whether you even want to talk about the Patriots in football, it's part of it. It's not that you feel as though you're just going to show up and throw your gloves out there and you're going to win. That's not the point. You gain this confidence based on winning.
"There is something to be said for knowing how to win. What does that mean? It's such a nebulous concept. I think that means that knowing how to win is that when you show up every day, back to the process, going through the process properly, if we do these things well and we keep our wits about us, keep our heads about us, here comes the latter part of the game. We should be able to turn it in our favor somehow as opposed to the game going the other direction.
"So yes, swagger is a part of that, whatever you want to call it. It's the residue of winning, there's no question. But then you have to be able to maintain that."
But would Maddon want the Cubs to be "hated," like the Yankees of old?
"I don't know if the word is 'hated,' " he said. "It's somewhat natural that if a team is very successful … it works both ways. You're going to get the group that absolutely jumps on the bandwagon, too. I think there's the part of the world that wants to be attached to a winner.
"By the same token, there's that group that's always looking for somebody to fail. Regardless of what camp somebody may be in, for me it's about us taking care of what we want to do, how we want to do it daily and creating the culture that we want. And let people decide where they want to be with that.
"But I've talked about the genuine nature of our guys, the authentic nature of our players and the work ethic, etc. I know, we know, what we're all about. That's really what matters, I think."
Rizzo gave an "amen" to that.
"We're a team that's likable," he said. "Joe says 'authenticity.' That's what we've got here."
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