Refuse to Lose: Lessons on Winning from the Chicago Cubs

If you are a baseball fan like I am, you may be watching the defending world champion Chicago Cubs wondering if they can recreate the magic of last season’s historic victory after 108 long years of waiting, hoping, and believing. For many, it was a dream come true symbolizing that anything is possible if you never give up. For all of us at Day & Zimmermann, it was a good reminder that our goals of zero injuries, a diverse workforce, and sustainable growth are achievable if we persevere.

Much has been written about the Cubs and how they overcame the many challenges they faced throughout the season. In a recent interview on the television news program 60 Minutes, team president Theo Epstein and his manager Joe Maddon talked about the how they transformed the Cubs culture by focusing on talent, teaching the team how to relax and have fun, and analyzing data.

Epstein developed a 5-year plan to win the World Series starting with talent. He chose hitters over pitchers because hitters don’t get hurt as much. He also looked for players with strong character who he found to respond to adversity the right way. He said “I just saw over the years that the times that we did remarkable things, it was always because players didn't want to let each other down. Players wanted to lift each other up.”  He also focused on versatility: catchers, infielders, and sometimes pitchers play in the outfield.  As a result the team could carry an extra pitcher instead of a backup fielder.

At the end of 2011, Epstein’s first season, the Cubs lost 101 games. By the time Manager Joe Maddon joined the Cubs in 2015, the team had been through many ups and downs. The pressure kept building throughout the 2016 season and Maddon used humor to keep the team focused on winning. Road trips each had a theme — Cowboy Trip, Nerd Trip, and Baby Pajamas Trip, tactics that worked well when he managed the Tampa Rays. Although some of the veteran players balked, the younger players embraced it. On the Baby Pajamas trip, 6-foot-7 David Price got off the plane wearing a onesie with rabbit ears and feet. Maddon also used motivational sayings which he put on t-shirts for the team. His favorite? Try Not to Suck

 “I talked about pressure and expectations as being positives. And they are,” he said.  “Embrace it.  Embrace the target.  Embrace the pressure.  Embrace expectations.  Because if you do, you could end up winning the first World Series in 108 years in Chicago.”

All baseball teams study statistics to gain an advantage, but by the fifth year of Epstein’s plan, the Cubs were also studying the opposition in detail so they would know how to get opposing hitters out. This detailed analysis also gave the Cubs’ pitchers confidence – they allowed the fewest runs in the league. And the Cubs defense turned more than 70 percent of balls hit in play into outs—the highest percentage in the Majors in more than 25 years.