It took the recent firing of Dale Sveum to bring the first open doubts about Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to the fore. The “stockpiling talent in the minors/creating the Cubs Way/building for sustained success” talking points held up for a little while, but the relentless stripping of the major-league club caught up with them this season. Attendance declined again, and the Cubs sold fewer tickets than they had since 1998, which was before seats were added in 2006 as part of the bleacher expansion.
I’m not equating the 2.6 million tickets sold this season with an equal number of fans coming through the turnstiles, either. The scalpers who were offering me tickets for next to nothing in the fourth inning of the final home night game were holding lots of tickets in their hands, but those tickets were being counted in the attendance for that game, whether the scalpers were able to unload them or not. Thousands of tickets went unused for most games, and while the team collected the money from the ticket sales, they lost out in ancillary revenue such as concessions and parking. Whether or not it’s acknowledged in public, all of this had a part in the firing of Dale Sveum.
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So the baseball side of the operations fell flat this year, and revenues declined as a result. And none of the Cubs’ marquee prospects — Javier Baez, Albert Almora, et al. — saw Wrigley Field in September, either. Yasiel Puig storms the majors and leads the Los Angeles Dodgers to a division crown, but none of the Cubs’ guys has a cup of coffee in the majors in garbage time at the end of the season. Something needs to start happening, and soon, in order for the Cubs to get their baseball mojo — and thus their attendance mojo — back.
The Cubs’ future needs to be coming into view soon.
Is hiring Joe Girardi the answer? It might be, but if he leaves the New York Yankees and takes the Cubs job instead, that would seem like a curious decision, at best. The best answer, for my money, would be Ryne Sandberg. But he’s at home in Philadelphia now, as the ticking on the clock becomes ever louder for the front office executive who declined to hire him when they had the chance. This offseason will be an interesting one, to say the least.