Documenting "My Team's Way" is alive on I55

We've heard about "The Cardinal Way" for years. Now there will be "The Cubs Way," as well – lacking the championship tradition, though.

As spring training camps open, levels of optimism across every one of the 30 Major League Baseball organizations are at their absolute highest. Catch phrases and clichés fly around like the first robins of spring.

So it is with the new-look Chicago Cubs. Team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and field boss Dale Sveum are among the new faces trying to change the long-standing perception of their club as lovable losers.

It is a big job. Eliminating the inhibitors that will otherwise extend the club's 103-year-old championship drought won't be accomplished overnight.

Yet the Cubs' new leaders are hard at work. Over the weekend, beat writer Paul Sullivan from the Chicago Tribune tweeted this from the Cubs' Arizona spring training base:

"The Cubs Way was the theme of Theo's opening remarks. New manual written by staff, not for publication."

That tweet and its follow-on article were the inspiration for this post.

After all, "The xxxxx Way," where "xxxxx" is the name of your favorite team, is one of baseball's more tried and true phrases.

Do a Google search substituting the name of any club and you are bound to receive some hits that refer to a generic approach of "doing things the right way," likely first established by a famous and revered figure in the organization's past.

The phrase first lodged in my consciousness during the Cal Ripken Sr. days in Baltimore in the late 1960s and 1970s. "The Oriole Way," currently under pressure in the Peter Angelos era, was defined by hard work, professionalism and focus on fundamentals. Their intent was to teach the game in the same manner from top to bottom in the organization, resulting in a modular approach that could seamlessly accept replacement parts provided by the farm system.

Though its origins may be even further back into time, one major milestone occurred when Al Campanis wrote "The Dodger Way to Play Baseball" in 1954. Later team president, Campanis had penned a manual by which later Dodger greats like Tommy Lasorda lived and evangelized to anyone who would listen, including via this 1988 VHS tutorial.

Returning to "The Dodger Way" has been a call to arms uttered by more than one of the candidates currently vying to secure ownership of the club from the embattled Frank McCourt, including Lasorda's former first baseman Steve Garvey.

Campanis is considered to have been the one to document the learnings from his mentor, Branch Rickey. Of course, "The Mahatma" first made his fame with the St. Louis Cardinals as the most innovative executive in baseball history though his focus on player development and the farm system.

In its generic use, "The Cardinal Way" might be traced back to the team's first World Championship, secured under GM Rickey in 1926. Yet there may not have been a Campanis to write it down in a succinct manner until recently.

It may have taken organizational discord in the last few years to change that. Dissatisfaction expressed by the major league staff over younger players instructed in a manner not consistent with their expectations reached the public. The impact was far-reaching, including loss of employment by at least one vocal critic who ironically is now employed by the Cubs.

La Russa and Kissell
Several winters ago, then-farm director Jeff Luhnow initiated a project to document "The Cardinal Way." The plan was to capture the teachings of player development icons including George Kissell and Dave Ricketts, both now deceased. A key element was to incorporate input from then-manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.

This past winter, field coordinator Mark DeJohn and new Springfield manager and former spring training coordinator Mike Shildt were busy continuing to refine both versions of "The Cardinal Way" in preparation for 2012. That included consulting with new major league skipper Mike Matheny. Variants of the guide for minor league players and coaches have been created.

Also involved with the project is Senior Special Assistant to the General Manager Gary LaRocque, who spent the first 22 years of his 36-year professional career as a player, coach, manager and scout with the Dodgers.

If the ultimate yardstick of any organization is wins, postseason appearances and most importantly, World Championships, it would seem the current authors of "The Cubs Way" could learn a lot by studying their National League Central Division rivals located down Interstate 55.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column during the season at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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