Before hiring Theo Epstein last week, of Wilmette talked to the Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane.
If that name sounds familiar it is because Beane was the subject of the recent movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt as Beane, that focused on his sophisticated efforts to develop baseball talent.
Rickets shared this story and his vision for bringing a World Series to Wrigley Field with more than 225 people Tuesday at the Northin Northfield. One person asked Ricketts if he used the Moneyball model, referring to Beane’s use of computer models and statistical analysis to develop a team.
“I did spend some time with Billy Beane during the process,” Ricketts said of the search that ended with Epstein’s hiring. “He was one of the people who led the charge."
Ricketts told the gathering why he spent two years absorbing the Cubs organization before venturing out to hire Epstein.
Epstein, 37, spent nearly nine years as general manager of the Boston Red Sox building a team that was second only to the Cubs in years elapsed since a World Series victory. His teams won two during his tenure.
Ricketts shows patience
“If I had made a snap decision when we got the team it would have been pretty hard to get it right,” Ricketts said. “We took a deep breath and decided to keep guys in place to do their jobs. But two years later we made a change.”
During those two years, Ricketts learned the organization and developed his own vision for putting a management team in place to bring the Cubs their first World Series crown since 1908.
Epstein fit the vision.
The backbone of Ricketts' plan was player development. He realized if the team developed enough consistent talent over time it would be increasingly likely to reach the post-season. He considers that the key to reaching the World Series.
“If you make the playoffs you have as good a chance as any team to win the World Series,” Ricketts said. “If you know ways to get there then it’s coin flips (to get to the World Series).”
Though he recognizes the economic elements of signing players out of high school through veteran free agents, Ricketts believes a multitude of potential talent in the minor league system will eventually provide the depth a team needs to win consistently.
“You need the right combination of statistical analysis and scouting,” Ricketts said. Epstein used statistical models to help recognize talent in Boston.
Dominican facility produces talent
In addition to seeking talent on high school and college diamonds throughout the United States, the team has a facility in the Dominican Republic where young athletes train. In that country, players can sign professional contracts at 16.
“They don’t play as many games, but they drill a lot more in the Dominican Republic,” Ricketts said. “A young player there may have had hundreds of more balls of batting practice or taken hundreds more ground balls.”
Eventually the players matriculate into the Cubs minor league system and continue to develop. Since many minor leaguers do not become solid major league athletes, Ricketts wants to concentrate on coaching and keeping them healthy.
“If we are successful in player development we make the playoffs more often,” Ricketts said. “If you make the playoffs more often you’re going to win the coin flips and you’re going to win the World Series.”