The Chicago Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908, haven’t been to the Fall Classic since 1945 and have failed to reach the playoffs in each of the past six seasons.
Oddsmakers tabbed the Cubs’ chances at reaching the 2015 World Series at 50-1 before free agency started. Once they signed coveted free-agent pitcher Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract, those odds lowered to 20-1. Factor in Joe Maddon, who resigned from the Tampa Bay Rays with a year left on his deal and signed on to be the Cubs' skipper days later, and Vegas puts “the lovable losers” as a 12-1 shot as World Series champions.
The Cubs have finished 5th in the National League Central for five straight years, but that didn’t matter to Lester.
“The lure of bringing the World Series to this town and this team really interested me and my family,” said Lester, who is on this week’s national cover of Sports Illustrated.
It’s clear that club president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and owner Tom Ricketts are not messing around in trying to bring a championship to the franchise. Wrigley Field is undergoing a nearly $400 million renovation and the team is loaded with young talent, including Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Starlin Castro, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo, who led the team in home runs, RBI and on-base percentage last season.
Lester said part of the reason he signed was because he felt comfortable with Hoyer and Epstein.
“I don’t really want to say it was a sales job, because I really believe what they believe, that this could be the next dynasty over the next six, seven, eight, nine years," he said. "I think I’m pretty good at knowing when it’s somebody you can believe or when you can see through the b.s. I felt like there was no b.s.”
For more on Lester and the Cubs, check out Tom Verducci's story in this week's Sports Illustrated (subscribe here).
Also featured in this issue: the year in sports media, features on the San Francisco 49ers struggles, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks.
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2014 Sports Illustrated Covers