In just 17 minutes, Mother Nature and outfielder Jason Heyward helped end the Chicago Cubs' 108-year championship drought. During a rain delay in Game 7 of the World Series, Jason Heyward called his teammates into the weight room at Progressive Field for a quick team meeting.
The Cubs went on to score two runs in the top of the 10th for an 8-6 lead and then hold on for an 8–7 victory.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci shares an inside look into the clubhouse speech by Heyward that helped raise team morale in his new book about the Cubs. The following is an excerpt from The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse, which will be published by Penguin Random House LLC, on March 28 and available wherever books are sold.
Rain. Notin torrents and sheets, but just too hard and too much to play baseball. It was almost midnight. Joe West, the crew chief umpire, ordered play stopped and the field covered.
The Cubs began walking back to the clubhouse, their heads dropped and their faces blank. It was the look of a team that knew something bad had happened to it. The Cubs blew a three-run lead four outs away from their first World Series title in 108 years, and now they would have to try to win an extra--inning World Series Game 7 as the road team—something that had never been done before.
“Guys, weight room! Won’t take long!”
The strong voice that pierced the quiet belonged to Heyward, who had struggled to hit all year after signing a $184 million contract, who began the World Series on the bench and who was hitting .106 for the postseason. Heyward was calling a players-only meeting.
Directly behind the visiting dugout at Progressive Field is a weight room about 50 feet long by 25 feet wide. One by one the Cubs traipsed in.
“When we got in,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, “the mood was definitely down. All of us were just kind of pacing, and then J starts speaking.”
Heyward began, “I know some things may have happened tonight you don’t like. . . .”
“At first I was afraid it was going to be negative,” Ross would say later, “and I thought, This is nothing any of these young players needed to be hearing. But it wasn’t that at all.”
“We’re the best team in baseball, and we’re the best team in baseball for a reason,” Heyward said. “Now we’re going to show it. We play like the score is nothing-nothing. We’ve got to stay positive and fight for your brothers. Stick together and we’re going to win this game.”
Other players began to speak up.
“Chappy, we’re going to pick you up.”
“This is only going to make it better when we win.”
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein, on his way back from the “rain room” where MLB officials had updated him on the weather, lingered in the hallway outside the weight room and eavesdropped. The darkness over him suddenly lifted.
“It snapped me back,” he said. “It reminded me of how much I admired them and how tough they are, how connected they’ve stayed, and the great things human beings can accomplish when they set out to achieve for other people, not for themselves.
“From my position I can see it: the sacrifice the scouts make when they drive the extra miles to get that last look at a player, the minor league coaches putting in extra hours, the big league coaches crushing video, the players working on their weaknesses, picking their teammates up—that’s what makes a great organization. That’s Cub.
“Right then I thought, We’re winning this f------ game!”
The entire delay took only 17 minutes, but a different team came out of the weight room from the one that had entered it.
The players returned to the dugout. Reliever Bryan Shaw prepared to go back to the mound for Cleveland. Kyle Schwarber, due to lead off the inning in only his 17th at bat since returning from torn ligaments in his left knee, headed to the bat rack. “Borzy, I’ve got this,” he told catching coach Mike Borzello. “Don’t worry. I’m locked in.” The dugout suddenly was alive with shouting and joking.
SI.com published an excerpt of Verducci's new book on Tuesday.
A special opportunity to buy a signed copy is available here.