When ranking superlatives that define Jon Lester, “Vocal leader” would probably end up somewhere between “Best dressed” and “Most likely to open a Bikram Yoga studio in Temecula.” Terse and pragmatic, the veteran lefty is the epitome of shutting up and setting an example with actions rather than words.
By so doing, Lester has become the face of a pitching staff that has led the Cubs to an average of nearly 100 wins per season since he arrived in 2015. And he’s done it with a stoicism that stands in stark relief to his eccentric manager and several of his more boisterous teammates.
“He’s steady,” Joe Maddon said of his ace Wednesday in Mesa. “The more I am around him the more I appreciate him. He is definitely an anchor. He’s taking to that leadership thing, he’s spread his wings more.”
Am I the one experiencing a little cognitive dissonance hearing about Lester spreading his wings? Well, unless it’s more in the sense of a big-ass condor that only needs to flap a couple times before achieving altitude and then gliding along with all kinds of nonchalance. And while he’s not someone you’d peg as a scavenger, he does seem content to simply carry on the same way he always has.
“I’m just being myself,” Lester said when asked about his role on the team. “I’m not a vocal person. I like playing baseball. I just try to go out there and do my job. If that’s considered being a leader, great.”
Were it not for all the offseason rhetoric about the Cubs lacking urgency and seeking to fill the void evident since Lester’s buddy David Ross retired, this would all be a non-topic. But given how much time Theo Epstein has spent publicly questioning his players and talking about this season being a “reckoning,” it figures that the club’s resident Billy Badass would be asked about his thoughts on the matter.
“I think they hit the nail on the head,” Lester said of the criticism. “I think we cleared the air on a lot of things this offseason with certain things as far as the front office to players, kind of understanding our roles a little bit more. Sometimes you need to sit down and actually go face-to-face and talk about what the expectations are.”
Not everyone is going to be cool with being called out in public, even if it’s as a collective, but Lester is going to give as good as he gets on that front. Even though he’s not one to talk just to hear the sound of his voice, he’s more than happy to let you know what he thinks. And it sounds like Lester and other members of the organization held something of a Festivus celebration prior camp officially opening.
The results won’t be clear for some time yet, but it sounds as if the grievances have been aired and the catharsis has everyone feeling more aware of their respective roles and responsibilities. If that seems long overdue, and you can’t be blamed for thinking so, consider how easy it must have been for the Cubs to allow the trappings of success to build up over the last few years.
“I wouldn’t show up if we didn’t have a chance to win the World Series,” Lester said with his typical unvarnished bravado. “We were brought down a notch, and everybody needs some adversity.”
I’m not going to ascribe any weighty significance to admissions like this in mid-February, though it’s at least a little more novel than discussing winter workout regimens. And when it’s coming from a guy like Lester, you do get the sense that the rest of the team is on board.
“I think we’re in a good place. I think everybody’s comfortable with who they are and what is expected of them. Now we can get back to work.”