When McDonough was named interim team president in October, he made it clear that the Cubs' goal was to win, and to win the World Series. The interim label is gone now, but the mission is the same, and McDonough said that the hiring of Lou Piniella as the team's 50th manager "started the engine to all this."
The club then spent more than $300 million adding free agents such as Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis and Mark DeRosa, plus re-signing players such as Aramis Ramirez, Kerry Wood and Wade Miller. Piniella has three World Series rings. The addition of assistant general manager Randy Bush, who won two World Series with the Minnesota Twins, and media relations director Peter Chase, who was on the Boston Red Sox staff when they won in 2004, also helped in developing the Cubs' new attitude.
"I want this franchise to talk about winning, I want this franchise to look like winning," McDonough said. "Over the course of my career, you got tired of the 'lovable loser' syndrome. We're going to do the best we can. We're trying as hard as we can. The effort is a 10. We'll see how it plays out."
McDonough, 53, was the Cubs' marketing director for 24 years before being promoted to his new post.
"I'm doing a lot of listening," McDonough said. "When you're the voice and spokesperson for the business side all these years ... and you're coming into a new situation, it's very transparent if you walk in and pretend like you have the answers.
"My years with the Cubs, being there for 24 years, I've seen probably 2,000 games," he said. "I know about the game. I'm not a quote-unquote 'baseball guy,' nor do I pretend to be, so I'm not going to give [general manager] Jim [Hendry] any advice on when to pitch out or Lou, but I'll make a lot of observations. I'm thrilled that there's an attitude and people are talking about winning. They understand there's a sense of urgency, a sense of now."
The greatest marketing tool is winning, but despite not having won a World Series since 1908, the Cubs have consistently drawn well. Last season was the third straight year the team had drawn more than 3 million fans to Wrigley Field.
"The one question I would get is, even though the team isn't playing well, you have to be thrilled that there's 41,000 people there every day," McDonough said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
McDonough recognizes the unconditional love many fans have for the Cubs, and he recognizes how amazing it is to draw well despite limited parking and many day games.
"I do think it's important we play in this wonderful venue, and it's one of the great social experiences, but it has to be tethered to winning," McDonough said. "It's OK to talk about [winning] -- we should talk about it. I think with Lou, we have the best band leader in baseball."
McDonough's mission is to change the culture of the organization and be accountable to devoted Cubs fans. But why did the team go on its spending spree this offseason and not in years past?
"I really can't give you an answer on that," McDonough said. "Through the process, when I had talked to some of the Tribune people, they know I'm a very, very competitive person. For me, status quo wasn't something I was interested in.
"In my previous position [as marketing director], I was in the epicenter of the heartbeat of all the things that went on and how people felt," he said. "Last year, you sensed the frustration. There was possibly, in some instances, a feeling of hopelessness, like, 'All right, John, we know the ivy is green and the bleachers are great and the scoreboard is an icon and the marquee is great. This is a wonderful experience, a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but we have to win.'"
At the end of last season, when the Cubs finished 66-96 and in last place in the National League Central, there were often empty seats at Wrigley Field. McDonough called that "frightening."
"I think we're doing everything we can to restore pride," he said. "It's commensurate to winning."
The Cubs' home clubhouse got a makeover this offseason, and players will have new lockers, carpeting and photos. It's a new look, new feel. It's all part of the attitude makeover.
McDonough said that the Cubs are one of the most powerful brands in the sport and in the same elite class as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. But the Yankees have won 26 World Series championships, and Boston eased the pain for Red Sox Nation by winning in 2004. The Cubs are closing in on 100 years since they last won a World Series.
"I do believe when we win," McDonough said, "it will be the most exciting and remarkable championship celebration of all time."
McDonough addressed some other Cubs-related topics:
How long will the Cubs play in Wrigley Field?
"I would certainly think all of my natural life," McDonough said. "I hope that's many, many years to come. That has never been a discussion point. I've never been involved in a conversation in any meeting with anybody in the Cubs organization or the Tribune Co. where there has been any dialogue about that.
"Wrigley Field is a destination point, Wrigleyville is a destination point," he said. "Every day when people go to that park, it's New Year's Eve and Mardi Gras rolled into one. It's a celebration of life, a celebration of sports. But let's connect that to winning. Let's reward people who have waited 98 years."
The Cubs have approved advertising on the two doors in the outfield wall. Is this a sign of things to come?
"What we said years ago was that we would gradually introduce this," McDonough said, pointing out that all of the teams in the NL Central have new ballparks. "We need to add new revenue streams if we're going to have a competitive payroll. We have to find creative ways that we can generate revenue, and we're trying to do that, and at the same time have this delicate balance to protect the integrity of the park. The park is critical to what we're trying to do. It's very important. It's an evolution. It's gradual."
What's the progress on the so-called triangle building, slated for Clark Street on the west side of Wrigley Field?
"That's in the discussion stage," McDonough said. "At this point, the project is on hold."
Did the Cubs get any backlash from the Commissioner's Office regarding the offseason spending?
"I've been to two owners meetings so far, and they brought it up," McDonough said. "'They' meaning it was discussed. It wasn't just about the Cubs. There were a number of other teams involved. I think the Commissioner understands that it's very important to have a successful team in Chicago. I do think there are some people in the game who feel what's good for the Cubs is good for baseball. We need to be responsible in our spending. Certainly there are teams in baseball who have much higher payrolls than the Chicago Cubs."
Do you expect the Cubs to be sold?
"That's a good question. I don't know," McDonough said. "That's a process that, if you're potentially the sellee, you're not really involved in it. If you're the property that they're looking at, whether it's the newspaper group or the broadcasting group, I haven't been privy to those discussions nor do I think I should be."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.