As all of you know, I was for Ryne Sandberg being named manager of the Cubs.
That ship has sailed and we don't have to rehash the reasons pro and con. I wish Sandberg luck wherever he lands.
This does, however, mean that I have to choose another favorite among the many candidates that have been mentioned. One thing is for sure -- Theo Epstein & Jed Hoyer will be able to make a fine choice. There is no shortage of excellent candidates. I named several of them in this Baseball Nation article, including Pete Mackanin, who interviewed on Thursday and Friday. Mackanin was even subjected to a mock postgame press conference, a novel idea, to see how he would handle a realistic game situation.
Theo & Jed have stated they won't be pursuing any sitting manager, which means you can forget about Joe Maddon. Terry Francona wouldn't seem to be a good fit at this time, and besides, there's only so far you can go in putting the band back together.
Theo & Jed further stated that the new Cubs manager would have to have major league coaching or managing experience. Among those I named, plus a few others whose names have been batted around elsewhere, none of them has ever been a fulltime manager before (I'm not counting Bobby Valentine, because I don't think he's being considered at all). Mackanin had two interim stints, one with the Reds and one with the Pirates, and Dale Sveum managed the Brewers briefly at the end of 2008.
After having considered those men and several others, I have come to the conclusion that Mike Maddux would be the best selection to lead the Cubs into the future. Follow me past the jump to find out why.
Mike Maddux will go through the intensive Cubs interview process sometime after Tuesday, when he's scheduled to interview with the Red Sox. Both teams had to wait because Maddux is recovering from laryngitis -- too much shouting during the World Series, I suppose. Sveum is to interview with the Cubs on Monday. It's not surprising that the Red Sox and Cubs have nearly identical "short lists" -- Theo and new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington no doubt talked about this after Francona wasn't retained, before Theo left Boston, and further, these lists are likely who any team would look at if they were seeking a manager now. Besides the Cubs and Red Sox, the Cardinals also are looking -- they might actually wind up with Francona, who would appear to be a much better fit for a team like that.
One good thing about the list I compiled at Baseball Nation, and the few other names in addition -- all the men on it seem highly qualified. No matter who is eventually chosen, I think the Cubs will have a good manager to go into the future.
Why Mike Maddux, then?
Mike Maddux has been a major league pitching coach for nine seasons, six with the Brewers and the last three with the Rangers. His work in Texas is what leads me to believe he can be a good manager. He has brought a pitching staff that was justifiably maligned -- they gave up 967 runs in 2008, the worst in baseball -- to one of the best in the game. The Rangers' appearances in the last two World Series are because their pitching has improved tremendously; they allowed fewer than 700 runs each of the last two seasons, ranking fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2011... in the most extreme hitters' park in the major leagues.
You don't do this unless you have outside-the-box ideas that work. That's something the Cubs need.
Can he lead an entire roster rather than just a pitching staff? Does he know enough about lineup construction, substitutions and strategies to manage 162 games? Would he be a bunt-crazy guy, or tell his hitters to be patient? We can't really know that because he has no experience doing it. I'd like to think his success with pitchers in Texas would mean he is open to strategies beyond the norm; Wrigley Field isn't a "normal" ballpark, in that in cold weather it plays more to pitchers, in warm weather to hitters.
There seem to be some questions about almost all of the other candidates. If Mackanin is such a good managerial candidate, why has he never been offered a fulltime job? He's 60, which is a bit old to be a first-time manager. Sveum has also had shots at fulltime jobs and not received any offers.
Only two active managers are former pitching coaches -- Bud Black of the Padres and John Farrell of the Blue Jays. Neither has had huge success, although Black came within a game of the postseason twice (in 2007 and 2010). The last former pitcher who had success as a manager was Larry Dierker, who took some good Astros teams to the playoffs in the late 1990s; Dierker was also an outside-the-box hire, as he had been a broadcaster before. Prior to that, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon had some success with the Royals, White Sox and Yankees.
The name lurking behind all this is "Greg Maddux". It's pretty well understood at this time that Greg doesn't want a fulltime baseball job due to family considerations. He's been a consultant to Jim Hendry for the last two years; it would be nice if Theo would keep Greg on, because Greg Maddux is one of the best baseball minds of his generation. I wouldn't say Theo should hire Mike Maddux for this reason alone, though it would certainly be a bonus if Greg stuck around because his brother was Cubs manager. Eventually, I suppose the brothers would love to work together. Both are outstanding baseball minds.
The bottom line, beyond Mike Maddux's outstanding work with pitchers in Texas, is that for some reason, this just feels right to me. Despite Theo and Jed's reputation for using statistical analysis, that's not something you can really do with hiring a manager; you have to feel comfortable with the man you're going to be working closely with. Even presuming the individual hired likes to employ statistical methods as well as his own insights, the fit still has to be right. I assume whoever is hired will get at least a two-year deal, probably three, possibly more.
This one feels right to me. Interestingly enough, never thought the brothers looked very much alike while they were playing, but as they have gotten older, the familial resemblance appears to have gotten much stronger. Not that it means much -- just an observation.
And one last observation -- Mike Maddux has been wearing No. 31 with the Rangers, presumably as a tribute to Greg. I personally think retired numbers should stay retired -- Omar Vizquel should never have even asked Luis Aparicio for No. 11 with the White Sox -- so if Mike Maddux is hired, let him take a different number.
And leave No. 31 for Greg, whenever he decides to return to baseball fulltime.