Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. CT, Joe Maddon will be introduced to media gathered at the Cubby Bear at Clark & Addison as the Cubs' manager for 2015 and presumably, beyond. Though no actual length of his contract has yet specifically been stated, it was rumored that he wanted a five-year deal after he opted out of his Rays deal.
There's already been much said and written about Maddon in many different places; you've no doubt read much or all of that.
To tell you only about how I feel about this signing isn't enough; obviously, as are the overwhelming majority of you as Cubs fans, I'm excited about it given Maddon's track record in Tampa and everything I've read about his personality. It does need to be noted that a manager can do only so much, although try telling that to Giants fans -- it's clear that Bruce Bochy's leadership has had considerable influence on that team's winning three World Series in five years.
Field managers, however, can do more than just post lineups, make strategy calls and decide when to bring in relief pitchers, pinch hitters and pinch runners. I thought one of the most cogent things written about Maddon came from longtime baseball columnist Peter Gammons. Gammons has been off his game for a while, but this one nailed it, I think:
Joe Maddon spent 31 years of graduate school in places like Idaho Falls and Midland long before he hit Anaheim. When the Rays went for the pickoff at first base in the 2013 ALDS and James Loney executed it by dropping his knee between the baserunner and the bag on the dive back, Maddon got a text that read "Gene Mauch is smiling down at you." That’s who he is. He rides his bike to work, he has a wine coach, he has road trip themes, he understands analytics, he was shifting before shifting was chic, he has pitchers playing pepper in spring training, he understands what everyone in the Cubs developmental organization is doing, and why, and when a coach on a South Side Jackie Robinson West team mentioned he played for Joe in Idaho Falls 20-something years ago, Maddon remembered everything about him, including insisting he go back to school—which led to Mark Simmons’ current position as a high school principal.
That second paragraph is the difference between the constant clapping and silly high-school-coach nicknames of Mike Quade, the dour five-o-clock-shadow visage of Dale Sveum and the relentlessly positive non sequiturs of Rick Renteria. For lack of a better term, Joe Maddon is a Renaissance man, a man who uses different aspects of his life experience to influence the 25 men who play for him on a daily basis. You can surely find many articles quoting various Rays players praising Maddon's approach to them; he has made them want to push themselves to do their best. That, I believe, is one of the secrets to being a good major-league field manager -- find the ways to bring the absolute top performances out of your players, by whatever means necessary.
The Cubs haven't really had anyone like that in many, many years. Leo Durocher could have done that -- if he had been managing the Cubs in the 1940s or 1950s instead of the 1960s and 1970s, by which time society and the game had passed him by. Herman Franks did it for a brief time; his 1977-78-79 teams were modestly talented, yet he had all three of them contending for much of those seasons before they collapsed and he quit in disgust with six games remaining in 1979. Dusty Baker seemed to have sprinkled a bit of magic around the Cubs before Game 6 happened and his regime fell as quickly as the bases didn't clog under his lack of leadership. Lou Piniella energized a previously moribund team enough to win two division titles, but he seemed disinterested in properly preparing a team for the playoffs and the game, too, eventually appeared to pass him by.
Joe Maddon will turn 61 years old February 8, just before spring training begins in 2015. And yet, his bearing and approach seem that of a much younger man. Maddon is just two years younger in chronological age than Piniella was when Lou became Cubs manager eight years ago. It surprised me when I realized Maddon is past 60; his bearing and approach not only to baseball but to life seems that of a much younger man. He'll have no trouble relating to players more than three decades younger than he; Piniella seemed to have difficulty with that.
Ride his bike to work? Heck, with his newfound riches, Maddon could buy Ted Lilly's old house, which is now back on the market after being rented out for a couple of years, and walk to work. It's the kind of thing I'd almost expect Maddon to do -- find a place to live near Wrigley Field and become part of the neighborhood, fit into the fabric of the city in which he works so he can be more in tune with everything that has to do with the Cubs.
One thing I know Maddon will do better than almost any Cubs manager in living memory is handle the media. The last three Cubs managers had little experience with big-market media and you could tell that with every generic answer you'd hear in postgame news conferences. Lou Piniella gave memorable answers ("What kind of baseball do you play?" "You saw the damn game!") to key questions, but frequently seemed bored with the whole media drill. Dusty Baker was sometimes funny, sometimes pithy, but often fell back on cliches (the whole "clog up the bases" thing).
Maddon will engage media intelligently and, I believe, explain the what and why in a way that will help us understand better exactly those things for every game and every situation he manages.
So welcome to Chicago, Joe Maddon. I'm excited to see how he approaches everything, from roster construction to lineups to bullpen use to non-baseball things that he thinks will have a positive influence on his team.
You can use this thread for Maddon discussion through the news conference. After that I'll write something up on what he says during the presser, which will be streamed live on CSNChicago.com (link should go to the specific Cubs live stream page), if you aren't near a TV.