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Honoring Joe Maddon The Hazleton Way

The Cubs manager was celebrated in his hometown, and wants to give back.

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please welcome Sara Sanchez to the front-page staff. If you are wondering who Sara is — you know her already as longtime BCB member slcathena. Sara will be writing about Cubs-related human-interest stories and perhaps other things as time goes by. Her first article is an important story about Cubs manager Joe Maddon and what makes him tick.

Earlier this week Hazleton, Pennsylvania celebrated their hometown hero Joe Maddon (presumably with a shot and a beer). While I’m sure the fact that he’s now the manager who won the most important game in Cubs history came up, the focus of this party wasn’t the World Series. The focus of this party was Joe’s years of service for the community. Specifically, they were honoring the Hazleton Integration Project (HIP) which is housed in the Hazleton Community Center.

To understand the importance of HIP you need to understand a little bit about Hazleton, which is a classic American rust belt city. Joe returned home a few years ago to find that the idyllic town where he walked to school and played baseball as a child had been hit hard by the changing economy. He’d also noticed divisions in the neighborhoods as populations moved in and out, and he was looking for a way to bring all of Hazleton together again.

He tells this story in more detail in the CSN Chicago documentary “Going Home,” which was released in January. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it. It provides a lot of insight into the Cubs’ manager, his thoughts about the life, and ultimately the game.

Joe and his wife Jaye weren’t satisfied being upset about the trends in Hazleton, so they did something about it. They bought an old school building and created a community center where anyone from Hazleton was welcome. On a frigid night earlier this week in Pennsylvania, 200 people showed up to celebrate this gem that provides community programming six days a week to any and all of Hazleton’s children. Joe and Jaye figured if you brought the children in the parents would come too, and they were right.

In talking about the project Joe gave us a little bit of insight into the things he values, and it jumped out at me right away because, frankly, they are the things I value, too. I’m not sure if it came up in my many years commenting on BCB, but my day job is in debate. I’ve taught thousands of high school students how to argue over the years and their parents have thanked me for it. It turns out that teaching someone how to reason, think critically, evaluate evidence, speak publicly and advocate for themselves is one of the most transformative educational experiences a child can have, and most kiddos just don’t get that experience, because they are never in a school with a debate program.

So as I was reading about the celebration in Hazleton, this quote from Joe about where he’d like to see HIP go next caught my eye:

"For me, what I'd like to see is a speech-and-debate club," he said. "I wanted two things when we started. I wanted boxing, and we kind of had that for a bit. And then I thought speech and debate. Because beyond learning in a classroom, beyond getting an A, B or C for a grade, when you go out into the real world and you go out for a job interview, your ability to transmit your thoughts to the person you're speaking to probably exceeds any letter grade that you got while you were in school.

He went on:

"I really think we lack in the ability to teach our kids to think on their feet and project what they're thinking to somebody else. I think that's very important."

I’ll admit a bit of bias here for the reasons I stated above, but I believe Joe is absolutely right about the value of debate and there is ample research to back him up. Even beyond the educational value of debate, I think these quotes and Joe’s prioritization of debate in a community center that was built to unify a struggling town he loves tells us a lot about Joe as a manager.

It tells us he’s a manager who values the ability of others to “project what they’re thinking to somebody else.” He’s the type of boss we all want to have. The boss that appreciates the talent and ideas of the people around them, and respects and honors those talents.

It tells us he’s a manager who understands that there is more value to each game “beyond getting an A, B or C.” He’s the boss who helps us grow and succeed, even when the project we submitted was a little rough.

I think we’ve seen these traits from Joe when he appreciates tough losses that were great games, like Game 3 of the NLDS this year when the Giants stunned the Cubs. I will understand fully if you don’t want to click on that link, I really didn’t want to re-read it either, but it’s worth remembering that Maddon’s first comment after that press conference wasn’t sadness, doom or gloom. He called it a “great game” and started talking about the next day.

It is not lost on me that I’m praising Joe the manager as he’s defending himself against Aroldis Chapman’s complaints about his bullpen management in the playoffs, however, I think it’s important to take those comments in the context of players who have sung his praises over the years. I think Ben Zobrist probably said it best.

"Even though he's unpredictable to a certain degree as a manager, I know about that, and I'm OK with that," Zobrist said. "I've seen the genius work. I've seen the ability to take a situation, have no fear and him make that decision, and everybody's like, 'Why did you make that decision?' And it works out. I believe in him as a manager. I know he knows what he's doing even in the crazy times when we're wondering why he's making a certain call."

I hope Hazleton gets its debate program, and if you’re reading this, Joe, I know some people who can help with that. However, I think at least one debate is over: Joe Maddon is the right guy for this Cubs team and we’re lucky to have a manager who cares about community building and debate.