Joe Maddon is the most successful Cubs manager in over a century.
That might sound like hype, but it’s not. Just two managers in the history of the franchise have brought the Cubs to the postseason in three consecutive seasons — Frank Chance, the manager of the three straight pennant winners from 1906-08, and Maddon.
Even if you choose to discount Maddon’s record because only one of his three years resulted in a pennant and World Series title... well, there’s that, something no Cubs manager had been able to do in 71 years (pennant) and 108 (championship). At the very least, Maddon’s the best Cubs manager in 85 years, since Joe McCarthy, who had five straight winning seasons and a pennant in 1929 and who was foolishly dismissed by William Wrigley after the 1930 season because he didn’t repeat that pennant. McCarthy went on to win eight league championships and seven World Series with the Yankees.
After just three seasons, Maddon ranks 11th on the all-time Cubs manager list with 292 regular-season wins. If that sounds low, an 83-win season in 2018 — and that seems likely — would move him up to sixth. That would put him behind only McCarthy, Chance, Leo Durocher, Charlie Grimm and Cap Anson in franchise history.
Maddon has two years remaining on his contract, and I’m here to argue that the Cubs should give him two more years.
Oh, I can hear the objections now. “He can’t handle a bullpen.” “He gets too cute with lineup selections.” “He’s too loyal to guys like Ben Zobrist.”
All of which are not unreasonable statements and can be argued legitimately from either side. Part of the bullpen issue in 2017 was simply not having the right guys, or having bad years from pitchers who had done better in the past. Perhaps changing pitching coaches will help that to some extent. Lineups? I think too much is made of lineup selection, at times, but in general Maddon’s lineups, often made for specific matchups, work. And many managers have blind spots for loyalty. Changing managers isn’t going to change this. Every manager gets criticized when his team isn’t doing well.
The bottom line for me is this: The Cubs are in a window of contention with the talented players they have. A big part of getting them to the NLCS three straight years is Joe Maddon’s managing. Managing isn’t just making out lineups, pinch-hitting and selecting relief pitchers. Much modern managing is understanding today’s players, what makes them tick, and getting them well prepared for play on the field every day. Joe does this with his themed road trips and other clubhouse hijinks; this is a way to keep players loose and “never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” His cancellation of batting practice on many days helps keep the team well-rested, as well as the lineups that put a premium on versatility, so players can get the rest they need by not having to play every single day.
With Dusty Baker being let go by the Nationals, Joe Maddon is now the oldest current manager. Would you have guessed that? He certainly doesn’t seem or act “old.” Mike Scioscia, Maddon’s friend and former fellow coach with the Angels, is four years younger than Joe, yet somehow seems older.
Maddon will turn 64 next February, yet it feels, apart from the white hair that he dyed dark during the postseason, that he’s many years younger than that. Joe’s personality might help today’s young players relate better to him. He has almost singlehandedly changed the team’s clubhouse culture into a winning one.
I’d like to see Joe get more than two more seasons to bring the Cubs another World Series championship.
Last year, the contracts of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were extended through the 2021 season. It would make sense to extend Maddon for two additional seasons, also through 2021, so that all those deals expire at the same time. After 2021, the Cubs will have choices to make regarding the management direction of the team, but I think it would be logical to have executive management and field management contracts all expire at the same time. That would give Joe seven seasons at the helm, and four more years after 2017 to bring the Cubs back to the World Series and win it.
The Cubs are likely Maddon’s last managerial job. If they extend him by two additional seasons, he’d be 67 when that deal expires, and hopefully the Cubs would have won at least one more World Series over the next four seasons. If that happens, Joe can ride off into a happy retirement, possibly with a Hall of Fame ticket punched.
Get it done, Theo.
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