The hot takes are out, less than 24 hours after the Cubs’ elimination from the postseason, all over Cubs Twitter and elsewhere: Fire Joe Maddon!
Cubs manager Joe Maddon is expected return for a fifth season despite his team losing the NL Central tiebreaker and NL wild-card games on back-to-back days this week, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN on Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, respected national baseball writer Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic (subscription required) hinted that Maddon might be out. Rosenthal cites, among other things, Maddon’s overuse of Brandon Morrow, which could have led to his elbow injury as a factor. But he concludes:
Whatever Maddon’s faults, it’s difficult to imagine the Cubs firing him if their biggest complaint is that Epstein finds him annoying or difficult to work with. Any manager who replaced Maddon would be hard-pressed to match his success, not to mention his charisma and popularity.
That really sums things up for me. Joe Maddon is the most successful Cubs manager in at least 85 years, and probably longer than that. His teams have won 387 regular-season games in his four seasons, an average of almost 97 per season, and three times the ballclub has won 95 or more. Only five managers in Cubs history have more, and four (all save Charlie Grimm, who won three pennants as Cubs manager) are in the Hall of Fame.
Now how are you going to replace that? Who are you going to replace Maddon with? And even if you do find someone that you think will do better — and I don’t see how — seriously, within a month you’ll be complaining about his lineup selections or bullpen use. That’s just part of what fans do to any baseball manager.
What’s most important about Maddon, beyond the fact that he alone among all Cubs managers was able to guide the team to break the World Series drought, is that he almost singlehandedly changed Cubs clubhouse culture. No more “lovable losers.” No more “Cubbie occurrences.” Other “celebrity managers,” as Rosenthal put it, such as Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella, came to the Cubs knowing, just knowing, that they could get past all the history and the decades of drought and instead, they got eaten alive.
Maddon pushed right through it. “Embrace The Target,” he said on T-shirts before 2016, and his players lived that mantra the entire season. There isn’t another manager in baseball today who could do what Joe Maddon has done, and we should be celebrating it, not wanting to put him on the unemployment line.
Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll believe Anthony Rizzo:
I’m with Riz. This was by far Joe’s best managing job, with the injuries and the weather and the nonstop play for the last six (!) weeks of the season. And they still won 95 games!
I’d like to see Joe extended for two years beyond 2019, which is the scheduled final year of his deal. That would match him up with Theo & Co.’s “window of contention,” and I’d think they’ll have a pretty good shot at winning at least one more World Series in those three years. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s deals also expire after 2021, and at that point ownership would have to decide what direction they want to go.
Three more years. That sounds just about right. At that point Maddon might be ready to retire.
This situation — calling for a manager’s head after a very good regular season — has an historical parallel. The 1930 Cubs, much like this year’s, looked like they were cruising to a repeat of their 1929 postseason, then the N.L. pennant. They held first place for much of the year and were four games ahead of the Giants and Cardinals with 19 remaining. And much like this year, they muddled around the rest of the year with a 10-9 mark while the Cardinals went 17-4 and won the pennant by two games, even though the Cubs finished the year with a six-game winning streak.
Team owner William Wrigley was furious that the Cubs didn’t repeat as pennant winners and fired manager Joe McCarthy with four games left in the season, replacing him with Rogers Hornsby, who himself would be fired two years later with his players in almost open revolt. (Grimm finished the 1932 season as manager with a 37-18 record and the Cubs won the pennant.)
Meanwhile, McCarthy was hired by the Yankees and won eight pennants and seven World Series over the next 16 seasons.
Would McCarthy have done that with the Cubs? We’ll never know, and obviously the Yankees had more talent. But I suspect McCarthy would have done better than the four other men who managed the Cubs over those 16 years.
Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein will have his season-ending news conference at 4 p.m. CT, at which time we’ll learn more about this season and the Cubs’ direction going forward.