Baseball fans tend to be a nutty bunch, and I say that with good-humor. Mostly. We all have our own irrational moments. I’ve been, and remain, superstitious on plenty of things sports related. However, superstition is superstition. Visceral dislike of someone or something is entirely different. Especially when the reasoning behind the hostility seems so shielded. Why is the anti-Joe Maddon vibe so strong?
I’ll talk plenty about Maddon and managing later. However, to explain what I’m talking about, I should first explain what I’m not talking about. Brent Musburger recently made a tweet about Raiders QB A.J. McCarron and his wife that is both unsettling, and very Musburger.
Welcome A.J. McCarron to the Raider family. Can’t wait for the “beautiful “ Mrs. McCarron to join us in Oakland .— Brent Musburger (@brentmusburger) September 3, 2018
To totally grasp the enormity of the tweet, you almost needed to live the NFL Today lifestyle in the 1970’s. While pre-game shows are normally a bit similar, the NFL Today in the mid-to-late 70’s was a bit Citizen Kane for its time. Both the movie and the pre-game show became the measuring stick for future pre-game shows.
Musburger was the ringleader. He saw to it that his three leads on the show would have their time.
Irv Cross, a former defensive back in the NFL, was the go-to for X’s and O’s. Such as there was chalk talk on how the “shotgun-snap” the Cowboys were employing provided an edge (for instance), he’d be the guy on that segment. Cross, as an African-American, also provided a “people of color” angle. I doubt this was an accident.
Phyllis George, who was eventually replaced by Jayne Kennedy, provided the charm. A Miss America pageant winner, George was quite good at interviews. It’s a bit difficult, without comping interviewing styles with current and recent-past reporters, to assess who was better at the interview process. However, George would usually interview a player a week, and do a rather good job of it.
Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder handled the gambling angle. Or, more specifically, Musberger and Snyder handled the gambling angle. Snyder’s tenure was cut a bit short by some comments about quarterbacks in the league that were equally “poorly phrased” and “widely held by team executives.”
The NFL Today soft-sold sexism and gambling along with a heaping portion of football. You could/can like or dislike Musburger. However, if you disliked him, you could say that he was overplaying the gambling angle of the NFL in the seventies, and have a valid point. The tweet about Katherine Webb somewhat completes the picture.
MLB managers get overplayed. Whether a Clint Hurdle, Craig Counsell, or most managers, they are pretty much necessary evils. If you pay too close attention, they’ll play the guy you don’t especially approve of too often. When coupled with benching the player you like at the same time, it gets irksome.
I half-think MLB skippers should be assessed on how few games they cost their team per season. A manager that only costs his squad a couple or three games per season, did well. However, when a string gets Mike Matheny-bad for long enough, the ax falls. Then, someone else gets assessed.
Maddon is an uncharacteristic manager. However, when noting dislike for him, fans often use the standard lines. The ones used for all managers. “He misuses his bullpen.” “He doesn’t use a standard lineup.” “Game 7.”
With Maddon, though, the extremity of the dislike is a bit off-putting. He had teams in Tampa than shouldn’t have competed with the Red Sox and Yankees, but did, much more so than expected. They even reached a World Series.
When the Cubs added Maddon, he seemed to be what might put them over the top. He replaced a manager in Rick Renteria who didn’t fail in his tenure. Maddon was considered the better option.
When people get rather antagonistic about Maddon, I tend to toss around his August and September success numbers. However, the haters tend to double down. After all, with his roster, he should be better than the other teams.
When your venom toward a person gets to a certain level, and is so difficult to pinpoint (Beyond Game Seven, of course, which the Cubs won.), I’m the type that continues to ask “Why?”. At least, internally. Why, when all the numbers point to “Maddon has been quite successful in two different scenarios,” is there so much hostility toward Maddon? There aren’t any Musburger-esque tweets that serve as backbone.
I have a few ideas, but no answers. None are especially satisfying. None tend to make me feel better about people in general. The silver linings aren’t apparent.
Part of it seems that Maddon does things his way, and gives no heed to what outsiders think. MLB managers need to avoid the ideas of the rabble. He runs out different line-ups regularly. Some of the Maddon angst is D-listers thinking they could outperform the genius, given the chance. If that’s all it is, that’s the least distressing. People being vain, jealous, and over-valuing themselves, I can deal with.
The entire Game 7 premise is a bit overblown, as well. By the time Game 5 rolled around, Maddon had very few relievers he really trusted. Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon hadn’t responded well from injuries. The entire “Dude. Where’s My Bullpen?” idea has flourished into overstuffing Triple-A Iowa with an excess of viable MLB options. Lesson met. Lesson learned. That’s what most Cubs fans think. However, some remain undersold.
My concern is that it’s something more deeply rooted. Too many people want to have the game “the way it was.” That isn’t the “I wish there weren’t eight-man bullpens” thought-process, so much as another one.
When the Cubs were blooming in the 2013-2014 range, the lineup game became “a thing.” Which “new toys” would be the best new toys? Which were going to be traded away? Among my comments was something along the lines of “It won’t be nine or 10 guys. Think 12 to 15.” While I guessed wrong plenty, I was a bit accurate, here.
The Cubs fan mindset had been, for decades, “It’s only possible to have nine or ten good players. Why expect more?” Now, most Cubs fans are happy to have David Bote as a quality fill-in for semi-regular use. However, for whatever reason, despite the edge depth provides, that isn’t what some people want.
“I want Billy Williams to play every game for five years. Why should bench players play much? Players shouldn’t get tired. They only ‘work’ three hours a day, and it’s a game.”
Some people really want to replay 1969, and have Leo Durocher in charge again. It didn’t work then, when Gil Hodges kept his entire team engaged. It didn’t work in the mid-1970’s when Dick Motta was opposed to using his bench in the NBA Western Finals. The opposing coach, who used his reserves far more (Al Attles), won.
My hunch is that the Maddon angst is a bit misplaced. In many cases, the aggression toward Maddon is so strident, because that antagonism can be voiced. Our society has a few problems simmering. If the opposition to the Cubs most-successful manager was about over- or under-playing Ian Happ or Albert Almora Jr., that would be cool. I doubt that’s what’s going on.
Managers can often leave you plenty of reasons to object to them. However, to have a severe enough degree of objection, two things ought to be present. One is a specific preferred option. For instance, if you prefer Joe Girardi or Sparky Anderson, then go with that. Both had their detractors. Both were good at their job. If you want to tell me why “not Maddon,” and I welcome it, tell me who you prefer. I won’t even argue. Most mangers are plus-a-few or minus-a-few, anyway.
The other thing I’d request is which Cubs manager had things figured out. Maybe you liked Dusty Baker, Durocher, or Herman Franks. Maybe, you generally aligned with Lou Piniella. None of the above doesn’t really play here, very well. Perhaps you think Jim Essian or Don Zimmer would have outperformed Maddon with this team.
Relative unease is entirely acceptable with a manager. I tend to laugh off his bullpen hijinks as just that. Decisions, that usually made sense at the time, gone awry. It’s completely justifiable to note two different ideas at the same time. Maddon boots away a few games a season by questionable decisions. Maddon is as good of a manager as there is in the league now.
However, when a person highlights the evils of one side of a discussion, while obscuring the good, I wonder why. (Not just in baseball.) I’m torn on whether I want to further and more aggressively monitor Maddon-hate. If it’s simply jealousy or myopia, then probably not. However, Maddon is really good at his gig. If you can walk me through why he is ordinary or bad at running a good MLB side, I’d learn something.
However, “misused Aroldis Chapman” isn’t reason enough.