Joe Maddon: Magic is Real, Hope…Not so Much

I’m not gonna lie here, I found the seed for this post in a Gordon Wittenmyer piece. I don’t typically read his work because I try not to willingly subject myself to things I know will make me angry. Then again, I tune in to the Cubs and IU basketball religiously, so I suppose I’m just really bad when it comes to exercising self-control.

All the moves the Cubs made this offseason had tapped a wellspring of hope, once a commodity in alarmingly short supply on the North Side. Trouble is, we’ve yet to find a good way to corral and drive all of that positive emotion, to channel it in a positive manner.

Take Sunday night, for instance. I was amazed by how quickly fans turned on the team, particularly Jon Lester, the man whose decision to sign with the Cubs exemplified the team’s new direction. It’s that kind of shifting emotion, that proliferation — and subsequent bastardization — of hope that Joe Maddon was brought in to help control.

But did he ever really know what he was getting into in Chicago? Maddon can spin it any way he wants, but I think he’s still got a bit of a learning curve ahead of his. To his credit, though, he’s a man who seems able to keep the various moments of a season from becoming too big, a trait that will be very important as Kris Bryant comes to town.

As for hope, Maddon summarily dismissed the concept prior to Sunday’s opener, saying, “You never hope for anything in a situation like this. You’ve just got to go out there and make it happen. Hope is a quality or an attribute or a thought that when you’re really in a desperate moment probably is necessary. But in our circumstances we’re trying to create and make this magic occur.”

Huh, so hope is for dopes but magic is real? Sounds about right. Though I think Uncle Joe is talking more about magic in terms of an art form, something that appears wondrous to the audience, but is actually achieved through a great deal of preparation and flawless execution on the part of it practitioners.

Baseball has always has magical qualities, as anyone who’s seen enough of America’s pastime knows full well. The sleight of hand in a double play or the way a nasty slider makes men disappear, the ability to turn grown men back into little boys; this sport defies explanation.

Hope too is a part of the game, even if the Cubs skipper gives it short shrift. In doing so, however, he’s saying that hope can’t be part of the thought process for a team itself, for its players. You can hope in one hand and you-know-what in the other (think using it as an alternative to Wrigley’s restrooms) and see which fills up quicker.

My favorite part about this whole thing is the fact that Maddon claims to have developed his attitude about hope from an old scout by the name of Loyd Christopher. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Cubs were shown as 2015 World Series champs in Back to the Future II, a movie starring…Christopher Lloyd.

Rub your chin and wrap your noodle (right, Crane?) around that one.

Maddon said that he believes his team will create its own destiny, “But to just worry about people hoping and feeling the weight of that, I can’t do that.” That’s all well and good, but it’s one thing to  make this statement prior to Game 1 and quite another to keep saying it game after game if and when things aren’t a roaring success.

I think Maddon is up to the task though, and I love that he’s willing to address these topics and to lay out the tenets and origins of his baseball philosophy. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have said the same about his immediate predecessors.

Now, Joe, let’s see what you and your team can do about making a little magic happen.


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