It was just over a year ago that I tuned in to the radio feed of Joe Maddon’s introductory presser, an event I wrote about under the title: Welcome to Thunderdome: Joe Maddon Officially Crushes Introductory Presser. Over the course of the Q&A, the new skipper laid out his philosophy, set goals, and generally endeared himself to everyone present, not to mention those watching or listening from afar.
It wasn’t about the free drinks he promised — though the genuineness of the offer has been questioned in the intervening months — but the promise that Cubs fans wouldn’t have to drink as much to enjoy their team. Or was it that we could enjoy the team while we drank? Either way, Maddon brought with him a new attitude, a nonchalance that was at odds with the thrumming high-tension cables that had bound previous Cubs managers.
Between talking about tooling around in his RV and having beers in Myrtle Beach he discussed how to best ameliorate some of the Cubs issues with the help of the card in his back pocket, which is apparently “dripping with analytics.” He waxed poetic about the cathedral in which he’d be managing, about National League baseball, and about following his dreams.
He wasn’t afraid to talk about the shortcomings of this team either, saying that he believes they swing too much. And while that’s pretty much a given for anyone who watching more than an inning of Cubs baseball this season, Maddon’s solution was perhaps a bit counter-intuitive.
Players don’t need to work harder, he said. They don’t need to spend more time at the ballpark. “The players don’t have to be the first one in and last one out to impress me,” Maddon said. “That has nothing to do with winning. Zero.” So will the manager himself be putting in long hours instead?
“We don’t have a lot of [7 o’clock games], but I can guarantee you won’t find me there at 2 o’clock or even 1. I don’t like sitting around in concrete bunkers, drinking coffee and watching TV.”
I was rapt from the start, particularly after hearing Maddon drop “ameliorate” (put simply, to make something bad better) and talk about the card in his pocket. But he wasn’t just some aging yogi or wizened surfer serving platitudes and preaching chill; this guy was firm. I think we all knew the Cubs needed something different, but Maddon was walking into a new situation as well.
[That laid-back demeanor is ] all well and good for a guy coming from Tampa Bay, but this is Chicago. This is the Cubs, a team whose title drought has exceeded the advent of most other professional sports leagues on earth. David Kaplan addressed that when he asked, “Do you have any idea what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into?”
“I love it,” Maddon responded with no hesitation.
Maddon did know what the hell he’d gotten himself into, and he continued to drive home the mantra he laid out that afternoon at the corner of Clark and Addison: “Don’t ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure.” Whether that’s pajama flights, a magician in the clubhouse during a trip to New York, or a petting zoo on the field at Wrigley, Maddon stayed true to his word. He handled the media with as deft a touch as he did a young, untested lineup.
Joe Maddon followed through on his word and, by so doing, he guided the Cubs to an unlikely win total and a return to the competitiveness promised by the team’s front office years ago. It’s nice to see him recognized with the Manager of the Year honor, but I’m sure Joe would be the first to tell you he’d rather have had 8 more W’s.
The 2016 season promises to put Maddon’s axioms and acumen to even more difficult tests, as the Cubs enter as contenders rather than a group of serendipitous hopefuls. But even as the seas get a little choppier, I can confidently say there’s no one I’d rather have helming this ship.