Joe Maddon came to town eight years ago with a bold plan to turn around a losing franchise.
He told reporters to get ready to kiss the “crazy people” during a raucous 40-minute press conference at the Cubby Bear, then offered to buy everyone a shot and a beer, “à la Hazleton ( Pennsylvania)”.
It was as memorable an introduction as the one we saw in Chicago, and Maddon quickly delivered the goods, helping bring the Cubs their long-sought championship in his second season on the job. The only question at the time was where the statue would ultimately be located.
But Maddon was then dismissed as yesterday’s recyclables when the Cubs couldn’t match their 2016 success, leading to a conscious uncoupling between him and team president Theo Epstein after the 2019 season. Maddon landed on his feet with a nice gig in charge of the Los Angeles Angels, but instead of ending his career, he was fired in June on a 12-game losing streak.
It’s unclear if that’s the end of the line for him, but a return to Chicago this week to promote his new book, “The Book of Joe: Trying Not to Suck at Baseball and Life,” left the Maddon normally wordy at a loss. for the words.
“Coming back here and hearing the heartfelt feelings of the people of Chicago, the Cubs fans, is truly humbling,” Maddon said Thursday during a shopping break on the Magnificent Mile. “Signed over 700 books (Wednesday) night at Anderson’s (bookstore) in Downers Grove, and the way they reacted to it all is both sweet and tough.”
It’s Chicago. Soft and tough – and wise enough to give credit for a job well done.
Maddon hasn’t had a chance to return to Wrigleyville, so he hasn’t seen the latest addition to Wrigley Field, a three-story sports betting annex that will maintain revenue streams.
The success of Maddon’s teams allowed the Ricketts family to invest in lucrative businesses such as Marquee Sports Network, Gallagher Way and DraftKings SportsBook. But the only remaining of the 2016 champions is pitcher Kyle Hendricks and Maddon’s backup David Ross.
Maddon has no regrets. He said “divorce is coming,” and while he didn’t think he needed to go, it obviously wasn’t his decision. He said he still has a good relationship with Epstein, saying his former boss told him “the game is better with me” after he was fired early in Anaheim, California. Although Maddon talks about their “philosophical differences” in the book and how that led to his exit from the Cubs, there was no personal attack on Epstein’s methods.
“Look, I loved it and it was the best five (years) ever,” Maddon said. “Yes, I expected to stay longer. It didn’t work that way. The guys still playing there are doing well – Anthony (Rizzo), Kyle did well, Willson (Contreras) will do well elsewhere. (Kris Bryant) was injured, but he’ll be fine. Javy (Báez) will be fine too. He misses the band, I think, more than anything.
“It was such a dynamic and very charismatic group of individuals coming together at the same time, and it was very cool.”
Maddon’s future remains uncertain, although he was not a candidate for any of the leadership positions this fall. It’s OK, he said.
“I’m enjoying the freedom, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I would like to come back. I think there must probably be a period right now to mentally put everything together and try to find the right match that comes your way, because at the moment there was nothing available. So my process is I would just wait until next year, which is fine.
“Everyone advised me to take a year off after all that, which I can understand, and I’m not fighting it because I enjoyed that summer a lot. I hadn’t had one since about 1980. It was different in many ways. But I want to do it again and with the right dance partner. I’m patient right now.
Aged 69 in February, Maddon probably can’t wait too long, even though Texas just pulled Bruce Bochy out of retirement at 67, and Buck Showalter, 66, and Terry Francona, 63, won the manager of the year award. At 73, Dusty Baker has finally guided the Houston Astros to their first managerial title. It was a good year to be an old man – unless you were managing on the south side.
Maddon said he turned down a TV offer because he wasn’t interested in traveling – or dressing up – but remained active in the media with a podcast with Tom Verducci, who co- wrote the book, and made a few appearances on MLB’s Sirius XM. channel.
“I want to keep practicing batting, keep doing things like that to stay sharp in case something happens,” he said.
The juiciest parts of Maddon’s book, which he spoke at length during his tour, involve his battles with senior management over the intrusion of analytics into running a game. Isn’t anti-analytical, but thinks the manager should be the decision-maker during games, not the front-office guys waving spreadsheets.
Maddon said the book is about much more than analysis, but most reviews since its release in mid-October have focused on the “Joe vs. Nerds” angle. In an age where analysis is king, will Maddon’s blunt confession prevent him from finding another job?
“I don’t know, but I wanted to be honest,” he said. “I think maybe initially it might keep me out of certain situations, but I want to believe that in the long run it will come back the other way. You’ve seen a lot of veteran managers succeed this year. You give out Manager of the Year awards to guys who’ve been doing it forever.
“You know, the game tends to spawn in different areas, so we’ll see. Buck was away for a few years. Boch was beside himself. Dusty had none left. I really don’t know, but it’s important that I stay contemporary and mentally active, that I stay on top of things. And if I do it through podcasts, I’m really good with that.
Like Epstein said, baseball really is better with Maddon. I hope he’s back for another shot.
But even if he never gets another chance, his legacy is secure. Maddon said the details of the bad ending in Chicago are irrelevant and the important thing to remember is “the impact this band had on this city and the fan base”.
Six years ago, they made history. Now almost every member of the 2016 Cubs are the story. Life goes on, but each return reminds them how special that feeling was.
“I feel like I’m connected to this town and this group of people,” Maddon said. “And I feel like they feel the same about me.”