Joe Maddon rode into town eight years ago with an audacious plan to turn around a franchise synonymous with losing.
He told reporters to get ready to embrace the “crazy” during a raucous, 40-minute news conference at the Cubby Bear, then offered to buy everyone a shot and a beer, “the Hazleton (Pa.) way.”
It was as memorable an introduction as we’ve seen in Chicago, and Maddon quickly delivered, helping to bring the Cubs their long-sought championship in his second season on the job. The only question back then was where the statue eventually would be located.
But Maddon was later cast off like yesterday’s recyclables when the Cubs couldn’t match their 2016 success, leading to the conscious uncoupling between him and team President Theo Epstein after the 2019 season. Maddon landed on his feet with a sweet gig managing the Los Angeles Angels, but instead of getting closure in his career he was fired in June during a 12-game losing streak.
Whether this is the end of the line for him is unknown, 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 normally verbose Maddon at a loss for words.
“To come back here and hear the sincere feelings of the people of Chicago, the Cubs fans, is really humbling,” Maddon said Thursday during a break in shopping on the Magnificent Mile. “Signed over 700 books (Wednesday) night at Anderson’s (Bookshop) in Downers Grove, and the way they’ve reacted to all this is sweet and tough at the same time.”
That’s Chicago. Sweet and tough — and wise enough to give credit for a job well done.
Maddon didn’t get a chance to return to Wrigleyville, so he didn’t see the latest addition to Wrigley Field, a three-story sportsbook annex that will keep the revenue streams rolling.
The success of Maddon’s teams helped pave the way for the Ricketts family to invest in money-making ventures such as the Marquee Sports Network, Gallagher Way and the DraftKings SportsBook. But the only one remaining from the ’16 champs is pitcher Kyle Hendricks and Maddon’s replacement, David Ross.
Maddon has no regrets. He said “divorce happens,” and though he didn’t think he needed to go, it obviously wasn’t his call. He said he still has a good relationship with Epstein, saying his former boss told him “the game is better with me in it” following his untimely dismissal in Anaheim, Calif. Though Maddon writes of their “philosophical differences” in the book and how it led to his Cubs exit, there was no personal attack on Epstein’s methods.
“Listen, I loved it and it was the best five (years) ever,” Maddon said. “Yes, I expected to stay longer. It didn’t work out that way. The guys that are still out there playing are doing well — Anthony (Rizzo), Kyle did well, Willson (Contreras) is going to do well somewhere else. (Kris Bryant) has been hurt, 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 one time, and that was very cool.”
Maddon’s future remains up in the air, though he wasn’t a candidate for any of the managerial openings this fall. That’s OK, he said.
“I’m enjoying the freedom, no question about it,” he said. “I’d like to get back. I think there’s probably got to be a period right now to collect everything mentally and try to find the right match coming your way, because right now there was nothing available. So my process is that I would just wait until next year, which is fine.
“Everybody has advised me you’ve got to take a year off after all this stuff, which I can understand, and I’m not fighting it because I did enjoy this summer a lot. I hadn’t had one off since 1980 or so. It was different in a lot of good ways. But I want to do it again and with the right dance partner. I’m patient right now.”
Turning 69 in February, Maddon probably can’t wait too long, though Texas just brought Bruce Bochy out of retirement at 67, and 66-year-old Buck Showalter and 63-year-old Terry Francona won Manager of the Year awards. At 73, Dusty Baker finally guided the Houston Astros to his first title as a manager. It was a good year to be an old guy — 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 has remained active in media with a podcast with Tom Verducci, who co-wrote the book, and made some guest appearances on MLB’s Sirius XM channel.
“I want to keep taking batting practice, keep doing things like this to stay sharp in the event something does pop up,” he said.
The juiciest parts of Maddon’s book, which he has spoken about at length during his tour, involves his battles with upper management over the intrusion of analytics into managing a game. Maddon maintains he’s not anti-analytics but believes the manager should be the decision-maker during games, not the front-office types waving spreadsheets.
Maddon said the book is about much more than analytics, but most of the reviews since its mid-October release focused on the “Joe vs. the Nerds” angle. In an era in which analytics is king, will Maddon’s blunt admissions work against him finding another job?
“I don’t know, but I wanted to be honest,” he said. “I do think maybe initially it may preclude me from some situations, but I want to believe in the long run it will flip back the other way. You’ve seen a lot of veteran managers be very successful this year. You’re giving Manager of the Year awards away to guys that have been doing it forever.
“You know, the game tends to replicate itself in different areas, so we’ll see. Buck was out of it for a couple years. Boch was out of it. Dusty was out of it. I really don’t know, but it’s important I stay contemporary and active mentally, stay up with things. And if I do that through podcasts, I’m actually good with that.”
Like Epstein said, baseball really is better with Maddon in it. Hopefully he’s back for one more shot.
But even if he never gets another chance, his legacy is secure. Maddon said the particulars of the bad ending in Chicago are irrelevant and the important thing to remember is “the impact that group made on this city and the fan base.”
Six years ago they made history. Now almost all of the members of the 2016 Cubs are history. Life goes on, but every trip back reminds them of how special that feeling was.
“I feel like I’m tied to this city and this group of people,” Maddon said. “And I feel like they feel the same way about me.”