If you asked the average fan why the Chicago Cubs have been so good the past two years, one of their first answers will be Cubs manager, Joe Maddon. Joe Maddon gets a lot of credit these days and it’s no wonder why; when the Cubs win at a 70% clip, there is a lot of credit to go around. And as managers go, Joe Maddon seems like a pretty cool guy, his T-shirts are selling to raise money for his Respect 90 Foundation which supports inner city youth. Who isn’t a fan of that? And the T-shirt’s have the now famous sayings which apply to both major leaguers and kindergarteners, “Try Not To Suck” and “If You Look Hot, Wear It.” I couldn’t agree more with both those sentiments. And I know all of those Kindergarten parents out there are thinking to themselves, preach man, preach.
The Cubs take pictures while wearing their Zany suits, onesies and track suits and doesn’t it just look like the most wonderful bromance you ever did see. And then after the Cubs take these adorable pictures, the media and the world goes wild, “Joe Maddon has loose, exuberant Cubs, embracing lofty expectations,” “Joe Maddon proves (again) why he is one of the best,” and “Jesus Christ praises Joe Maddon just for being Joe.” See if you can guess which one of those headlines I made up.
One of my favorite games Joe received credit for was a 2-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on May 19th this year. With the game tied at one in the bottom of the 12th, the Brewers had the bases loaded and nobody out. Maddon decided to bring in a fifth infielder, an innovative concept like using a napkin to wipe your hands or putting more butter on bread to make it taste better, you know, something only Joe Maddon could’ve thought of. There was some chaos in the field, Bryant had to switch gloves, then Baez switched gloves, then they switched back, blah blah blah, Travis Wood induced a shallow fly ball to center field (which in hindsight the Brewers certainly wished they would have tagged on) for the first out, then two pop outs to end the inning. So the Cubs got out of the jam and won the game in the 13th. And what were the headlines the next day? “Madd science: Cubs win in wild fashion.” And all the announcers could say is “Joe Maddon using his magic again.” What magic? Where? Travis Wood induced three outs in the air. All of the glove switching didn’t directly affect any of those plays. Don’t you think a better headline would have been, “Travis Wood battles out of tough jam: Joe Maddon was a non-factor.”
Maddon won the NL manager of the year award last year. I suppose if the award has to be given to someone, it might as well have been given to him, The Cubs were atrociously bad the year before Maddon arrived, then in walks the chosen one and a trip to the NLCS follows. This simple math tells us, yes of course Maddon was the answer. But simple math is not what we are about here, a deeper dive into the 2015 Cubs, and by deeper I mean pretty much still right at the surface, tells us that perhaps the reason the Cubs went from worst to first was the promotion of the most highly touted prospect, other than Bryce Harper, like ever in Kris Bryant. But that’s not all, what about the promotion of another top five prospect in all of baseball, Addison Russell. And don’t forget the machine made to pound baseballs in Kyle Schwarber. Am I missing anything? Oh yeah right how about the signing of a true ace in Jon Lester, oh and some guy named Jake Arrieta happened to turn from just some guy with a killer beard to a Cy Young winner… with a killer beard.
Don’t you think the guys hitting and throwing the ball were a little more impactful than some guy with a pad and paper and a white beard? A pretty so so beard at that. But people will say oh you’re so wrong, without Joe Maddon, these would be just a bunch of immature young guys who couldn’t play together. The word’s immaturity and veteran leadership are a few nice phrases journalists latch onto so they have something to write about. And sure veterans can help the younger guys, but these aren’t little kids who are building sand castles when they should be ready to field their position, which if you’ve ever tried to teach five year old's baseball you know is exactly what happens. Their sand castle game? Strong. Baseball? Not so strong. These are 24 year old grown men who are exceptional baseball players and professionals. Just put them on the field and they’ll play ball just like they have their whole lives.
Until Maddon begins teaching classes at Hogwarts, I refuse to believe his magic touch is the reason these Cubs are so good. Didn’t you ever see the movie Moneyball or read the book where author Michael Lewis is sure to make A’s general manager, Billy Beane, look like a genius, which he kind of was, and the A’s manager, Art Howe look like a total jackass, which I cannot speak to but the movie sure was convincing. You need to see the movie but essentially, the moral was, Billy Beane put together a winning team and all Art Howe had to do was play the team as Beane intended and he couldn’t even do that. But when the A’s broke the record that year and won 21 games in a row, guess who got all the credit? That’s right, it was the guy who sits next to Joe Maddon at Hogwarts staff meetings, Art Howe.
And this game goes the other way too, before the Cubs postseason run in 2015, they went through four different managers since their previous postseason appearance in 2008. I guess those managers didn’t have the Maddon touch. They never would have thought to bring in a fifth infielder in order to induce three outs in the air, that’s why they lost their jobs. Don’t you dare sit on your couch and begin to wonder, well maybe their failure to win games had a little something to do with the Cubs front office purposefully tanking to gather this amazing crop of prospects. And don’t you dare say that Joe Maddon should wake up every morning and thank g-d, or Theo Epstein, for allowing him to walk into a job with the best all around team in baseball. Am I becoming clear?
And again, I don’t want to bash Joe Maddon, I like him, I think he’s a good baseball guy and the players seem to like him, and that’s important. And I wake up everyday and look in the mirror and say to myself, hey bud, try not to suck today. And that’s thanks to Joe Maddon. But I just think it’s time for the world, and especially Cubs fans, to gently remove themselves from the Joe Maddon express. And stop directing all of this praise to the one person least responsible for the team’s success. It’s getting to be a little MADDONING don’t you think? Did you see what I did there? But it doesn’t matter what I say, go out to wrigley and the fans will say how Joe Maddon just has a way with the players, he pulls all the right strings, he uses the veterans to help the younger guys, Maddon makes g-d look like an idiot and blah blah blah blah.
But I'll know that Theo is the real MVP and maybe after reading this you will too. Joe Maddon is, dare I say, replaceable.
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