MINNEAPOLIS – Barely arm’s length away, Joe Maddon reaches into the brown backpack behind his desk and pulls out the flattened, dirty, blue cap with the late-1990s Angels logo.
It’s the same hat Maddon kept with him in the dugout during the 2002 World Series when he was Mike Scioscia’s bench coach, and it was by his side when the Angels recorded the final out in Game 7.
“In the dugout, pointing out to the field, under my books so nobody could see,” said the first-year Cubs manager. “I take it with me everywhere. Everywhere.”
Joe Maddon Sr. never got to see his son manage in the big leagues, never got to see him to take an overlooked, underfunded Tampa Bay Rays team to a World Series in 2008, or to take on the challenge of his professional life in Chicago.
But the man who shaped this 61-year-old kid’s outlook, inspired his patience and modeled much of the ingenuity is never more than an arm’s length away.
“I have him with me every day,” the Cubs manager said of the World War II veteran, the plumber, the patriarch, the hero to a son. “I think about my dad every morning without fail.”
The old Angels hat is the one his dad wore until he died in April of 2002, and Joe is convinced there’s no coincidence in the fact that the day he returned from the funeral in Hazleton, Pa., the Angels won on a walkoff.
“And then everything just went, `Poom.’ “
About a week after his dad’s death, Joe’s Angels reversed a miserable three-week start and went on a roll that finished with the franchise’s only World Series championship.
He’s convinced that, too, was no coincidence.
“There’s no doubt,” Joe said. “If you believe. If you’re a person that believes.”
Is that same force of spirit part of what’s going on with Maddon’s Cubs, who beat the Minnesota Twins 4-1 in 10 innings on Saturday? Is it more about the faith itself that comes from the manager’s seat?
Even before the Cubs got off to this promising start, Joe’s sister, Carmine, said of their dad: “I think he has something to do with the fact he’s going to Chicago. He’s playing something up there. I don’t know what. It’s kind of all lining up.”
Whatever Joe Sr. might be doing from above, he is an influential presence within Chicago’s favorite manager. You can see it in his demeanor and action, say those who have been close to the plumbing shop owner and his oldest son.
“If Uncle Joe was still with us, you would think it’s a younger version of Uncle Joe,” said the manager’s cousin, Dave Mishinski.
Maybe that’s why the hat is so important.
And why so many little things make Maddon think of his dad. His restaurant in Tampa is on Howard – the name they used to call Joe Sr. “because he used to constantly repeat everything Howard Cosell said.” When the Cubs play the Cardinals it reminds him of the Cards cap his dad bought him at a ballgame when he was a kid.
And maybe it’s why he got so emotional during that ceremony at Lafayette College five years ago. Not when he got the honorary degree, but when his niece and nephew gave him the old, worn field bible his dad carried in Europe during the war.
“I didn’t know it existed until that moment,” he said. “And of course I started crying in front of everybody.”
Whatever the Cubs do this year – or in any of the five years Maddon has signed on to manage – they’ll apparently do it with the strength of more than one Maddon influencing their direction.
Former big-league general manager Bill Bavasi discovered that part of Maddon nearly 40 years ago when Bavasi, as a player development official with the Angels, pored through some old minor-league player questionnaires.
One question asked the prospects to name their heroes.
“And everybody said Roberto Clemente, or Sandy Koufax,” Bavasi said. “His said, `My father Joe. He’s a plumber, takes pride in it, and so he’s the best there is.’ “