Joe Maddon simply doesn’t care.
Sounds like a terrible thing to say about a big-league manager whose team now owns a ticket to the postseason, but it’s true. And judging by what we have seen in the last 107 years, it’s exactly the attitude the Cubs need.
Maddon doesn’t care what you think of his lineup. He doesn’t care what you think of where or when he plays his veterans and rookies. He doesn’t care that your uncle was buried having never witnessed a Cubs World Series championship.
It’s a trait we rarely see in Cubs managers.
Maddon certainly cares about his players — those kids spotted zipping out of the clubhouse on neon, two-wheel personal transporters that look right out of a “Back to the Future” movie. And he mostly cares about having fun.
This team is all about fun. Carefree should be spelled starting with that Cubs-logo C.
Take the ninth inning Friday. The Cubs were trailing the Pirates by two runs when Starlin Castro stepped to the plate with a runner on second. Like a bunch of Little Leaguers, every Cub started clapping and stomping — starters and reserves pressed against the edge of the dugout, pitchers and catchers rollicking in the bullpen.
Big-league teams don’t do that. Not every player. Not in unison. Not with smiles when they are trailing by two runs in the ninth and their lockers have plastic tarp being peeled off from them because of a doomed champagne celebration.
Castro ripped a triple and Wrigley was rocking. Not just the fans, but the rowdies in the dugout and bullpen. The rally wasn’t enough for a victory, but these Cubs didn’t seem crushed.
No Friday afternoon party? No big deal. They were forced to wait out the result of the Giants’ game on the West Coast to know if they had clinched.
Was Maddon fuming after that 3-2 loss?
“Great game,” he said. “As a baseball fan, you were totally entertained. That’s what it’s supposed to look like.”
Wait … what?
Did he realize the Cubs lost? They blew a chance to clinch at home. There are black cats and billy goats and bad things that can happen to the Cubs this time of year. Drop an F-bomb, Joe. At least sigh deeply.
But Maddon doesn’t care.
Some time around June, it started to become clear the Cubs had a legit shot at the postseason. Now that they’re on the doorstep, what happens next?
We have been down this road before. There were the back-to-back trips to the postseason in 2007 and 2008 that ended quickly each time. There was 2003, when Cubbie heartache was redefined.
So what will make this trip to October different?
Certainly, they had fun in 2008. Alfonso Soriano was smiling just about every day. Ryan Dempster was a clubhouse cutup keeping things loose. Even grizzled manager Lou Piniella was — at times — carefree.
Then everything changed. The pressure the players swore wouldn’t infect them, wrapped itself around the team. It’s the kind of pressure known only to the Cubs.
By the time that team rolled into Los Angeles down 0-2, Piniella was a basket case and his clubhouse couldn’t remember what it was like to have fun. Pressure trickles down from the top.
Those Cubs lost, just like Dusty Baker’s collapsed in 2003. That team had fun — until an unreal eight-run eighth inning. Baker got puckered, failing to calm an unglued Mark Prior, and the Cubs never recovered.
Yes, anything can happen in October. If it’s something bad, it usually happens to the Cubs.
So why will this time be different?
Because Joe Maddon doesn’t care and these Cubs are simply having fun.