When you come down the mountain wearing a flowing robe and carrying two stone tablets etched with that day’s lineup, you tend to leave yourself open for abuse.
That’s the problem with being Joe Maddon. The Cubs manager has turned his baseball decisions into a cross between nuclear physics, prophetic wisdom, dynamic-leadership principles and, I don’t know, aromatherapy. But he also has allowed his large flock of admirers to care deeply about who he has in left field late in a ballgame, when, really, no one should care that much. He’s their genius, but he has made them think they’re geniuses, too.
Somebody in this Mensa convention has to be wrong every now and then, but good luck trying to get Joe to say it’s him. Admission of guilt doesn’t often vibrate on his frequency. Neither do opposing views, apparently.
This came up, again, after Game 2 of the Cubs’ first-round playoff series against the Nationals on Saturday. The first question to Maddon at a news conference was why he used right-handed reliever Carl Edwards Jr. in the eighth inning against left-handed-hitting Bryce Harper, one of baseball’s most dangerous players. Harper hit a home run that went forever and possibly changed a series.
I agreed with Maddon’s decision. Edwards had pitched well the night before, and Maddon had used him in similar situations during the regular season. But the manager’s response to a question about his options in the eighth left no room for discussion.
“That was the only option,’’ he said. “That was the right option. C.J. was the right man for the job. Harper is good, C.J. is really good. C.J.’s numbers against left-handed hitters are amongst the best in all of baseball.’’
Really? You put left-handed pitchers on your postseason roster for just these situations, and, suddenly, Edwards is the only option? You, the man of a million options, the chess grandmaster who sees 10 moves ahead, see only one?
We all understand that Maddon’s words were meant, in part, to shore up Edwards’ confidence, if it was in need of shoring up. But he just as easily could have said, “I put C.J. in a bad situation. That’s on me.’’ Joe will pump up his players, but he won’t take bullets for them, responsibility-wise. He has said all his decisions are well thought out, so they can’t be bad decisions. There are only decisions that didn’t go as planned. Try that sometime with your boss, and see how it goes.
Maddon could have said that a left-hander was an option but that he went with his gut instinct. Fans would have understood that. But, no: only one option.
More attention is given to his moves than other managers’ moves because he has turned his strategizing into something deep, something mind-bending. He does things other managers don’t do or have yet to consider. It’s part of his allure and success. He has legions of fans who adore his cutting-edge approach and worship at his sandals.
But he can’t have it both ways. He can’t question every tenet of the game, as an iconoclast would and should, and then look at a postgame questioner as if he has two heads. He can’t shuffle players in and out of a game like a casino dealer, and then raise an eyebrow at a question about why a 36-year-old player with the hops of a cement truck was playing left field in the latter part of Game 2.
He can’t badly overuse Aroldis Chapman in last year’s World Series and then be surprised that people still harp on it. If he had admitted that mistake, he would have endeared himself even more to Cubs fans. A World Series title won by a human manager? Too good to be true.
It carried over to Saturday, when he once again looked like a man who has trouble seeing any other way than the one he had chosen before the game. I admire someone with courage of conviction. I’m suspicious of someone who doesn’t see other convictions.
Follow me on Twitter@MorrisseyCST.