It was just another day in Chicago baseball.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon compared Javy Baez to Hall of Famer Willie Mays after a game against the Brewers, and White Sox manager Rick Renteria said his team ‘‘fell a little short’’ after blowing a three-run lead in the ninth inning against the Tigers.
That was Thursday, but it could have been Monday, Tuesday or Friday. Or it could have been any Thursday from last season.
Maddon and Renteria are different people, but they’re similar in at least one regard: Nobody cheers on his team the way these two guys do. Renteria publicly finds the good in every player, even when the good is buried under a .200 batting average. Maddon finds the good in every player, and, by the time he’s done with it, good has been upgraded to ‘‘wonderful,’’ ‘‘beautiful,’’ ‘‘spectacular’’ or, if it’s really lucky, ‘‘groovy.’’
Search teams are still out looking for a discouraging word from either manager.
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Maddon and Renteria aren’t flat-out lying. They believe in what they’re saying — or at least in some percentage of what they’re saying. Mostly, they believe it’s good if the players hear these sweet nothings.
Lying? No. Laying it on thick is more like it. Here’s Maddon comparing Baez’s baserunning to one of the best players in history:
‘‘If he’s running, he will look behind to see what’s going on. Going back in the day, you see Willie Mays doing that a lot. He’s got extraordinary instincts on the bases.’’
Last year, he compared Baez’s fielding ability to that of Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar. The only strange thing about any of this is that it took Maddon forever to name Alomar — Baez, I mean — his regular second baseman.
Maddon even might think that Baez reminds him of Mays running the bases. More than anything, though, he wants Baez to know that he fully believes in him. We, the media, are Maddon’s conduit to the players, and you, the audience, are basically along for the motivational ride.
The Sox collapsed in their home opener Thursday. Things were going swimmingly, if not snowingly, up until the ninth, when reliever Joakim Soria gave up a two-run home run and left fielder Leury Garcia couldn’t keep a ball in front of him, allowing the tying run to score. That wasn’t falling short, as Renteria put it; that was falling apart. It was a rotten development in what had been an uplifting story. Boos accompanied the 9-7, 10-inning loss.
Daryl Van Schouwen, who covers the Sox for the Sun-Times, posted video of Renteria’s postgame news conference on Twitter, and one upset fan responded: ‘‘Does he knock over a table? Otherwise, I’m skipping it.’’
The table stayed where it was.
‘‘Today, we just fell a little short,’’ he said. ‘‘We had all the right pieces in the right places. It just didn’t work out.’’
He also said, ‘‘You’re going to have games like this.’’
And, ‘‘In spite of it all, we did get the potential winning run to the plate [in the 10th inning].’’
My favorite Renteria moment came in 2014, when he was the manager of a struggling Cubs team. A reporter asked him if Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro deserved to be All-Stars. It was a pitch right down the middle, and all Renteria had to do was swing with as much glowing praise as he could muster. Instead, he insisted all his players were All-Stars. The only thing missing was the team mom with the juice boxes.
Most coaches and managers would argue there’s no upside to being completely honest with the media about a player’s performance. But not being upfront does have a residual effect. The public grows weary of sunny optimism when they can look at their sopping clothes and know it’s raining.
We’re well past the time in U.S. sports when managers and coaches told it like it is. Now they tell it like they’d like it to be. And it’s smart business. A manager who is publicly honest about his team and his players wouldn’t last a season today. The players wouldn’t stand for it. So here we are, with a perpetual sugar buzz.
The Cubs lost to the Marlins 6-0 last Sunday. One would think it would have been hard to find a silver lining in a shutout to as lowly a team as the rebuilding Marlins. One would have thought wrong.
‘‘Quite frankly, we could not have hit the ball better than we did,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘That’s the most incredible shutout I’ve ever seen in my life.’’
Until the next shutout.
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