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Cubs’ failings might not be Joe Maddon’s fault, but it’s time for change

Of course Theo Epstein is more to blame for this year’s blah product. But I’ll feel bad about a Maddon ouster when the combined $28 million Joe made in his five seasons in Chicago runs out. Until then, that’s sports.

Former Cubs manager Joe Maddon says that he and team president Theo Epstein had “philosophical differences.’’
Cubs manager Joe Maddon could be looking for a job after the season.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Sometimes it’s just time.

There are all sorts of valid reasons for the Cubs to re-sign Joe Maddon as their manager. Choose one or more: He won a World Series, an accomplishment that came with a towering degree of historical difficulty. It wasn’t his fault this year’s team didn’t have a bullpen or a leadoff hitter. Not his fault ownership hasn’t been able to find its wallet. His players seem to like him. And who are the Cubs going to find who’s better at the job?

But sometimes the most reasonable, logical arguments fall away in the face of the obvious, even if the obvious isn’t as eloquent.

Sometimes it’s just time.

It’s time for Maddon to take his skills, innovations and dress-up tea parties elsewhere.

The Cubs are crawling toward the finish of a second straight disappointing season, this one without a playoff appearance, and the signs seem to point to the team making a change at manager.

If that happens, there’s every possibility the city will be in an uproar by midseason next year. Fans and media will be furious that Cubs president Theo Epstein, apparently in the grip of lunacy, had replaced Maddon with a man who wouldn’t know a lineup card from a grocery list. Perhaps that man will be David Ross and his “Dancing With the Stars” sequins.

But it won’t change the fact that, since the 2016 World Series title, the Cubs have declined under Maddon and the air has slowly leaked from the party balloons. Nor will it alter the truth that, as an uninspired 2019 season was tucking itself into bed, Maddon was the man in charge in the dugout.

Unless there has been a shift in the time-space continuum, the front-office guy keeps his job and the coach/manager doesn’t. That’s how it works in sports. Of course Epstein is more to blame for this year’s blah product, but Maddon is the one likely to take the fall. I’ll feel bad about that when the combined $28 million Joe made in his five seasons in Chicago runs out. Until then, that’s sports.

After the team’s hitting collapsed down the stretch last season, Epstein called 2019 a season of “reckoning’’ and stressed the importance of a fast start. The Cubs responded with one of the best home records in baseball and one of the worst road records. I can either wait for someone to break down the advanced statistics that might explain such a discrepancy or I can tell you that the 2019 Cubs had the mental toughness of a dandelion puff. I’ll go with the latter and point out that some of that falls on the manager. The Joe Cool act doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes a fire needs to be lit.

You can make the argument that Epstein could have fired Maddon after the 2016 season for the in-game stunts he pulled in the World Series, almost costing the Cubs the title. Pitching Aroldis Chapman into the ground. Removing starter Kyle Hendricks after only 63 pitches in Game 7. Having Javy Baez bunt on a 3-2 count in the ninth inning of that game (a foul ball and a strikeout).

In a players’ meeting during a rain delay before the 10th inning, it became apparent that, if the team was going to do what no Cubs team had done since 1908, it would have to be because of the players, not the meddling manager. You know the rest of the story.

Epstein, of course, was not going to fire the manager who had given the Cubs a World Series for the first time in forever. But Maddon’s insistence on putting his own signature on a game that didn’t ask for it was the essence of Joe.

Whenever Maddon does move on, his legacy in Chicago will involve the keen baseball acumen that helped turn the Cubs into a winner and his need to be the show. It will be his ever-changing lineups and his bullheaded insistence on using Kyle Schwarber at the leadoff spot, even when Schwarber was a mess. It will be the dress-up days he pushed on his players. It will be the magician and the mime.

It will be three National League Championship Series and one World Series title.

It will be his graciousness, his interesting news conferences, his eagerness to answer questions with as much insight as he could give. And it will be his eye-rolling refusal to speak ill of anything his players did.

Some of it was good. Some of it was goofy, and not always in the fun sense.

This era has passed. The winning came, it went and now it’s time for the clichéd “new direction.’’ There should have been another World Series title with this core, and we’ll spend the next few decades debating over who was responsible for that failing.

Whether Maddon goes or stays, the club needs to make other changes. The Cubs need pitchers, both starters and relievers. They need a leadoff hitter. That will involve ownership rolling out the wheelbarrow of cash it says doesn’t exist (but does). Nobody wants to hear about the money the Rickettses heaped on Jason Heyward, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow. In a major market, bad decisions are not a reason to stop spending.

If the Cubs decide not to re-sign Maddon, they are, in effect, firing him. No matter how they might try to spin it, that’s what it will be. A firing.

Somebody has to go. The somebody, unfortunately, is Joe.

The time is now.