Joe Maddon is spinning quite a tale about the Cubs’ decision to part ways with him
Maddon says he decided to walk away, but the Cubs say the team’s work ethic had slipped since their World Series title.
MESA, Ariz. — Lots of people feel entitled to their own truth these days, even when their version’s relationship to the facts is a strained one.
Take Angels manager Joe Maddon, who continues to peddle the idea that it was as much his decision to cut ties with the Cubs after last season as it was theirs. That’s like a man who, after getting hit by a falling piano, uses his last few breaths to say it was his decision to die.
Maddon took it a step further in an interview with ESPN.com, which reported Tuesday that he ‘‘had come to the realization that he didn’t want to return to Chicago [in 2020] while the 2019 season was still ongoing, regardless of the outcome.’’
His recollection of events doesn’t line up with the one Cubs president Theo Epstein was offering Tuesday. Epstein’s version seems to be of a manager who really wanted to stay and a franchise that thought standards had slipped.
‘‘[Maddon’s version] would conflict with some of the things that he and his agent were saying and doing toward the end of the season,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘It doesn’t mean it’s not true. And if that’s how he feels, especially with the benefit of hindsight, I’m not going to dispute it. But it doesn’t really reflect the conversations we were having up until the very, very end — the last day or two — when we talked about [a parting of ways] being best for everybody.’’
One thing Maddon did get right in the story was that after the 2018 season, the front office decided to become much more hands-on with the players. The Cubs had fallen apart offensively in the last month of that season. Epstein saw a team that had gotten away from the organization’s standards for hard work.
‘‘When I started there — ’15, ’16, ’17 — it was pretty much my methods,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘And then all of a sudden, after ’18 going into ’19, they wanted to change everything.’’
The front office, he said, ‘‘wanted to control more of what was occurring in just about everything.’’
That’s because Epstein had watched complacency set in after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series. He said Tuesday that 2019 was one of the few times in his career as a major-league executive that he had stepped into a manager’s domain. Think of it as the baseball version of an intervention. A Joe intervention.
“There have only been two instances in my 18 years [running a team] that I felt those basic organizational standards for work, preparation and behavior were not getting met,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘I had to get involved, give feedback and remind about expectations.
‘‘But it doesn’t work well that way. It works best when it’s the manager with a clear voice, coaching staff supporting him and veteran players running the clubhouse.’’
Was after the 2018 season one of those instances?
‘‘I’ll keep those two instances to myself, but I guess Joe indirectly alluded to it with some of his comments,’’ he said.
Maddon told ESPN.com that he and Epstein had ‘‘philosophical differences.’’ That’s not how Epstein saw it.
‘‘Joe and I aren’t exactly the same,’’ he said. ‘‘I think his approach was more that things would work themselves out. These are great players, let them play, these things will work out.
‘‘But from my perspective, there was a little bit more cause for concern.’’
It was probably right that Maddon would intrude on new manager David Ross’ first day with Cubs pitchers and catchers. He always liked an audience. And a team doesn’t remove a manager after five seasons and expect people to ignore the chalk outline on the ground.
But this is Ross’ show, for better or worse, until it’s somebody else’s. And it will be someday. When that is depends on what he can do to get the franchise over its post-2016 World Series hangover. That’s a hell of a hangover, by the way.
Did anybody think Maddon’s shelf life after the title would be only three seasons? Almost certainly not. But here we are. It’s why Maddon is the manager of the Angels and why Ross was telling the media the message he planned to give to his players in camp.
‘‘Attention to detail, working together, getting back to respecting one another, being accountable to your at-bats and your teammates,’’ he said. ‘‘ . . . The focus can get awry [with success].
‘‘We focus on other details as our careers evolve. A lot of these guys have gone through a path of success. Still a lot of good talent and good numbers getting put up there, but the attention to detail and the winning ways that I find are important are the ones I’m going to really hammer home.’’
Whether it was meant to or not Tuesday, part of the hammer fell on Maddon.