Joe Maddon defends less-is-more methods after criticism over Cubs’ decline in 2018-19

“It had nothing to do with [lack of] work on the field,” he said. “I was pretty pleased with the run we had. I really can’t tell you that it could have been much better.”

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Angels manager Joe Maddon watches practice during spring training in Tempe, Ariz.

Angels manager Joe Maddon watches practice during spring training in Tempe, Ariz.

Darron Cummings/AP

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Former Cubs manager Joe Maddon took his talents to Southern California more than four months ago. On Tuesday, he still found himself defending the way he managed the team toward the end of its most successful five-year run in more than a century.

And he had no intention of backing down.

“Listen, my methods — I’ve been doing it for a while,” said Maddon, the Angels’ new manager, as Chicago reporters surrounded him during a Cactus League media event. “I was pretty pleased with the run we had. I really can’t tell you that it could have been much better.”

Maddon managed the small-market Rays to that franchise’s only World Series in 2008. Eight years later, he managed the Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908, part of a five-year run of winning seasons that included four consecutive trips to the postseason.

But the Cubs’ front office is clear about its feeling that the last two years should have been better. General manager Jed Hoyer talked Tuesday about breakdowns in focus and attention to details, especially last year, with much of the same core that won the World Series in 2016.

All-Star shortstop Javy Baez admitted over the weekend that he thinks he and other players fell into some bad preparation habits by skipping the often optional on-field work before games under Maddon, which Maddon said he saw no signs of.

Maddon’s less-is-more philosophy became a hot-button point of conflict as the increasingly concerned front office sought a more-is-more approach to fixing the team’s slipping performance. That eventually led to the decision to fire Maddon when his five-year contract expired after last season.

Asked if any manager would have won more than 84 games with last year’s team, Hoyer responded, “I have no way to go back and say, ‘Did some of those things contribute to our struggles the last couple years down the stretch?’ There’s no way to know that. But I think, obviously, there were times that we felt a need to be a little bit more hands-on and talk about some of the things that we saw.”

These are the “philosophical differences” Maddon said he was talking about when quoted about what led to his divorce from the Cubs. He had expressed a desire to return until the issues came to a head late in the season.

“I’ll let his version of that stand,” Hoyer said. “I don’t want to sort of pick a scab or bring stuff up. But obviously there were things surrounding that, that I think we had disagreements over.”

It’s no coincidence that one common theme in camp is the energy and inspiring tone that first-year manager David Ross has brought to the opening week of spring training, even as players express their respect and affection for Maddon.

And Maddon, who hosted Ross during a holiday charity fundraiser in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, in December, continues to gush about his relationships with Ross, the players, Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein — feelings of admiration and friendship that seem genuine and mutual, by all accounts.

But that doesn’t mean Maddon is backing down about the wisdom of his methods as he tries to take a third team to the World Series in 13 years. And it doesn’t mean the Cubs are backing down from their perspective.

“I know that the guys wanted us to be on the field a bit more,” Maddon said. “And for the day games, I just never could agree to that. For me, you look at the work of the first four years, and the number of wins was pretty productive.”

In 2019, stints on the injured list for four of the starting pitchers and late-season injuries to key hitters — including Baez (thumb) the final month — were the “primary problem,” Maddon said.

“It had nothing to do with work on the field,” he said.

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