The Joe Maddon Show, purportedly built for others’ fun, is about one man — him
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How much is too much when it comes to Joe Maddon? I think we passed ‘‘too much’’ about a mime ago.
But to say there was a tipping point would be unfair to all the too-cool-by-half things Joe Cool does. How do you choose between the magician he once brought in to entertain his players and his delight in letting position players pitch when his Cubs are losing big?
Now, you might argue that I’m comparing apples and oranges, that the magician was a way for the team to stay loose during a long season a few years ago and the position players taking the mound a way to preserve a taxed bullpen. On the surface, perhaps.
But the common denominator is a manager trying way too hard. The T-shirts with Joe sayings, the ever-spinning lineups, the themed dress-up trips, the lineups sent to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder (we’ll get to that), the dye job, the groovy van and, yes, the mime at spring training — all of it, in the end, seems to be about one man’s deep need to be the center of attention. Taken individually, the gimmicks would be fun and harmless. Taken together, they feel like a lounge act, with Joe singing to the candelabra on his piano.
It wouldn’t be so bad if you could depend on him to do the right thing in Game 7 of the World Series. But it took right fielder Jason Heyward to rally the troops after Maddon almost blew the biggest game in Chicago sports history.
It’s a long season. That’s Maddon’s rationalization for many of the goofy things he does. But it’s that very rationalization that comes back and bites him. It’s a long season, which gives Maddon a lot of time to think about things that make you roll your eyes and say, ‘‘What’s he doing this time?’’ If you think it’s just grouchy columnists having these thoughts, you haven’t seen the sunken look on a player’s face when he’s handed an ‘‘Easy Rider’’ outfit to wear on a road trip. It’s a long season, which means it’s a lot of Joe.
The implication in all of his shenanigans seems to be that baseball is so dreary that the only thing stopping players from killing themselves is a juggling aardvark. That there hasn’t been a juggling aardvark in the Cubs’ clubhouse yet must mean the act has been all booked up.
The other implication in Maddon’s stunts is that the only way for players to stay loose and have fun is for their manager to organize fun for them. Message to Joe: It’s sort of like the criticism of parents these days. Let kids make their own fun. You’d be surprised at how creative they can be.
But that wouldn’t be Maddon, who doesn’t do anything quietly. His team-building strategies always involve TV cameras. So Anthony Rizzo walking to the mound to pitch? Outstanding, as Joe might say.
There’s something discordant about teammates laughing while a first baseman or an outfielder pitches. What’s the message? That your relievers need rest? That the team is going to have fun, no matter what? Or is it that your manager sees another opportunity to be unconventional in front of a big crowd?
I know why Maddon says he’s letting position players pitch during blowouts. I get the reasoning he says is behind it. I just don’t trust what I’m hearing. Because it’s always something with this guy.
Your grumpy columnist siren is wailing. Morrissey doesn’t know how to have fun. I get it. But Maddon’s fun seems like contrived fun meant for something other than team-building. Somebody’s brand-building, possibly.
The Score’s Twitter account had another zany Joe Cool note Tuesday:
‘‘Joe Maddon has been sending his daily #Cubs lineup to Eddie Vedder while Pearl Jam is on tour in Europe.’’
Is he sending the lineup just to Vedder, a huge Cubs fan? Or did he add Vedder to a group email? The details probably don’t matter, unless Vedder gets a vote on who’s hitting where. I’m joking. Sort of.
What does matter is that it fits in with the Maddon Show, a bigger-than-life experience full of cool people. It’s possible Joe also is sending the lineup to a podiatrist he met while waiting for a cappuccino at Starbucks, but I doubt it.
Famous people love rubbing elbows with other famous people. They’re drawn to each other. They hang out with each other. They soak in each other’s celebrity. It’s one of the perks of being famous. But it seems shallow, doesn’t it? I’m famous, you’re famous, let’s be famous together! So Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers goes from dating actress Olivia Munn to dating race-car driver Danica Patrick. It’s what important people do.
It’s a fair assumption that, no matter where Pearl Jam is playing, there’s WiFi. Another fair assumption is that Vedder would know where to find that day’s Cubs lineup online. But none of this matters. No one will be surprised if Maddon plays the tambourine on stage at either of the Pearl Jam concerts in August at Wrigley Field.
He’ll tell us the experience will lead to a rested bullpen and five extra Cubs victories. And he even might believe it.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.