Cubs’ Joe Maddon: Mozeliak’s comments ripping Dexter Fowler ‘really unfortunate’

The latest crumbling brick in the decline of the Cardinals Empire is getting extra attention from the Cubs because it involves one of their own.

Like many around the game, the Cubs seemed at least dismayed by Cards president John Mozeliak publicly questioning former Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler’s effort and suggesting he wasn’t playing hard.

“I’ve been reading about Dex, and it’s really unfortunate because he is such a good friend, too,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of his leadoff hitter for two playoff teams, including the Cubs’ 2016 World Series champion.

Fowler, who has struggled all season, was on paternity leave Monday when Mozeliak ripped the outfielder in comments during his weekly interview for the regional sports network in St. Louis.

Happier times for Fowler, with pal Anthony Rizzo, after reaching base in a game in April.

Among the strongest comments on Fowler:

“I’ve also heard a lot of people come up to me and question his effort and his energy level. Those are things that I can’t defend. What I can defend is trying to create opportunities for him, but not if it’s at the expense of someone that’s out there hustling and playing hard.”

Mozeliak later tried to walk back the comments when talking to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, suggesting he was not trying to single out Fowler (despite doing so) and saying in part: “I would not make too much of this and really what I was trying to say is: I hear what our fan base is saying.”

Fowler had two of the best seasons of his career with the Cubs in 2015 and 2016, including his lone All-Star selection in ’16. He signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Cardinals after that season.

Asked he ever had an issue with Fowler’s energy or effort, Maddon said:

“I love Dexter. He is effervescent. He is gregarious. He always lit up the room when he walked in. That’s how I see Dex. He and I had great conversations, all the time. I don’t have any idea what’s going on there in St. Louis. I just know my personal relationship with him is outstanding.”

Asked specifically whether he had any over the on-the-field issues in Chicago with Fowler that Mozeliak referenced, Maddon said: “That’s up to those guys. That’s not up to me. … That’s St. Louis. That’s not me.”