‘Get in or get lost’? Please — Cubs’ Joe Maddon deserves more respect than that
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Fire him. No, that wouldn’t be enough. Tar and feather him, then fire him. And if you want to heave a few dozen eggs at his Winnebago as he steers clear of our town once and for all, have at it.
Isn’t that the treatment manager Joe Maddon deserves if the reeling Cubs fail to make the playoffs?
But I should stop there and make this very clear: I don’t mean any of it.
I’m a big enough sucker to think Maddon — 118 games above .500 in less than four full seasons with the Cubs — is still pretty good at this whole managing thing.
I see his team — bitten by a ferocious injury bug and in an offensive rut — winning its division again, with the best record in the National League, and suspect he might not be a complete schnook after all.
No, Maddon, who has one year left on his contract, shouldn’t be fired no matter how this season plays out on the field. But tell that to the jabberjaws on sports-talk radio who’ve been weighing that very topic of late.
Speaking of whom:
‘‘Whoever said that is an idiot,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘That’s my opinion. Joe’s the man. With all due respect, that’s sports radio. Whoever said that is just trying to get some hits.’’
Many in the Chicago sports media bend over backward to avoid appearing overly impressed by Maddon. They rip him for his Aroldis Chapman obsession during the postseason in 2016. They put much of the blame at his feet for the Cubs’ wayward first half in 2017. They criticize his ever-changing lineups and his itchy bullpen trigger finger.
All of which is legit.
They’re also quick to roll their eyes at Maddon’s sloganeering (coming to a T-shirt near you!), his costume-party road trips, his hiring of magicians and mimes and his unrelenting positivity. When the Cubs fail at trying not to suck, good luck getting Maddon to say it. When the rest of us are out on ledges barking at the moon over Cubs shortcomings, Maddon keeps grooving to the feel-good soundtrack in his head.
I’ve regarded it all cynically at times myself.
But I have to disagree with my favorite columnist, the Sun-Times’ Rick Morrissey, who wrote this season of Maddon’s “deep need to be the center of attention.” Maddon could point to his three decades in baseball when pretty much no one knew who the heck he was. Come to think of it, he points to those days all the time. (OK, so he likes to talk.) Presumably, he didn’t have many bad days then, either.
There’s a certain amount of shtick with Maddon, no doubt about it, but there’s plenty of authenticity to his process, too. How else could he have won more games than he lost in nine seasons with the godforsaken Rays?
The Cubs need that process, that unrelenting positivity, now. Pitcher Yu Darvish isn’t about to re-enter the building. We might not see the best version of third baseman Kris Bryant until next spring. The health of closer Brandon Morrow is a question mark. The starting rotation is in flux. The bats come and go.
If Maddon can keep smiling through it all, good for him.
‘‘I’m not going to tell anybody what they should be thinking, but I don’t understand why anybody would be criticizing Joe right now,’’ said infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist, who also played for Maddon with the Rays. ‘‘I think that he’s done a fine job. He’s not the one out on the field. Besides . . . we’re in first place, and there are a whole lot of things that are going right. I think people need to remember that.’’
Pitcher Jon Lester, who, like Maddon, joined the Cubs in 2015, laughed when asked if a managerial change would be in order if the season were to go off the rails.
‘‘As far as anything that might be going wrong, that’s not Joe’s fault,’’ Lester said. ‘‘I think he has done a great job of managing what’s been in front of him this year. The criticism is just the nature of the beast of being good.’’
Maddon has ventured that seven to 10 years is about as long as a person ought to stay in any one job. Seven to 10 years of Maddon should suit the Cubs — and everyone else around here — just fine.
One more contract? He has earned it. A zillion more sayings and slogans? We can deal with it.
And all the rest? Maybe I’m a sucker for saying so, but the Cubs are lucky to have it.