Maddon able to provide serenity to Cubs
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It might have been helpful to hang a shingle and announce a practice as a Cub Fans Counselor these last few weeks. I have no formal training but lots of experience.
I grew up with some Cubs fans who infiltrated the South Side and stood their ground in hostile territory. Raised one, worked with several and still do. Thus I’m accustomed to dramatic mood swings each season, but this year’s have been especially volatile, even by the fluctuating standards of Cubdom.
After Miguel Montero’s pinch-hit grand slam — a cool moment by anyone’s reckoning — touched down in the right-field bleachers in Game 1 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field last week, Cubs fans were visualizing the best spots to snag along the parade route, contemplating ways to sneak away from work to watch and debating whether to run Javy Baez for mayor or governor.
After Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill put on back-to-back pitching clinics, those fans were being talked off ledges all over the city, and one that I know of in Colorado. Doom had arrived, with a side order of despair.
You bring this angst on yourselves, people.
No team of my experience celebrates regular-season wins with more gusto than the Cubs and their followers. Long after the final out is recorded, people linger at their seats singing along to “Go, Cubs, Go” lyrics that are both cheesy and outdated (you can catch it all on WGN)? The blue-on-white ‘W’ flag is hoisted to the top of the center-field scoreboard. A ‘‘party room” is part of the players’ lavish new clubhouse complex.
The Cubs signed on with an “official champagne provider” long before they had anything to toast. Which leads to a brief digression into old fuddiness: What’s with all these wild celebrations at each stop along the postseason trail? Not just in Chicago, but everywhere in baseball.
A pennant? Here’s to you. The World Series? Most definitely. But a champagne shower for a wild-card appearance? That’s like a college team hanging a banner for winning the Great Alaska Shootout.
I’m not one to scoff at a good time, but the best celebrations are as spontaneous as they are jubilant. And nothing says spontaneity like passing out goggles beforehand to shield one’s eyes from the sting of victory. It’s like the forced conviviality of St. Paddy’s Day or New Year’s Eve.
The point is, if each Cubs victory inspires such an emotional reaction in Cubs fans, it stands to reason that each loss is going to hurt more, especially as the stakes get higher.
Enter Joe Maddon. Amid suggestions that Addison Russell be returned to the A’s and Jason Heyward be benched, released, deported or executed, Maddon has kept his cool while doing a pitch-perfect job of ensuring the Cubs maintain their serenity. Russell has started hitting, as has Anthony Rizzo. Baez has been the best player on the field, a dynamic two-way talent, a shorter Ryne Sandberg with more fast-twitch. The gap between Kershaw/Kenley Jansen and the rest of the Dodgers’ pitching staff has been exposed.
Maddon knows he has the better team, on both sides of the ball, as we football guys say. And though there are occasional exceptions, the better team usually wins in a seven-game series.
There’s probably a sabermetrician somewhere poring over an algorithm to determine how much a manager means to a team over a season. This is one instance of the eye test being more accurate. Tactics and strategy aren’t going to deviate much from dugout to dugout. It’s the tone a manager sets, the atmosphere he creates, the state of preparedness he oversees that have more to do with success or failure.
Some may find Maddon’s pajama parties and petting zoos too cute by maybe half, but there’s no denying he has had his team ready to play championship-caliber baseball. And he’s comfortable enough in his own skin to explain any move he makes without getting defensive. You’d ask Tony La Russa why he did something a certain way and he’d glare at you like you used his toothbrush.
Maddon never got above Class-A ball as a player. During the Giants series he shared a poignant memory about signing with an independent California League team for $200 a month because he wasn’t ready to take the uniform off. His path to a major-league coaching job was a 17-year slog through scouting, player development and minor-league managing gigs, none of them glamorous.
Joe Maddon has earned this moment.