MORRISSEY: Sugary Joe Maddon goes from praising coaches to axing them
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An annual tradition in the NHL is the Admitting of Injuries, in which players, having spent the season mum about their physical challenges, acknowledge after the final game that they had been dealing with all sorts of trauma.
‘‘I’ve had two broken ribs and a punctured lung since December.’’
‘‘I have no feeling in my left arm. Also, malaria.’’
‘‘What were legs in January are now prostheses.’’
What Cubs manager Joe Maddon has done with his coaching staff in the last week is a little like that, only in a weird way and without the tight-lipped nobility.
Maddon spent the season speaking glowingly about everything and everyone — players, coaches, management and ownership. If you had asked him about the bathrooms at Wrigley Field, he would have offered a soaring ode to troughs, along with a brief appreciation of urinal cakes.
Then the season ended, and what had been happy, happy, happy was revealed, through his firing of three coaches, as something that didn’t quite match up with Maddon’s flowery praise.
Hockey players hide injuries so opponents won’t try to take advantage of their infirmities.
Maddon shovels praise over any simmering dissatisfaction he has because . . . because . . . well, I don’t know why he does that.
When he dismissed those coaches, it was jarring. If everybody is great in Joe’s world, how could he fire people? If the world he has constructed is one of peace, love and understanding, how is it that pitching coach Chris Bosio, hitting coach John Mallee and third-base coach Gary Jones were let go?
And the most important question of all: How does any coach or player know where he stands with Maddon?
Here’s what he said Thursday about new hitting coach Chili Davis and new third-base coach Brian Butterfield: ‘‘These guys are fabulous. They’re force multipliers.’’
Force multipliers? Good lord. From which business-leadership webinar did Maddon pull that nonsense? It’s the kind of too-hip, over-the-top treatment he has given to everyone from his backup third baseman to his Starbucks barista. If a person is spectacular and fabulous and a multiplying force, it’s hard to understand why he’s suddenly not.
During the Cubs’ National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, a reporter asked Maddon if he expected all of his coaches to be back in 2018. Maddon praised them and said yes.
‘‘That was a really awkward question,’’ Maddon said after the coaching changes were announced Thursday. ‘‘We’re in the playoffs, and I thought that was the only way I could respond.’’
Everyone got that? The problem wasn’t the answer; it was the question.
What Maddon said during the NLCS went beyond not telling the truth, and it went beyond keeping up appearances. It moved into the realm of the bizarre. It’s one thing not to criticize a group of people; it’s another to gush about them and then fire them. There’s something almost pathological about that, especially when those coaches hear the praise and think they’re coming back.
All Maddon had to say was: ‘‘We’re worried about the Dodgers right now. We don’t even think about anything like that until after the season.’’ Perhaps a few eyebrows would have been raised, but who cares?
And if the firings weren’t Maddon’s idea, if they were strongly suggested by president Theo Epstein, then Maddon needs to say so and spare everyone the confusion.
I’m not asking him to criticize players or coaches in real time. I’m asking him to stop slathering it on so thick. He’s the top used-car salesman among big-league managers.
You can’t describe a coach as ‘‘outstanding’’ after firing him, as Maddon did with Mallee. It’s unseemly. There are a lot of in-between words he could have come up with to describe the man he had just axed. If Mallee were outstanding — or at least the standard definition of ‘‘outstanding’’ — he’d still be the Cubs’ hitting coach.
Likewise, you can’t laud catcher Miguel Montero for being a leader, for having the bearing of a wise man, then designate him for assignment because he had the nerve to publicly criticize one of the Cubs’ sacred cows, Jake Arrieta. But that’s exactly what happened in June, adding more mixed signals to a pile of them.
When Maddon’s team was down 3-0 in the NLCS, he said he didn’t want anyone to lose sight of the fact that the Cubs had made it to that round three years in a row, no small accomplishment. Always lift up — that’s Joe’s modus operandi. Fine, but it’s a long way down for everyone when he has to cut a player or fire a coach.
Three years into Maddon’s stay in Chicago, it’s well past time for him to start offering context. Not everything is great. Not everyone is terrific. Most people understand that. Most people can handle the truth.
If you can’t say something not-so-nice once in a while, Joe, don’t say anything at all.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.