Tag Archives: Joe maddon

A Christmas card for Cubs fans

cubschristmas

In the past few years, we knew we weren’t getting much from the Cubs during the holidays. No big presents, no reasons to cheer. Just a really good excuse for hitting the egg nog — the spiked variety.

Well, the year without a Santa Claus is over. Just this December the Cubs signed free-agent grand prize Jon Lester, inked right-hander Jason Hammel and acquired catcher Miguel Montero. Those deals come on the heels of landing arguably the best manager in the game in Joe Maddon.

If this year is getting everything on your wish list, the past few years have been like receiving the entire population of the island of misfit toys. Here are the lowlights:

December 2013: The Cubs acquire Justin Ruggiano, Ryan Kalish, Wesley Wright, John Baker and Jose Veras. In a real sign that things are looking up, none are with the Cubs anymore.

December 2012: It didn’t look like much at the time, but the Cubs claimed Hector Rondon off waivers from the Indians on Dec. 6. He had a great year as the Cubs’ closer last season. Besides Rondon, they signed Kyuji Fujikawa, Ian Stewart and Nate Schierholtz — three placeholders while young talent developed.

Those deals came after a flurry of transactions in November, such as signing Dioner Navarro and Shawn Camp, releasing Bryan LaHair and letting Stewart walk. Talk about shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Remember, though, if you believed in Theo & Co. you expected the ship to go down to the bottom before coming back up. Signing Scott Feldman was a life preserver, as the Cubs later traded him for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.

December 2011: In the first moves of the Epstein regime, the Cubs shipped out Tyler Colvin for Stewart in one of those “Man, I wish I had a crystal ball” moments. They also sent Sean Marshall to the Reds for Travis Wood in a solid, if unspectacular deal. Former closer Manny Corpas was also signed and then went into the witness protection program.

In November of that year, Aramis Ramirez became a free agent, marking the departure of one of the final connections to the last Cubs playoff teams.

December 2010: The highlight, by far, was the signing of free agent Kerry Wood, who had reinvented himself as an effective reliever. The reunion felt good, but like most good reunions, once the party ended, we were left with a hangover and plenty of bitterness.

It’s been a tough few years, no doubt about it. And some of the gifts the Cubs have given us lately will prove to be defective and will go unused in the corner. But for now, Theo better watch out for the mistletoe because there are hordes of Cubs fans who would like to plant a big kiss on his mug.

You can reach Patrick at Cubs Fan Therapy.

Cubs coming together: Will I fall apart?

In 2008, after the Cubs were swept in the division series for the second year in a row, I gathered up my Cubs hats, shirts, signs, whatever I could get my hands on and brought it into the living room with the very real intention of torching it all in the fireplace. I was burnt out, toasted, fried. I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Swept?! Swept?! Swept?!” It reverberated in my head like Herm Edwards’ famous rant: “Playoffs?! Playoffs?!”

My soon-to-be wife laughed until she saw the look in my eyes and realized that I was serious. The nice, even-keeled me had gone bye bye. Decades of Cubs frustration had finally made me mental.

“Why don’t you just sleep on it?” she said. “Really, you’re going to be angry in the morning that you have to buy all this stuff again.”

“Oh no,” I said. “I’m done. That’s it. This is ridiculous. Swept?! Swept?!”

She looked a little concerned and maybe a tad bit disgusted. We hadn’t been dating that long and probably thought that if I could act this way over a baseball game, what the hell would I do if she got in a fender bender with our new car. I guess some part of my rational self was still functioning because I picked up on her mood and realized that we were going to need to be married for a while for this Connecticut girl to understand the whole Cubs thing. Burning hats in the fireplace might not get us to that point.

So I backed off and quietly seethed inside. It felt like someone had jammed a whole turkey stuffed with jalapeno peppers down my throat.

The point is that the Cubs made me nuts, and it didn’t have to be a playoff collapse. An error in April could get me ranting because it was never just that play. Years of frustration were channeled through that play and erupted. I have a river of Ghostbusters slime flowing through my veins and the ghosts of Cubs past can terrorize me and those around me with minor provocation.

Riding the Cubs wave of hope, joy, disappointment, anger, hope, joy etc. makes the seven circles of hell look like a Disney ride. It ain’t been easy. Except lately.

The great fringe benefit of the Theo Epstein rebuilding project has been tremendously lowered expectations. Knowing the Cubs wouldn’t have the talent to compete and knowing that they would lose by design took all the pressure off.

It’s like I’ve been on a fan vacation. I still get a little worked up over a boneheaded play — or Edwin Jackson — but I’ve been operating at 20 percent on the Cubs angst meter. It’s been refreshing. I’ve kept tabs on the youngsters in the minors, gotten interested in the trade deadline, but I didn’t have to worry about the Cubs actually competing in a meaningful way.

Those days are over.

The kids have arrived. Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, even Kris Bryant will be teaming with All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Epstein hired arguably the best manager in baseball in Joe Maddon, and he’s talking playoffs. The front office promises to be active in free agency, putting the Cubs in the mix for the top players available. And Wrigley is undergoing an impressive facelift.

It’s all coming together. We can feel it. The rebuilding is coalescing into, into, into, HUGE EXPECTATIONS. Even before the games begin, I’m going to be hanging on every rumor. And when these new Cubs take the field? What then? Will I turn mental again, treating April contests like Game 7 of the World Series? Have I learned anything from this hiatus?

I’d love to say that I’ve gained some perspective, that rationally weathering a real rebuilding process has taught me to have patience, to keep my eyes on the long-term prize. But I can’t make that promise. Castro is going to lackadaisically boot a ball in April, and I’m going to rant. The Cubs might start the season 10-10 and I’m going to be ready to push the panic button.

That’s just how it is when you live and die with the Cubbies. Let’s just hope we don’t need the fireplace.

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

Drink it up: Maddon says all the right things

Who isn’t ready to run through a wall, or at least run to the bar, after hearing Joe Maddon at his Cubs introductory news conference?

I’ve written before that the Cubs needed to find a manager who has the tools to deal with the pressure when the Cubs get good. Maddon said nothing Monday – including offering to buy everyone at the Cubbie Bear a beer and a shot — to change my opinion that his approach is just what the Cubbies need.

“You set up a situation, to me, where they’re not afraid of making mistakes,” Maddon said of the players. “That’s the most important thing I want any player that plays for me or for us to never be concerned or worried about making mistakes. The worst thing you can do is to coach aggressiveness out of a player, to coach fear into a player. Those are the two worst things you can possibly do. So I’m going to get to know all that stuff, and I’m telling you succinctly there that’s my overarching philosophy when it comes to managing or teaching or coaching – those two really big components and you combine it with good people.”

A jaded DMV worker would feel inspired after five minutes renewing Maddon’s license. Jehovah Witnesses would knock on his door and walk away converted to his way of thinking. The guy has charisma, something to say and is laid back enough to not shove any of his charms in your face. He’s not just chilled out, though. He’s humble. He said his staff will have to earn the trust of the players.

“When you’re doing something that we’re doing here, the trust has to go both ways,” he said, adding that when that trust is established real constructive criticism is possible.

This isn’t Dale Sveum sending Starlin Castro to timeout.

For all his inspirational talk, however, Maddon labels himself a pragmatist.

“You never want to unnecessarily set an absolute finish line on anything because you’re setting yourself up for disappointment absolutely,” he said when asked when the Cubs could be competitive.

After preaching patience, however, he said “Me, I’m going to be talking playoffs next year. You can’t go to spring training and say any other thing. … I’m going to talk playoffs, I’m going to talk World Series this year. I am. And I’m going to believe it.”

Calling the Cubs job a once in a 107-year opportunity, Maddon added: “I like the challenge. I think the challenge is fabulous. … It’s up to us to capture this moment and project it forward the way we know we can.”

That sounds a lot like what other managers have said on the way in. Lou Piniella, Maddon’s former boss and a friend, oozed confidence when he was introduced. A few years later he oozed out the door a defeated man.

Maddon, though, seems better prepared mentally to handle the pressure of the job. In fact, the mental approach to the game is paramount in his mind.

“The game seems to have evolved to the point where it’s just about physical mechanics,” he said. “To me, the mental mechanics so exceed the physical mechanics in teaching this game and playing this game.”

Oh, it will get mental around here Joe when the Cubs finally sniff a World Series. Will Maddon really be able to handle the pressure better than his predecessors? Hate to say it, but only time will tell.

I just hope that when the going gets tough he really can stick to the philosophy he writes on his lineup card every night: “Don’t ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure.”

If he folds like all the others, we’ll need more than a beer and a shot.

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

Maddon answer to Cubs pressure

When the Cubs get good again, and I mean really good, the pressure will increase so much that the team will either be fused into a diamond or crushed into dust. What do the Cubs need to deal with that pressure — to relieve it on some days and funnel in on others? Joe Maddon.

Invariably, when the Cubs hire a new manager, the Chicago press asks them how they will deal with the pressure of not winning a World Series in over 70, 80, 90, 100 years. To a person they all say that they don’t worry about the past, they’re just focused on the future. It sounds like the right answer. But it’s not.

When the Cubs win, when they get close to the playoffs, when they make the playoffs, the weight of trying to relieve decades of unrelenting disappointment comes crushing down like a falling mountain. The pressure is unlike anything faced by other sports teams. The manager who has been saying we don’t worry about the past, we just look ahead, is blindsided, flabbergasted and nearly paralyzed.

Ask Lou Piniella if the pressure was real. You could see it on his drawn face toward the end of his Cubs tenure. He thought managing the Cubs would be like managing the Mariners or the Reds. Sure, the Cubs have endured a drought, Lou thinks, but it’s just baseball. Well, try playing baseball with your butt cheeks so clenched they could crush a beer can. It ain’t easy.

But the pressure on the manager and team when the Cubs are good is unique. When the Reds make it to the World Series, it’s a good baseball story. When the Cubs make it to the World Series, it will be an international news story. The world will root for the Cubs to redeem generations of faithful fans. You think that won’t make it a little tougher to focus on turning that double play in the ninth inning of Game 7? Grown men will be reduced to tee-ballers as butterflies swarm in their guts.

That’s why the Cubs need a manager who has a track record of keeping a team loose. Maddon certainly has that. From team dress-up road trips to tigers in the clubhouse, the Rays did things differently. Between these tactics and his forward-thinking sabermetric approach, Maddon helped one of the cheapest teams in the league reach consistent excellence.

What could he do in Chicago with more talent and money?

Maddon has proven that he knows Xs and Os. Rick Renteria seems like a nice guy, but his handling of the Cubs pitching staff was questionable at best. That’s not the main reason I don’t have a lot of faith in him taking the Cubs to the next level. Renteria will be crushed by the pressure when the Cubs get good. He’ll fold like a cheap suit. It’s not a knock against him. Great men have done the same. It just seems clear that he doesn’t understand it, let alone have a strategy to deal with it.

Maddon’s unconventional approach might just be crazy enough to work.

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.