Peter Gammons: Cubs Get Their Man In Maddon

maddon

He is Joe Maddon, and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer knew him as the manager who tormented the Red Sox. They’d watched his Rays, who’d never won 71 games in their history, win series in Fenway Park and The Trop in September 2008, beat the Red Sox in a dramatic, seven game ALCS, then come from 10 back in September 2011, knock them out of the playoffs and send Epstein to the Cubs and Terry Francona to the Indians.

Monday, Epstein, Hoyer and Maddon will stand together and address the Chicago media, and what they all understand are more wide-ranging national perceptions. By then, Epstein may have reached out to Tampa Bay owner Stu Sternberg, offering computer and phone records as proof that this romance dance did not begin in September or the day Andrew Friedman opted to go to Los Angeles, but the day Maddon decided to exercise his contractual right once Friedman left, becoming a free agent manager and Epstein got an email from Maddon’s agent Alan Nero informing him of Maddon’s decision.

“This is Joe Maddon,” Epstein said to Hoyer, who seconded the thought, and the emotional respect that went with it. From the time Maddon’s Rays unravelled the Boston organization that won World Series in 2004 and 2007, Epstein left for Chicago and brought Hoyer in from San Diego, the goal has been not only to stockpile talent through the draft, trades and the international market, but build an infrastructure that will not only get them to the top of the National League Central, but sustain success.

Maddon, in their eyes, was a perfect part of that infrastructure. The Rays not only won 71 games for the first time in 2008, they won the American League pennant, and in five of the next six years, they sustained excellence, winning at least 90 games, a win total neither the Giants or Royals achieved in 2014, and they did it in the American League East when the American League East was the S.E.C. of baseball.

So, while Joe and Jaye Maddon were driving across the country in their RV, Epstein and Hoyer met with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and received clearance to explore this unforeseen option. While Nero took calls from television networks and teams about possible managerial, development and front office possibilities, the arrangement was made for Epstein and Hoyer to meet Maddon. So they drove to meet up where Maddon’s RV had stopped, and in Epstein’s first ever trip in an RV, they began their meetings.

They knew Joe Maddon is smart. They knew he is creative. They knew he managed in a countercultural style that embraced analytics and a human underdstanding of lightening the mental load that players must bear up under from February through September or October, including forced day-night doubleaders and getaway night games that necessitate 6 a.m.hotel check-ins.

What Epstein told others with the Cubs is that he “never realized what an old school baseball man he really is.” The word Epstein used to describe Maddon to the Ricketts family was “amazing.”

Now, 11 years ago this month, Epstein interviewed Maddon for the Red Sox job vacated when Grady Little was fired. At the time, Epstein was blown away, but he had already made the decision that Terry Francona was going to be the manager. “They made the right decision, no doubt about it,” Maddon said in 2008. “Tito won two World Series. I wasn’t ready then for a market like Boston, and he handled it perfectly.”

The Joe Maddon that interviewed with Epstein and Hoyer seemed more comfortable, relaxed, confident.

That Old School came out strongly. He signed out of Lafayette in 1975, caught four years in the Angels system. He then worked 31 years in the Angels organization as a manager, coach, coordinator, scout, roving instructor, then went to the majors as a coach. He was Mike Scioscia’s bench coach when the Angels won their World Series, in 2002. He was like a baseball Godchild to Gene Mauch, but was always close to John McNamara and The Brothers Lachemann, and is, in many ways, a crazy-quilt of all the minds from which he studied.

There will be a different expectation in Chicago, but he knows that. It is very hard for Sternberg, who did not have Friedman on a longterm contract, allowed Maddon the opt-out, hasn’t had an even semi-productive draft since 2007 and is held hostage on an island known as St. Petersburg. Losing Friedman and Maddon is an obvious setback to his tireless efforts to find a viable venue, be it on the Tampa waterfront or the shadow of Mont Royal.

The Cubs may or may not go heavy into free agency this winter; most likely they’ll gauge their chances with Russell Martin,and wait for the pitching that will be hitting the market next November. By 2016, Anthony Rizzo and Starling Castro will each be 26, and Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler should be established as frontline young players, with a phalanx of other young talent on the way. And the pitching will have been built to the point where the one nine figure pitcher will really matter.

All this said about Maddon, Rickey Renteria, called often by Epstein as “a prince of a man,” is the victim here. Renteria did what he was asked to do. He helped develop kids. He deserved to be back. Hoyer and Epstein said that to one another several times this past week. They have called Bud Black about a big league coaching job back with the Padres.

Renteria will be paid in full, his insurance will always be taken care of, and, in this imperfect, unfair scenario has every opportunity to look around. Paul Molitor could do well by making him the Twins bench coach. Ironically Tampa might be a possibility. He will almost certainly get another managerial job; Francona’s time in Philadelphia did not create a winning resume, and he sometime will be in Cooperstown. Hey, Joe Torre made three stops before getting to the Yankees.

Epstein talks about his “commitment to the Cubs fans,” which entails spending what it takes to get a Soler out of Cuba, or make the right call on Kris Bryant, Albert Almore and Kyle Schwarber in the draft. He and Hoyer and Jason McLeod and everyone in that organization is dedicated to the longterm, not the shortterm free agent and PR decisions that undermined prior regimes.

Joe Maddon spent 31 years of graduate school in places like Idaho Falls and Midland long before he hit Anaheim. When the Rays went for the pickoff at first base in the 2013 ALDS and James Loney executed  it by dropping his knee between the baserunner and the bag on the dive back, Maddon got a text that read “Gene Mauch is smiling down at you.”

That’s who he is. He rides his bike to work, he has a wine coach, he has road trip themes, he understands analytics, he was shifting before shifting was chic, he has pitchers playing pepper in spring training, he understands what everyone in the Cubs developmental organization is doing, and why, and when a coach on a South Side Jackie Robinson West team mentioned he played for Joe in Idaho Falls 20-something years ago, Maddon remembered everything about him, including insisting he go back to school—which led to Mark Simmons’ current position as a high school principal.

“Amazing” is the word Epstein used to describe Joe Maddon to his bosses and his employees, so amazing that he was willing to bloody his hands with the Renteria decision and make Maddon the person to take the Cubs where they haven’t been since Theodore Roosevelt was president.