Joe Maddon Revels in Pressure, Says 2019 Season ‘Absolute Fun’ So Far
If given his druthers, I’d imagine Joe Maddon would not have picked Tuesday afternoon to join Laurence Holmes in his new daily slot on 670 The Score. Not that LoHo isn’t a wonderful host who conducts a great show, just that Maddon would rather have been prepping for a game instead of twiddling his thumbs on the Cubs’ second scheduled off day in less than a week.
That’s doubly true after Monday’s stinker of a game in which the Cubs booted the ball all over the yard en route to an embarrassing 8-0 shutout for their third loss in as many games. The twisted pile of wreckage was so bad, Maddon said it wasn’t even worth examining for clues. Just throw it out and move on.
“Yesterday was a bad game, I cannot defend that in any way, shape or form,” Maddon said, chuckling dismissively. “It got off poorly and it just got worse. But the three games in Texas, we actually played great baseball. We just pitched a couple bad innings there and we just couldn’t find the plate a couple times.”
As for the disappointment that has lingered since last season’s early exit, however, the manager finds plenty of merit. In fact, he’s even found a way to turn it into a positive, explaining that having a frustrated following can only happen when you actually have fans who care enough to be frustrated.
“I understand where the fans are coming from and I love the fact we have so many of them and that they are paying attention,” Maddon said when asked about expectations from the outside. “So none of that honestly bothers me whatsoever and I enjoy it. I think it’s great. And there’s a lot of other teams and organizations that would love to have that kind of support from a fanbase.
“These folks have been Cubs fans for so many years. They’re invested, they feel like they know us really well. And so if they’re disappointed, we understand that.”
In fact, being in the Chicago fishbowl can actually be enjoyable when you maintain the right perspective about it. That may sound strange to most people, but Maddon isn’t most people. He made that clear when it rolled into town buying shots and talking about not letting the pressure exceed the pleasure.
“Fun,” Maddon said of this season so far. “Absolute fun. I cannot have more fun on a daily basis. I’ve talked about this before and I mean this sincerely, people are throwing that word around ‘pressure,’ ‘expectations.’
“That’s where you want to be. I don’t want to be somewhere where that’s not part of the culture.”
Fun, huh? Most lip-readers watching the last three games might have come up with a different word, but okay.
And while it’s entirely possible that this is just Maddon-speak for “I can’t wait to get the hell out of here and cruise around in my fleet of automobiles,” the guy sounds sincere. If he really wanted to spend his summers piloting Cousin Eddie around the country, he could have retired long ago or asked the Cubs to release him so he could catch on somewhere else.
He may seem like an aging hippie who’s more in tune with the vibe at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury than Clark and Addison, but Maddon’s also a stubborn old goat. And that means not shying away from difficult situations like the one in which the Cubs find themselves this season. Some people genuinely enjoy trying to solve problems, one of which is presenting itself to Maddon in the form of a shaky bullpen here in the early going.
The questions about his relief corps are many, but the biggest for now deals with Carl Edwards Jr. and the illegal delivery that had to be tweaked two games into the season. Maddon credited umpire Bill Miller with giving him the heads-up late in spring training, repeating his explanation from Monday night that it was a matter of Edwards pausing with his left foot in full contact with the ground (this all starts around the 12:30 mark).
In truth, Maddon sounded almost relieved by the whole thing, saying he actually likes the old delivery better. But since Edwards had come up with the move on his own and felt it was working for him, Maddon had to defend his pitcher in case he wanted to stay with it. Once that was no longer an option, the pause was gone and the velocity was moving back in the right direction.
I can’t help but think of how I try to explain things to my children, maybe even my wife. More often than not, I blank stares and flippant dismissal. When someone else tells them, though, the same information I had initially shared magically becomes gospel. But wait, does that mean it’s reached the point in the Cubs clubhouse where players are tuning Maddon out.
“The interaction could not be better, everybody’s absolutely reading from the same sheet of music,” the manager said. “So you just gotta press on.”
And press on they shall, like a set of Lee nails. Maybe that’s what it’ll take to scratch the nagging itch between fans’ collective shoulder blades, the one that cropped up right around the time they learned the Cubs would not be spending big on the ‘pen. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
It’s easy enough to shift a narrative four games in the making, so the conversation could be vastly different when Maddon and Holmes talk next week. At the same time, you wonder how much fun Maddon’s going to be having if what we’ve seen so far continues to any degree and the trash bin starts to overflow with crumpled-up box scores.