Joe Maddon wasn’t fired from his position as Cubs manager, though that perception lingers because the Cubs chose not to offer him an extension on his original five-year deal. So while some have said the Cubs probably should have moved on a year earlier, which would have meant actually firing him, Maddon has maintained that the decision was mutual.
“I didn’t want to be back either,” he told members of the Tampa media back in October. “It was more of a bilateral than a unilateral decision.’’
Now firmly ensconced in Anaheim and perhaps feeling emboldened by distance both chronological and geographical, Maddon is more comfortable talking about how things crumbled in Chicago. Speaking to ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez in between sips of coffee at a Long Beach deli, the Angels manager opened up about what he meant when he said he didn’t want to come back for another run with the Cubs.
“Philosophically, Theo needed to do what he needed to do separately,” Maddon said. “At some point, I began to interfere with his train of thought a little bit. And it’s not that I’m hardheaded. I’m inclusive. But when I started there — ’15, ’16, ’17 — it was pretty much my methods. And then all of a sudden, after ’18 going into ’19, they wanted to change everything.”
Maddon admitted that he knew during the 2019 season that he wasn’t going to return even if the Cubs had been successful, largely because the front office wanted more control over what he did and how he did it. That was clear from the implementation of initiatives that included more mandatory batting practice, more clarity in lineups, and less media time for the manager, none of which were Maddon’s brain-children.
“There was just, you can say, philosophical differences,” Maddon expounded. “But (Theo) and I are still good friends. And I like the man a lot. It was just time for him to get someone else and time for me to work somewhere else. That’s all. A five-year shelf life in Chicago is almost equivalent to five to 10 somewhere else. At the end of the day, man, there’s nothing to lament there. That was the most successful five years that the Cubs have ever had.”
While not untrue, it’s pretty clear that these are the words of a very proud man who wants to narrate his autobiography rather than having his story told through a series of third-party anecdotes. Using the parlance from above, it sounds like Maddon is saying the Cubs couldn’t fire him because he quit. Not that they did fire him, of course, but you know what I mean.
That said, you almost wonder if Maddon wishes the Cubs had actually cut him loose after the 2018 season. As much as it might have wounded his pride, it was very obvious from Epstein’s comments following the Cubs’ disappointing finish that the front office would be exerting more control in some on-field decisions. Nothing is worse than trudging through a futile effort, which by all accounts is what was happening in Chicago for both Maddon and the front office last season.
While that is irrelevant to the Cubs moving forward, it may lend some credence to the notion that David Ross can indeed spur positive results right out of the gate. Maddon told Gonzalez about seeing things with “first-time eyes” and feeling “first-time passion” as he gets a fresh start with the Angels. Even seasoned veterans will pick up and draw from that mentality, just as they would a tired skipper who’s mailing it in. Those effects are that much more pronounced for younger players.
Hearing Maddon talk about how he had given up on managing the Cubs and seeing how the team fell victim to entropy as 2019 wore on, it doesn’t take a long thread to tie things together. Perhaps Ross can restring those laces and bring back the vibe that has been missing since at least late in 2017. Some may scoff at what they believe is my attempt to ascribe bigger meaning where there’s really none to be found, but I really buy the impact of chemistry and comfort on success.
Either way, this is almost certainly the last we’ll write about the non-firing of Maddon, who most definitely didn’t want to manage the Cubs any longer.