Yesterday’s press conference introducing Joe Maddon as the new manager of the Chicago Cubs felt more like a party than a baseball-related news thing – and that extends to those of us who were merely following along with the video and tweeting swoons in real-time. Obviously the baseball-related news stuff will come, but, for now, it was just a fun experience.
When Maddon talked about playoff expectations in 2015, it didn’t ring hollow and silly like it has when the subject of the playoffs has come up over the past few years. When Maddon spun turns of phrase that paired casual witticisms with thesaurus-grade words, it felt natural. And when Theo Epstein talked about the obvious nature fit between Maddon, the front office, and where the Cubs are right now, it made sense.
Drink it in, my friends. Until the Cubs start winning some games – as soon as this year – right now might be the pinnacle of “fun” for Cubs fans. Sure, if they sign a Jon Lester, you’re going to smile, but the cynical among you will get into the ears of the rest with talk about contract valuations and ugly years at the end of the deal.
On Maddon, and on this moment, there is virtual universal agreement: this is good, man.
I woke up with a little extra spring in my step. Just like when fans celebrate prospects “who haven’t accomplished anything in the bigs,” I say just enjoy it. We deserve this. As Joe Maddon said yesterday, we should never forget that this is a game. It’s entertainment. It’s supposed to make people happy. I felt a marked kinship with Maddon when he said that, because sometimes I think we lose sight of that as fans. Sure, there are occasionally serious things to discuss – and writing about the Cubs is my “job” – but the entire purpose of sports, and the essence of why we come to them as a community in the first place, is so that we can enjoy them. If that means kicking back and enjoying a managerial hiring when there are still more than five months to go before actual games are played? Just do it.
I guarantee Maddon would tell you to enjoy it. And he’d probably buy you a beer and a shot, and then bring you a penguin.
Much more from yesterday’s press conference (you can see highlights here, and more here (I’m sure there’s a full replay out there somewhere, but I haven’t yet found it)), and other Maddon-related bits …
- Maddon’s contract is for five years, is worth $5 million per year, and includes bonuses tied to the postseason. There is no (infamous) opt-out built into the contract, per Buster Olney. Maddon is now the second-highest-paid manager in baseball, behind only Mike Scioscia (who will also make $5 million in 2015, before bumping up to $6 million in 2016). The average managerial salary in baseball is right around $1 million annually.
- Is Maddon “worth” it? We still don’t have a great way to quantify the value of managers in baseball, but Theo Epstein told Jon Greenberg that maybe we should stop trying so hard. “Sometimes, I think in today’s day and age, we try to quantify too many things instead of just appreciating the essence of them,” Epstein said. “What does it mean to have a dynamic manager? I think it means you have the potential to have an edge in everything related to the events on the field. Whether it’s preparation, decision-making in the game, knowing you can get the most out of your players, trying to ensure the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. All those things … it’s really nice to just have complete trust and faith that the person in charge of running that on-field operation is going to put you in the best possible position. It’s hard to quantify. How often does it show up? There are some games it never shows up. In other ways, it shows up every single game. It’s really a hard thing to quantify.” I love that quote, and I think there’s a ton of truth in there. But … um … I still like to try and quantify everything. The core of what Epstein is saying, though, is that, unlike with player performance that is necessarily incrementalized, a manager’s performance touches in disparate ways on every little thing, before, after, and during the game. In many ways, the best method for evaluating managerial performance is probably always going to be human evaluation by the people who actually interact with the manager on a daily basis.
- When Maddon was asked about the Rick Renteria aspect of things at the press conference, he most hung his hat on his own personal choice to opt out of his contract, which is fair. He went into a little bit more detail with Bruce Levine, expressing clear empathy with Renteria’s situation, and saying that he’ll want to reach out to Renteria when the dust settles. Contrary to nasty reports that indicated otherwise, Maddon did give thought to the fact that he would be taking another man’s job, but, after consulting with friends, he landed on the idea that it’s not up to him to tell an organization how they should proceed. If the Cubs wanted Maddon and wanted to jettison Renteria to do it, then that’s up to them. I have to agree. Why should we ask Maddon to disadvantage himself (and his family and his charities) so that Renteria can remain the manager of the Cubs if the Cubs, themselves, want to make the switch?
- Getting Maddon won’t make a free agent sign with the Cubs if the money isn’t there, but one thing it will do: no more talk about “he doesn’t want to sign up to be part of a rebuild.” Again, it was already fairly clear that part of the process was in the past, but consider the Maddon signing the authoritative stamp. The Cubs are serious about competing. Period.
- Oh, the Winnebago in which Epstein and Hoyer pitched Maddon about being the Cubs’ next manager? It’s named Cousin Eddie.
- I think this quote was awesome:
Got a chuckle from this Maddon quote from today: You may not believe, and that’s cool, because we don’t know each other that well yet.
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) November 4, 2014
- Sahadev Sharma also asked one of the best questions at the press conference yesterday, probing how Maddon will use analytics in-game and how his relationship will be with the Cubs’ analytics department. Maddon’s response was great: “I believe in intuitive thinking. But I also believe that your intuitive thinking is the product of all this other stuff that you’ve accumulated over a period of time, including the analytics that you just picked up two days ago. Or maybe it was the session I had at Gene Autry Park in the back field with Mark McLemore in 1985. You have to draw on all those different experiences in order to come to a conclusion at that blink moment …. So to me, it’s not necessarily about a number. But the numbers are very good, and they point you in the right direction. But then again, there are human beings involved, too. Sometimes when a player is not playing up to his abilities, that number means nothing. It means zero. When a player is around where he’s supposed to be, that number is corresponding to what he’s doing, I’m really into that number.” Would you want a manager to think about these things any other way?
- And, as Twitter does, there was some silliness to be had:
What the… pic.twitter.com/aXpIozkwk0
— CJ Nitkowski (@CJNitkowski) November 3, 2014
— Brian Harl (@cubs_corner) November 4, 2014