Cubs now the Maddon Crowd

Cubs now the Maddon Crowd

The dust has settled and the rumours of the impending arrival of yet another messiah have been proved correct. Joseph John “Joe” Maddon has been named the new manager of the Chicago Cubs, the 54th in the storied team’s history. Maddon is the most recent appointee to attempt what most experts refer to as “Mission Impossible” – lead the Cubbies to their first World Series appearance in almost seventy years, and, hopefully, their first title since the final weeks of the Roosevelt administration. Teddy’s (1900-1908), not Franklin Delano’s (1940-45).

Born 8 February 1954, Joe Maddon is hot property following his eight season stretch in charge of the Tampa Bay Rays. Prior to the arrival of the Hazelton Pennsylvania native the St Petersburg based Rays had struggled for relevance. Maddon turned things around taking his team to playoff action four times in six seasons, including a berth in the 2008 World Series. This impressive run of success is made all the more remarkable considering the miniscule payroll Tampa had at its disposal compared with the big spending of fellow American League East co-habitants the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Maddon’s appointment has had an immediate impact amongst Bruin brethren and punters alike, the team’s World Series (win) odds slashed from 50-1 in late October into 20-1 by the time the 60 year concluded his meet and greet press conference at the Cubby Bear on the morning of Melbourne Cup Day (Australian time). Whilst the diehards who have remained so loyal, so long for so little daydream of the victory parade down Michigan Avenue, the Commissioners Trophy held high in triumph, I’ll take a stroll back in time and pay tribute to a “six pack of skippers” – a half dozen stout hearted men who came, saw, and sadly left empty handed in pursuit of that elusive glittering prize.

I’ve narrowed the reminiscing to the last half century. The figures inside the parentheses represent their years in charge followed by regular season wins/loses/winning percentage.

Leo Durocher (1966-1972: 535/526/.504) Managed four teams in the majors and is best remembered for (1) leading the Giants, then still firmly ensconced in New York, to a shock sweep of the heavily favoured Cleveland Indians in the 1954 series and (2) being attributed with the famous “Nice guys finish last” quote. When Cubs owner P K Wrigley hired Durocher “The Lip” was adamant the club he inherited “wasn’t an eighth placed team”- the ’65 version compiling a 72-90 record barely beating the execrable expansion New York Mets & Houston Astro outfits to the finish line. Durocher was right – Chicago proceeded to lose 103 games the following season and sank to the bottom of the ten team National League. But the Cubbies came good with Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger & Ron Santo forming a superb infield, leftfielder Billy Williams establishing himself a bona fide star and Fergie Jenkins, Bill Hands and Kenny Holtzman providing excellent starting pitching. If not for the Amazin’ Mets and a September swoon in ’69, the title drought might have ended prior to a ceasefire in Vietnam. With the exception of the deplorable ’66 campaign, Durocher wouldn’t experience a losing season in the “Windy City”. Sporting a mediocre 46-44 ninety games into the strike shortened ’72 season he was relieved of his duties. Leo Ernest Durocher passed away on October 7 1991 at the age of 86. He was inducted, posthumously, into baseball’s Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1994.

Lee Elia (1982-1983: 127/158/.446) It’s sad that Lee Constantine Elia, a baseball lifer (player, coach, manager) will forever be remembered for the legendary spray he directed at impatient Cub fans (his side had stumbled to a 5-14 record at the time) in a post-game interview on April 29 1983. To be totally honest, the three and a bit minute tirade in which Elia completely loses his shit is still quite humorous thirty years removed. If you haven’t experienced Elia’s gift to what was initially just a handful of local reporters but has since been sampled by a worldwide audience of millions grab a pair of headphones, type “Lee Elia rant” into your search engine and enjoy. Or endure. I still get a laugh out of it, then again you’re probably not as puerile as I am.

Don Zimmer (1988-1991: 265/258/.507) Like Durocher, “Popeye” had four cracks at managing in the majors, Chicago the final leg of his quaddie. Zimmer’s .575 win percentage in Boston is overshadowed by the Sox catastrophic collapse over the final part of the ’78 season that allowed its despised rival the Yankees to take the division, pennant and eventually the World Series. A mediocre 77-85 record in ‘88 gave absolutely no indication of what would happen during the second act of the four part “Boys of Zimmer” tragi-comedy. Greg Maddux (19-12) continued his ascension in becoming the finest pitcher of his era, Rick Sutcliffe rebounded from a losing season a year earlier to win 16 games, future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was superlative, Andre Dawson solid, debutant outfielders Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith finished 1-2 respectively in the National League Rookie of the Year award and closer Mitch Williams kept things, err, interesting. The National League East title was captured and Wrigley Field hosted its first ever night playoff game (lights were installed in 1988). It ended in tears as the Giants took the National League Championship Series 3-1. In May 1991 Zimmer, who’d requested a contract extension, was bid adieu by the team’s owners the Tribune Company.

Jim Lefebvre (1992-1993: 162/162/.500) Won 162 games as manager of the Cubs during his two year tenure in the dugout, losing the exact same number of contests. One of only five managers over the period I’m reviewing to have broken even (won as many regular season games as they’d lost). I’ve added Lefebvre to this eclectic list due to his extracurricular activities as a thespian. A year after taking out the 1965 National League “Rookie of the Year” award as a utility infielder playing 2nd and 3rd base for Dodgers, Frenchy supplemented his income over the off season with a cameo appearance as one of the Riddlers henchman (“Across”) in the second season of “Batman”. The episodes, Batman’s Anniversary & Riddling Controversy, screened February 8 & 9 1967. Hopefully he’ll receive royalties from sales of the soon to be released box set of this TV classic of the mid 60’s.

Johnnie B “Dusty” Baker (2003-2006: 322/326/.497) A one-time teammate of Hank Aaron, Baker arrived in the Windy City fresh from piloting the San Francisco Giants to a narrow loss to Anaheim in the seven game 2002 World Series. Riding the arms of young guns Kerry Wood & Mark Prior and the prolific home run hitting of pre-PED disgraced Sammy Sosa, the Dustman worked his magic, the Cubs increased their win tally by 21 (67-85 to 88-64) and  grabbed the National League Central Division from the hated Cardinals. Baker’s men then outlasted the Atlanta Braves 3-2 in the National League Division Series, the team’s first playoff series win in 95 years. Advancing to the National League Championship Series it led the Florida Marlins 3 games to 2. With five outs standing between the Cubs and their long awaited (58 years at the time) return to the “Fall Classic” it all turned sour for the Northsiders. Steve Bartman hindered left fielder Moises Alou’s attempt to catch a fly ball off the bat of the Marlins’ Luis Castillo, shortstop Alex Gonzalez bobbled an opportunity to turn an inning ending double play (it would’ve preserved a 3-1 lead) and Prior imploded. The Fish pounded 8 runs at the top of the eighth sending the series to a decider the following evening which they won 9-6. The Phoenix didn’t rise from the ashes and it was all downhill for the toothpick sucking Baker, twelve months later his team crashed over the final fortnight of the regular season to miss the playoffs. Baker bid toodle-ooh at the end of 2006.

Lou Pinella (2007-2010: 316/293/.519) 1969 Rookie of the Year“, All-Star, World Series winner as both player (Yankees 1977 & 78) and manager (Cincinnati Reds 1990) Sweet Lou had done it all well before he replaced Dusty Baker. He emulated his immediate predecessor’s achievement of taking his charges to the playoffs in his first season in the dugout where they were dumped from contention by an upstart Arizona, the Diamondbacks sweeping Chicago from the post season. The Cubs repeated as NL Central Champions in 2008, making Pinella the first man since Frank Chance exactly a century earlier (1906-08) to take the team to post season action in consecutive years. It counted for nought when the Dodgers disposed of Pinella’s men to take the ‘08 Division Series 3-0. With just under 40 games remaining in the 2010 regular season Pinella resigned. His .519 win percentage ties Jim Frey (196/182 .519) as the best by a Cubs manager since the Second World War. Pinella was ejected 63 times during his five team, twenty plus season career as a major league manager.

Anyway, enough of the past, back to the present

At the press conference to welcome their new on-field general, Cubs President Theo Epstein introduced Maddon as “One of the very best mangers in baseball”. After being handed the obligatory team cap and playing shirt (adorned with his favourite number 70 on the back) the microphone was his. Maddon spoke of how Epstein and Jed Hoyer met him and wife Jaye as they were in the midst of a cross country trip from Tampa to California. It wasn’t his first audition with Epstein & Hoyer, he’d applied for the vacant Boston job at the end of 2003. The successful candidate, Terry Francona, led the Sox to the Promised Land within twelve months of taking the reins at Fenway, winning a second title three years later.

Maddon spoke of the importance of “the synergy between front office and the playing field in today’s game”. He was suitably impressed with the way in which the current administration had rejuvenated what had been a moribund farm system just a few years past. “A lot of good stuff has been going on here regarding scouting and player development. The players I managed against (Tampa took two of three games when they battled the Cubs in Chicago last season) were youthful, talented and really into the game”

He reflected on that early August series and shared with the gathered horde his first experience of managing in Wrigley Field – or as he referred to his new place of employment “The cathedral across the street”.

“You have to understand something about your ballpark, and, I’m sure you do, it’s magical! The sky that day was blue, perfectly blue, the way you have your light rafters – I had this flashback to Gladiator. It was like a computer enhanced situation. Perfect.” Asked of his first impressions of his new home town Maddon gushed “This city is wonderful, I wanna live somewhere down town, and I don’t want to live in a gated community or country club”.

 

Warm applause was followed by a few questions. When asked how long it would take the current roster to reach their potential, Maddon responded that he didn’t put a ceiling on expectations before adding “I’m gonna be talking playoffs – next year”. He concluded the question and answer segment ordering a round “a shot and a beer, the Hazelton way”

So why the outrageous optimism in relation to professional sports longest drought being busted?

The removal of 2014 on-field general Rick Renteria to make way for Maddon signalled the Cubs intention to become a contender sooner rather than later. The Cubs have been linked with just about every free agent available this (North American) winter, specifically top end pitching talent such as Max Scherzer, James Shields and Jon Lester. They might consider engineering a trade for Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels having failed to claim the southpaw off waivers late last season. Veteran catcher Russell Martin’s name has popped up in recent days as a potential target.

As mentioned earlier the quality players Maddon has at his disposal should excite even the most pessimistic Cub fan. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro rebounded from disappointing 2013 seasons. Whilst not torching opposition pitching upon their arrival at the parent club, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez got their first taste of major league action, no member of this talented trio has yet to reach the ripe old age of 23. Highly touted prospects Kris Bryant, (Cubs Minor League player of the Year) and Addison Russell (Ranked Number 1 prospect in the Oakland Athletics farm system and acquired in the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s in July) should make their major league debuts some time next season.

When speculation regarding Joe Maddon being installed as Cubs manager surfaced I vowed I wouldn’t get caught up in the hype surrounding his arrival. Well, that lasted a mere 30 seconds. And why would you attempt to keep your emotions “bottled up”? My passion for baseballs “loveable losers” (yes, I know, there is nothing loveable about losing) was ignited in 1989 when my good friend Chris Kouteris spotted an advertisement in USA Today. A West German video company by the name of Pontel was offering fans of Major League Baseball the chance to receive one game per week featuring their favourite team across the entirety of the season. I needed convincing, the Cubs had stank since their surprise run at a pennant in 1984, and pre-season predictions were dire. But Mr Kouteris can be a persistent chappie, we signed up and I’ve followed their fortunes from afar ever since.

2015 sees the playing roster rejuvenated by the promotion of exciting prospects and, hopefully, a number of free agent acquisitions, the arrival of a charismatic leader, and a renovated ballpark. Joe Maddon’s initial contract to manage the Chicago Cubs will pay him $25 million and run through to the end of the 2019 campaign.

Five years? He’ll become an immortal within three. I guarantee victory. Please join me for a Palmerston Pinot Noir to toast the victory.

 

At the time of writing MLB is investigating whether the Chicago Cubs contacted Joe Maddon prior to him activating an opt out clause in his previous contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. Maddon asked to be released in late October and within a week had replaced Rick Renteria as the Cubs manager. If found guilty of tampering the Cubs could be asked to compensate the Rays with a draft pick, player or money.

Comments

  1. Brilliant Mic, I googled the Lee Elia tirade, absolute gold, if only footy pressers were as entertaining.
    Also your unique ability to work Roosevelt, The Riddler and Kouteris into a baseball piece is outstanding.
    The Cubbies and the Scraggers have been waiting a combined period of 166 years, all i can say is you are a very patient man Mic!

  2. Tremendous effort as per usual Mic,
    I remember my Dad and his brother signing up to Pontel around the same time. I think they’d signed up for the “Game Of The Week” option (if there was one) as it seemed to be different teams each week. Kirby Puckett & Kent Hrbek from the Minnesota Twins featured prominently more often than not.
    Surely the Luke Beveridge announcement would’ve been the perfect occasion to introduce alcoholic beverages (ho! ho!) to press conferences here…

  3. dennis gedling says

    That’s great stuff Mic.

    That ‘Catching Hell’ ESPN Doco didn’t really put Cubs fans in a positive light in the way Bartman was treated as the scapegoat. I went off feeling sorry for them following this in a lot of ways.

    Was the hatred really like that and justified or did the makers of the documentary sizzle it up a bit for dramatic effect.

  4. Good evening everyone, thanks for the feedback.

    CSE: I’d never thought about the combined years of impotence. It’s probably not a good time to tell you I have a soft spot for the Minnesota Vikings (53 years, just one old NFL title, zero Superbowls from four attempts). That’s 219 years for precious little.

    Leigh: Kent Hrbek & Kirby Puckett were rotund blokes. Sounds like your dad and uncle were purchasing by the pound. Puckett was a great player and I loved his work with the Union Gap.

    Dennis: I really admire Alex Gibney’s work a documentary film maker. I enjoyed “Catching Hell” but felt it wasn’t as good as two other films I’ve been fortunate enough to see at MIFF over the years – Enron, the smartest guys in the room and Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer.

    Some people were completely out of control on that night of infamy and the unfortunate Steve Bartman was a convenient scapegoat. Gonzalez’s error still sticks in my guts , he finished the regular season with a fielding percentage of .984 to lead all shortstops in the NL and he REALLY should’ve turned that double play. But, it’s a team sport so it would be unfair to single out one individual for the epic fail of October 2003. Having said that I think he should send Mr Bartman a card every Christmas.

    MCR

  5. Chris Kouteris says

    Mic, brings back great memories of those years with the Pontel videos watching the Cubs contend in 1989 and Andre Dawson, Greg Maddux and Rhyne Sandberg inspiring them to victory as well as Wild Thing Mitch Williams at the time…Great article and great to hear they are on the way back…

  6. Chris – It’s you I have to thank for enabling me to “see the light” all those years ago, fun days indeed.

    Hope to see you next week.

    MCR

  7. Michael, Kristos, i thought i’d make it a trifecta of Maribyrnong High School old boys postings, on this maddening topic.

    Glen!

  8. I love baseball’s history, culture and lore. Thanks Mick.
    MLB is like cricket with the boring bits cut out. That way there is one format, not 3, as cricket continues to wander in the desert of relevance.

  9. David Zampatti says

    I’ve loved Wrigley Field since I went there with my friend Sue’s husband Steve on Memorial Day, 1983. It was Lesley and my honeymoon, we’d called in to Chicago to visit Steve and Sue for a weekend, and ended up staying three weeks, cancelling our schedule ahead of us as went, and going to a ball game whenever the Cubs were playing at home.
    You could still pick up seats behind home plate for midweek games at the ground ticket office (of course the Cubs only played day games then, and Chicagoans still used to work), and Steve and I would have cruel fun pretending to be a Cubs exec (Steve) and Australian stadium consultant (me) talking about where the light towers were going to go. And trying to explain cricket to Americans with that polite bewilderment our National Pastime always evokes in them (Five days? A draw?? Bare-handed fielders???).
    I see that was the first year of the Elia era, although I didn’t know that at the time. I do remember the young Ryne Sandburg, though, and especially Bill Buckner (whose own tragedy lay waiiting for him three years later in Boston). And Harry Carey, of course, leaning out of the announcer’s box to lead Take Me Out to the Ball Game in the stretch. (I saw Russell Crowe singing it twenty years later, on the day Warren Zevon died. It was a hot late summer Sunday, and we drove in to Wrigley from Naperville in Steve’s convertible, roof down, the radio playing Zevon’s dying version of Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Moisés Alou, prowled the left field. Only a month later…)
    I get back whenever I can, and every time there’s something wild and new (Mark Prior in that short spell when he was A God, the bleachers on the rooftops across Sheffield and Waveland).
    Of course Harry is long gone now, Sue and Steve split up and he moved out to Nebraska somewhere. Or Minnesota. He took the convertible with him. I guess I’m a Padres fan now, through sheer propinquity.
    The last time I was in Chicago the Cubs were on the road, and Sue drove me past The Friendly Confines, empty and dark, on our way to a Cuban restaurant on Halsted her daughter had recommended. The Cubs owner is erecting signs to block the view from the rooftops.

    So good luck, Joe. When the Cubs suck, so does life.

  10. Glen: – Lovely to hear from you. Speaking of former MHS students did you see the piece on Leunig in yesterday’s Fairfax? I think Michael was a student when the school was based at the showgrounds. Good luck on the punt tomorrow, and always, for that matter.

    Peter: – I’ve got over a dozen books on the Cubs century of failure so should, sorry, WHEN that magical day occurs you will need a “Brandis-esque” sized library to shelve the volume of written word that will be penned on how “the impossible was achieved”. I eagerly await that day.

    David: – That was just marvellous. I can’t believe you’ve adopted the Padres. Have you forgotten ’84 – Steve Garvey’s HR off Lee Smith, Bull Durham’s error and Rick Sutcliffe dropping his first decision in months as it all ended in tears? Thanks for sharing those terrific memories.

    MCR

  11. David Zampatti says

    Like I said, Mic, it’s really just propinquity. I was in SD when they opened Petco Park and later ran a boozer just a block away. There’s a $5 standing room ticket down the 3rd base line that must be the best value in world sport (saw a giant inflatable syringe launched from there at Barry Bonds in ’07), so I could pop down for an hour or so to catch a bit of the game even when I was working.
    Was at the amazing game in ’06 when Pujols (magnificent) and Encarnacion battled it out with Bard and Bellhorn in a slugfest with 32 hits, 6 homers – even though they were facing Peavy and Mulder, no slouches. 10-8 to the Padres. We’d been given seats right behind the home dugout, and you feared for your life whenever a lefty was up.
    So, sure, the Padres are as hopeless as the Cubs, and the crowd is all sunny and cruisy (except when we’re playing the Dodgers, of course), but that’s California. And, as they say in those parts, if you can’t be with the one you love…

  12. Many features at Wrigley Field.
    Alas, no more Harry Carey singing at the 7th innings stretch…
    but all the bars around the precinct make for great sessions pre- and post-match.

    Watched a few games from the roof of my mate’s apartment opposite the ball park.

  13. “Joe Maddon’s initial contract to manage the Chicago Cubs will pay him $25 million and run through to the end of the 2019 campaign. Five years? He’ll become an immortal within three. I guarantee victory”.

    Sorry folks, got it wrong. He only needed two years. I’ll try and do better next time.

    MCR

  14. Hey Mick, great to read your prescient 2014 article again. So many of the players you listed are now a part of sporting history. And the comments that followed – Leigh on Luke Beveridge; DZ on Warren Zevon and the bliss of Wrigley Field and my “MLB is like cricket with the boring bits cut out”. All spot on.
    When Maddon tried Baez bunting home an unsuccessful squeeze play and then kept Chapman going into the 9th I kept thinking the Messiah had lost his halo, but he kept the faith and the implacable poker face. When he kept looking at the team sheet/form guide (whatever) in the Indians 10th I wondered if he was actually planning anything, or just distracting himself and praying – like the rest of us.
    Great stuff.

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