When the Chicago Cubs hired Joe Maddon, he accepted the challenge of turning around the team head-on. Now as “favorites” in 2016, this is what he expected the day he was hired.For Chicago Cubs fans, the Joe Maddon press conference when he was hired still remains vivid in our memories. “Shot and a beer” is the first thing, but so much more has come out of that day. At the time, we knew this was a talented team, and now they had a manager who had shown the ability to win in a small market. Now he has the resources of the Cubs and their will to change history. And his confidence has shown from that day.
“For me, I’m going to be talking playoffs next year. … We’re going to set our marks high. So I’m going to talk playoffs, and I’m going to talk World Series. This year. I promise you. And I’m going to believe it.” h/t Dayn Perry, CBSSports.com
Fast forward to Spring Training 2016 and the Cubs are at the top of the power rankings, and at the tip of the tongue of most analysts tongues as World Series favorites. This is different from the 2007-08 seasons when it was a talented team–but it was aging fast. They became the trendy pick with their solid rotation and looked to be the team to beat entering the playoffs. Both year’s ended in a sweep out of the playoffs and the rebuild was soon under way.
For everything that Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have done–they needed a manager who could make this group of youngsters believe. To continue to develop their skills while cultivating a winning mindset in a place that hadn’t had much winning recently. Now the Cubs are primed to break a 108-year curse, and this time, it doesn’t feel like it’ll be the “last chance” they’ll have for a while.
Often times you’ll hear managers and players talk about how they don’t hear what the media says, but I think that’s mostly lip service. With social media a huge part of today’s society these guys see it every day. Maddon knows that and has adopted a simple philosophy–thanks in part to Tom Clancy novels and the character Jack Ryan.
Embrace the target.
“I’m really a big believer in running towards the fire instead of away from it,” Maddon said Friday. “I want our guys to get comfortable with the concept of everyone speaking so glowingly of us.” h/t Jesse Rogers, ESPN
It would be easy for a young team like the Cubs to stumble out of the gate, and then blame said target for the struggles. We’re the favorites, we get everybody’s best, etc. I’d say that in professional sports that you get their best every time, but with the talk of teams tanking I could be wrong there.
As we enter 2016, Maddon has several players coming off of successful debut seasons–Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber–and I don’t have the fear of a let down from any of them. And you see it often, especially in players that win Rookie of the Year. Geovany Soto, Jerome Walton, even Kerry Wood could be included. And that’s just former Cubs winners. You can go down the line and find plenty that have suffered a similar fate. And I love KW, so don’t attack me–but he wasn’t as dominate after that season for many reasons.
But Maddon seems to have a way about him. He came in with confidence, and now it is spilling over to the players. And it’s in no way arrogance. I felt like there was some of that with the recent Washington Nationals teams that were picked as favorites. We saw how that has ended up.
Gone are the days of players showing up late to camp (looking at you Sammy Sosa) and wondering who the hell some of these guys in camp are. Players showed up early, and not just pitchers and catchers. Maddon and Epstein had talked of “changing the culture” of Cubs baseball. I’d call that mission accomplished. Now to add some hardware to that culture.