Rozner: Through it all, Cubs' Maddon stays cool

Joe Maddon is far from perfect.

His postseason managing debacles have been well chronicled here, and his handling of the bullpen is sometimes head-scratching.

But there has been much excellence during his five years in Chicago, certainly more than any miscalculations, and occasionally you look around the game and you realize the Cubs have had it pretty good.

The biggest example of that so far this season is Philadelphia, where the Phillies hired a young manager in Gabe Kapler more than a year ago, a manager that was both inexpensive and well versed in analytics.

None of those things is bad, but he did not arrive with a hammer and last year the Phillies were one of the least disciplined teams in baseball.

Add in Bryce Harper, who shows up with 13 years and $330 million in tow, and he's carrying the ultimate hammer with the ultimate power.

What you have is something of a void, further evidence the Harper ejection last week when he was ripping the umpire from the dugout.

Jake Arrieta, having seen how a team should be run in Chicago, saw last year's nonsense and when Harper was tossed, his frustration got the better of him.

"(Harper) has got to understand we need him in right field," Arrieta told the media. "I don't care how bad the umpire is. He wasn't great for either side. I'm out there trying to make pitches and he misses some calls. So what?

"I need him in right field. I need him at the plate. He wasn't there. So that hurts."

But Arrieta wasn't done.

"We were flat from start to finish," Arrieta said of a loss that night. "Two-hour delay, it doesn't matter. We have to be ready to play. We weren't and it showed.

"The dugout was flat. The defense wasn't good. Didn't throw the ball well as a staff overall. We got beat. I don't think our guys were ready to play. We've got to come out tomorrow ready to play."

Wow. So much wrong with that.

A veteran player only goes public when it's not being handled internally and accountability is lacking in the clubhouse.

So he trashed the manager, the star player, the defense, the pitching staff and virtually the entire team.

Asked about the team's effort, Arrieta said, "It's troubling. I'm out there doing everything I can to win a game. I need my guys behind me and they weren't."

Whoa. This should be kept in house, right?

"I thought Jake was spot on in identifying that we need to be focused as a team on winning baseball games," Kapler said. "He was spot on in identifying that we didn't come out with our best energy."

So now Kapler has backed one player over another, or several others, while all of this should have been handled by the manager, but if there's a leadership void, sometimes a veteran player feels he has no choice but to take it public.

Don Zimmer used to say that the players are the stars. They are the show on the field. But off the field, the clubhouse belongs to the manager.

Not in the sense that veterans shouldn't police the players, but let there be no mistake about who's in charge, who sets the tone and who decides policy.

That's one thing that's clear with Joe Maddon. He communicates with his players, but he's not there to be friends with the players. Even in today's game, which has gotten younger, where the players have so much more power, Maddon is there to captain the ship and there's nothing vague about it.

Yes, he listens, as was the case with David Bote's late insertion in the lineup Sunday, at the request of Ben Zobrist, who thought a red-hot Bote should play instead of Zobrist.

Through it all, Maddon stays cool. He never allows a single win or loss to become too big, especially in April, witness his calm when things were ugly at 1-6 to start of the season.

Players take their cues from the manager and Kapler was talking about "big" games just a few days ago. It's several months early for that.

When you have big personalities on the field, managers can't allow those personalities to have a negative effect on the club, and there's danger of that in Philly, even with the Phillies in first place to start May.

There can't be confusion about who makes the decisions and Arrieta let it be known that there is a problem at the helm, whether or not that was his intention.

In his next start, Saturday night, Arrieta talked Kapler into letting him go out for another inning and it didn't go well, yet another indication of a power issue.

The point here isn't to pile on Kapler, who no doubt has his hands full, but it's a reminder that the field boss of the Cubs is the absolute authority in that room.

That's a good thing - and completely necessary.

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