Chicago Cubs' Maddon positively a big factor
Over three baseball seasons, has the method or the madness or the Maddon changed at all?
The short answer is no.
The more nuanced answer is that Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has remained the same guy who came to Chicago in November 2014, but from talking to those around him, he may have tweaked a thing or two.
The risk with any manager as gregarious and outwardly positive as Maddon is that the players will tune him out.
But as they say back East, from where Maddon hails: fuggedaboutit.
"Obviously it's pretty easy for that not to happen here, almost averaging 100 games won a year," said first baseman and team leader Anthony Rizzo, letting the numbers validate his boss' approach.
If anything, Maddon has altered his approach, based on his players and the stage of the team's development.
When he first got here, he talked of "never letting the pressure exceed the pleasure." Last year, on the way to the Cubs' first World Series title in 108 years, it was "embrace the target."
This year in spring training, Maddon talked of "the heartbeat" and of being "authentic" and "uncomfortable," so as not to become complacent.
Same guy. Just variations on a theme.
"I think he kind of created something each year that best represented the team that we had that year," said third baseman Kris Bryant, a rookie in 2015. "I just think he's good at communicating with us and getting the best out of us just by being ourselves, and he's always let us do that.
"There's never a part where you're going to tune out your manager. We're always going to listen to him. He's been a great leader for us, obviously. It's shown on the field. Whatever he's doing is working, and we've bought into it."
Starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks enjoyed his first full season of big-league ball under Maddon in 2015. Last year, he started Game 7 of the World Series and was third in balloting for the Cy Young Award after having the best earned run average in the big leagues.
A cerebral sort, Hendricks says the approach has evolved, but ever so slightly.
"I think so, a little bit," he said. "When he first came over here, we had maybe a little more talking from him. He would get his philosophies and his ideas out, all the one-liners: 'Don't let the pressure exceed the pleasure,' all those kinds of things. I'd say we heard all of that a little more.
"Now, this year especially, it's a little different. It's more taking the accountability on yourself, but you can tell his methods, as far as playing guys, he's always keeping guys on their toes. You're never going to get too many days off. You're going to get your ABs. You never know where you're going to be playing.
"For position players, if you're not used to it, it can be tough because some guys like knowing their roles, when they're playing. Once you get in the system and you get used to it and you get playing this way, I think it helps.
"It keeps you lively. It keeps you on your toes. You never know what to expect. You just go out there and play the game whenever your name is called. It's morphed a little bit, but the bones of it for the most part always stay the same. It's the environment he creates."
For Maddon, the hallmark always has been positivity, even if he didn't realize it. In a recent story on bleacherreport.com, former player Carl Crawford expounded on his feelings for Maddon from when Maddon managed him at Tampa Bay.
"We went from last to first, we had come up with slogans and all type of stuff," Crawford said. "Mentally getting in our head, 'This is what we're going to do.' A lot of stuff we thought was corny at first, but it actually turned out to be the driving force for us winning. It was cool.
"It was attitude. We just brought that culture of being positive and winning. I try to add that to my everyday life. Joe Maddon was the most positive person I've ever been around. I saw how that can rub off on people."
Maddon seemed touched by those remarks.
"Listen, truth be told, I did not even know I was a positive person.," he said. "I'm going back to the early '80s. I've told you guys that before, (former pitching coach) Marcel Lachemann pointed that out to me, and I didn't even realize I had portrayed that kind of whatever, that I was positive.
"So since Marcel brought it to my attention, I became more aware of it.
"I think when it comes to coaching or teaching, you want to put out a positive message among your group, especially talking about the grind of 162 games. I've never understood intimidation or negativity as a method of teaching. I've never understood that, never."
"I'm aware of what CC said, and I really do appreciate that. Carl and I had a great relationship like that. It grew over the course of time … so that's like one of the highest compliments I think I've ever gotten that Carl would have said that."
Maddon said that if anything, the last three seasons with the Cubs "have validated the teaching principles I've learned in this game and how to go about it from the people that I learned from."
But as far as trying to bury his players in verbiage, he says that's the quickest way to get them to tune out.
"That's why I don't talk to them that much," he said. "Seriously, they will turn you off if you keep saying the same stuff all the time. You can't meet with them all the time. The coaches can. And that's the thing. Before the first game of every series, they talk about the different components. That's the way it should be.
"They shouldn't hear from me all the time. I think that's the best way to keep your message fresh, by not wearing them down with your dialogue. So when we talk one on one, a lot of it's not about baseball at all. It's about something entirely different, about their family, where they're from."
If Maddon is modest about his methods, his top boss isn't shy about singing his praises.
"Joe's one of the best managers in the game," said Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts. "Great guy. The one thing that I think we can take away from Joe is when we were 5 (games) out July 1, July 3, whenever it was, he didn't say, 'Oh, my God. We're 5 out on July 3.' He said, 'Hey, we have a good team. We're going to keep playing. And it's a long season.'
"One of the things that will always be the hallmark of Joe Maddon, when he's in the Hall of Fame, people will talk about a guy who managed his teams for the whole season and not just for June."