Chicago Cubs players voice support, gratitude for Maddon
ST. LOUIS -- Joe Maddon is one of those rare managers who never "lost" his clubhouse on the way to being fired.
That was evident in the way players spoke Sunday after news came that the Chicago Cubs and Maddon had parted ways.
One of those players, Ben Zobrist, played for Maddon in Tampa Bay and came to the Cubs as a free agent after winning the World Series with the Kansas City Royals in 2015.
"I remember back when he came over here at the end of '14 and thinking, 'He is perfect for that situation,' " Zobrist said. "I saw him when he kind of flipped things on its head down in Tampa Bay from '06 to '07 to '08 and saw that kind of turn around with that organization.
"Knowing in a market like Chicago, a fan base with young players, he's going to go in and take a lot of pressure off. He's going to be innovative. He's going to be interesting. I just felt like it was a perfect scenario to try to take this team back to the World Series and to win a World Series. That's why I was so eager between '15 and '16 to get over here and be a part of it because I felt it was going to happen whether I was there or not."
Maddon met with Cubs players after Friday night's series opener against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium to thank them for what they had done. It was then that players knew Maddon was gone.
For some, Maddon has been their only big-league manager.
"To have Joe Maddon as your first big-league manager, I think that's pretty good," said left fielder Kyle Schwarber, a rookie in Maddon's first season, 2015. "He's got the name for himself. He broke the 108-year curse that everyone has been waiting for. Like (teammate Anthony Rizzo) said, the guy's a Chicago sports legend for life."
Rizzo came to the Cubs in a trade with the San Diego Padres early in 2012 and played for managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria before Maddon came.
"He's a living legend in this game," Rizzo said. "He's a bridge to the old and to the new. Talking to him, and guys he's with and coached in his career and coming to this big market, breaking the curse and being the leader of the pack, it's not like he's being run out of town. He already is a legend. It's tough for me and the guys. Losing 100 games (before Maddon) to winning 100-plus, Joe's changed my life and changed my career. I love him like a dad. I'll be forever grateful for him."
Rizzo went so far as to say that if Maddon had not come to the Cubs in the fall of 2014, ace pitcher Jon Lester would not have followed a month later.
Lester didn't disagree.
"I probably like to think so," Lester said. "That helped draw the interest a little bit more here as far as the whole talk about the rebuild and all that stuff. For them to go out and hire Joe right away, that makes things interesting. He was the first one to really believe in this. I think when you get a manager to believe in this, it makes it a little bit easier to believe in it."