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Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon’s Long Journey to Top of the Baseball World

How a blue collar guy from Hazleton, Pennsylvania became a legend

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From “Can Joe Maddon Win Another World Series?” in the June issue of Men’s Journal

Joe Maddon is sitting behind his desk in the Cubs’ spring training facilities in Mesa, Arizona. He gets up and greets me with a man hug – “Fratello!” – as he always does. He’s a short, stocky, blue-collar guy. He has a gray goatee and black-rimmed glasses from the ’50s, a look that was replicated on thousands of faces in the stands of Wrigley Field last fall.

The last time I’d seen him, Maddon was managing the Tampa Bay Rays through a losing season. It was 2014, and he had already earned a reputation as an innovator, a patient handler of green youngsters and withering veterans who he somehow turned into overachieving teams. But never champions. He’d taken the Rays to the playoffs four times, and to the World Series in 2008, which they lost to the Phillies. Maddon must have known that with the Rays’ limited finances, even he could take them only so far. He’d have to settle for being known among baseball cognoscenti as “the smartest manager in the room.” Some said “too smart” — that he was always experimenting, never using the same lineup twice, a career minor leaguer out to prove he was smarter than all those managers with major league bona fides. It’s true that Maddon never had a single at bat in the bigs, but no one remembers that now. These days he’s known simply as the best manager in baseball, who in two years took the perennially futile Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

Now, in the spring of 2017, Maddon is under scrutiny to reproduce that champ­ionship with a young team that should only get better. For once, he’s stranded on top.

“Do I feel the pressure to repeat this season?” says Maddon. “I had more pressure on me in spring training after the 2015 season. We hadn’t won a game yet, and we were the favorite to win the World Series. The Cubs hadn’t even been in the series since 1945.” He shakes his head. “What’s that all about?”

Maddon believes it’s easier for his championship Cubs to win now because they know how to win. “They know what it’s all about now,” he says, “how to get it done. They don’t run away from the word expectation. They embrace expectations people have for us. I don’t have to motivate them this year. They’re more hungry for it.” I tell him about a story I wrote about a husband and wife who were swingers. When I asked the husband why he did it, he said, “Fantasies fulfilled become addictive.”

Maddon looks at me with a wary smile. He says, “Well, sorta, kinda, I guess. You win once, you want to win every year. Nothing else will satisfy you now. I like to put it this way: A mind once stretched has a difficult time going back to its original form.”

To understand who Maddon is, you need to understand what – or rather, who – came before him. His Italian father was a plumber who never took a day off from work until the day he died in 2002. His Polish mother worked as a waitress in the same diner, the Third Base Luncheonette in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, for more than 35 years, until she retired last year, at 84. Maddon himself worked for the Anaheim Angels organization for 31 years, as a minor league player who never rose above the lowest A league, then as a roving hitting instructor, scout, and manager.

Still, he pined for a call to the bigs. He once told me he was even willing to become some famous manager’s Sancho Panza: “Hey, Joe, could you pick up my laundry on the way to the stadium?” Maddon didn’t care. He’d eat the crumbs of humility just to get a shot because he knew that once he was there, he could prove he could manage a major league team.

At last, in 2000, he became a bench coach for the Angels; and then, in 2004, he was considered for the Red Sox managerial job, but it went to Terry Francona, an ex–major league player. “He was the right guy for that team,” Maddon says. “I was a minor league guy.”

Read the whole story at Men’s Journal 

In This Article: Baseball, MLB

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