Cubs

After T-shirt-gate, does Joe Maddon have any mind games planned for Cubs-Cardinals?

After T-shirt-gate, does Joe Maddon have any mind games planned for Cubs-Cardinals?

SAN FRANCISCO – Since those “Try Not To Suck” T-shirts were outlawed the last time the Cubs invaded Busch Stadium, does Joe Maddon have any plans to escalate the psychological warfare against the St. Louis Cardinals?

“It’s like one day at a time,” Maddon said. “You just never know where the motivation will come from.”

Maddon went on a calculated rant last September in the old Wrigley Field interview room/dungeon, comparing the Cardinals to “The Sopranos” and calling them a vigilante group that throws at hitters. As for that “Cardinal Way” manual, the Cubs manager said he doesn’t “give a crap about that book.”

This won’t exactly be détente when the rivalry renews on Monday night at Busch Stadium. But the understanding is the Cardinals have softened the ballpark policy that instructs ushers to have fans remove – or turn inside-out – clothing with explicit language. “Suck” had been on the list of banned words for apparel and signs, which led to a crackdown last month when Cubs fans showed up in the blue T-shirts.

“There’s a lot of people back there that would look really good in one of those,” Maddon said. “Again, at the end of the day, the concept is it’s for charity. I know that maybe if you’re an adversarial group you can’t necessarily wrap your arms around the thought.

“But the whole concept – besides the slogan and really trying to have our guys understand let’s just go play and don’t worry about making mistakes, etc. – (is) for charity. Now it’s staggering the amount of money we’ve been able to raise already.

“The people in St. Louis – it was just a ballpark thing. They had a hard time with one word – and there’s a lot of provincial methods of thinking – so whatever.”

Of course, all the attention gave one of Maddon’s many side projects a nice boost in sales, though he declined to disclose those numbers. 

“The more ballparks that want to prohibit our T-shirt, the better it is for business,” Maddon said. “It’s pretty amazing how we as humans function. The moment it became a little bit prohibitive, it became even more popular.”

For any Cardinals fans looking to boo Jason Heyward, it’s unclear whether or not the $184 million outfielder who chose Chicago over St. Louis will be available for the three-game series. Heyward bruised his right side/rib area on Friday while making an amazing catch and crashing into the right-center field wall at AT&T Park.

After facing San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner on Sunday night, the Cubs will get Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez during the final stop of this three-city road trip. 

No one knows where or when inspiration might strike Maddon, who clearly enjoys performing in front of the cameras and playing these mind games.

“The point is you have to be ready for the motivation,” Maddon said. “You can’t let the motivation slide. You can’t let it slip through the cracks and then all of a sudden react to it too late. You have to have the antenna out there for the motivation when it arrives. And don’t miss that opportunity.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”