John Lackey helped Joe Maddon pay for his daughter’s wedding by beating the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series.
“I was very grateful for many years for that,” said Maddon, the Cubs manager who worked as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach during that championship run with the Anaheim Angels.
The Cubs clearly believe Lackey — and super-utility guy Ben Zobrist and Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward — are money players who can deliver the franchise’s first title since 1908. At a cost of $272 million, the Cubs are paying for big-game experience and intangibles that won’t show up on a spreadsheet.
The Cubs wanted been-there, done-that veterans to set an example for a young group of players that advanced to the National League Championship Series and will face enormous pressure to win in 2016.
That will be the backdrop whenever Heyward gets his welcome-to-Chicago press conference after signing an eight-year, $184 million contract.
Heyward understands expectations after breaking in with the Atlanta Braves in 2010 as Baseball America’s No. 1 overall prospect and getting to the playoffs in three of his first four seasons.
As an added bonus, the Cubs are stealing Heyward and Lackey away from the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals team they eliminated from the playoffs.
“John is used to winning,” Maddon said. “I like the edge. I love the edge. Edgy’s good.
“He’s going to demand that the guys are ready to play, and I love that. It’s good for us. He’s almost like the perfect fit for us after the season that we just had.”
Lackey is an intimidating presence on the mound, a 6-foot-6 Texan who barks at umpires and opponents and gained even more stature after winning his second World Series ring in 2013 with the Boston Red Sox.
The worst-to-first turnaround helped change the perception of Lackey after being named in that 2011 Boston Globe fried-chicken-and-beer story and then missing the 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“There’s this misconception about Lackey in some circles, from fans and (seeing) him from across the field,” said Cubs president Theo Epstein, who signed Lackey in Boston. “But I can tell you he’s a beloved teammate and a leader in any clubhouse — and really takes charge of a starting staff with workouts and camaraderie and leadership. He and Jon Lester are great for one another with their personalities and their competitiveness and their intensity.
“We’re going to have that bulls-eye on our back a little bit this year. You can’t take games off. You can’t sort of sacrifice a game because it came after an off-day — or not show up on a given Tuesday night in Milwaukee in May. When you’re trying to win the division, you have to show up every night.
“And I think John — in a good way — demands that kind of focus and accountability when he pitches.”
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Zobrist is supposed to help teach The Cubs Way to a generation of young hitters by staying patient, making contact and driving the right pitches. Zobrist already spent nine seasons with Maddon, helping the Tampa Bay Rays crawl out of last place in the American League East, make it to the 2008 World Series and become a 90-win contender.
The Kansas City Royals got exactly what they needed when they acquired Zobrist from the Oakland A's before the July 31 deadline, watching him put up an .880 OPS in 16 playoff games and help deliver a championship.
“He just held the trophy,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “That’s the beauty of going out and getting a guy like that. We (now have) Lackey, a guy who’s won a couple rings. I do think it’s really important to have guys like that in your clubhouse — Lester, (David) Ross, Lackey, Zobrist — (who’ve) won titles.
“We’re at that place now. We made it to the NLCS (and got a) taste. Those guys are going to be hungry for winning next year. And (veterans) that have been able to win can really help our young guys sort of cross that line.”