SAN FRANCISCO — “I have nothing to apologize for,” Joe Maddon said in the middle of a response that lasted more than two minutes and 400-plus words, firing back at an editorial in his hometown newspaper that criticized the Cubs manager for how he’s positioned his charitable foundation.
Nearly 3,000 miles away from the faded Pennsylvania coal-mining region where he grew up and still has family, Maddon sat in the visiting dugout at AT&T Park on Tuesday and eagerly responded to a question about the Times Leader commentary that ran with this headline: “Joe Maddon should apologize to Hazleton residents.”
The Wilkes-Barre newspaper picked apart Maddon’s recent interview with NBC News where he promoted his Hazleton Integration Project and sent a “help or die” message to the sections of the city resistant to new waves of immigration.
“Obviously, it’s based on the fact that I mentioned the word ‘die,’” Maddon said during his media session before a game against the San Francisco Giants. “I’m really surprised that more people didn’t understand that — as we continue to move forward — I’m really encouraging the people back home to become part of this positive movement.
“And understanding that if you choose not to, it’s still going to change anyway, even when you’re gone. That’s all I meant by that.”
The Times Leader published its editorial on Monday, or two weeks after the magazine-style piece on Maddon aired on “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly.” NBC correspondent Harry Smith shadowed Maddon, who regularly uses his platform to draw attention to a community organization that creates educational and athletic opportunities.
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“There’s no ill intent,” Maddon said. “If you watched the show in its entirety, it’s a really positive piece, and I think the message is 99.9 percent positive. So for those that misinterpreted the comments, I can’t even say I apologize for that, because there’s no ill intent involved.
“I would hope that the folks back home — I really believe it’s a small percentage and of course the small percentage always gets the platform — (understand) what I’m talking about there. Please jump on board, become part of this positive situation that’s going to change our hometown for the better and accept these people that have come to our hometown to actually save it.
“Because without the Hispanic influx that we’ve had in our hometown, our hometown would pretty much have wasted away in the very near future, because there’s no business coming in. There’s no cultural involvement. There’s no youth. There’s no family involvement.”
The op-ed led with two anonymous comments from Hazelton residents that questioned Maddon’s sincerity: “He’s full of himself.” And: “I hate him. I hope he doesn’t win one game.” An overview that actually came across as generally positive of Maddon’s organization also painted him as overreaching and out of touch: “Joe, you are not a social engineer. You are a baseball manager.”
“I’m not upset at all,” Maddon said. “First of all, you can never anticipate that everybody’s going to be on board with what you’re trying to do, i.e., Major League Baseball. So in a situation like this where it really matters even more, you have to expect some pushback or blowback.
“But at the end of the day, eventually, the next 10 or 15, 20 years from now, Hazleton is going to be a beacon of how to do this. Meaning how you’re going to assimilate new groups into your area, how they’re going to provide energy, economic benefits and just people, having the population base that wants to be there.
“All that stuff is pertinent. For the folks that don’t understand that, I really can’t help that. But at the end of the day — I’ve said it 100 times — I love being from there. I’m all about it. We’re trying to make it better like it had been, and it’s slowly getting back to that point.”
Maddon famously gave his hometown a shout-out during his first press conference at The Cubby Bear in November 2014, promising to buy the first round of drinks at the bar opposite the Wrigley Field marquee. The new Cubs manager dropped the microphone for a moment, then grabbed it to make a final announcement before exiting stage left: “That’s a shot and a beer! That’s the Hazleton way!”
“It’s not that I’m wishing death on anybody,” Maddon said. “We all have an expiration date. All I’m saying is that when you’re gone from here, it’s going to change regardless. So why not get on board and make a change more quickly in a positive way?”