Cubs

Is Joe Maddon getting in Cardinals’ heads with ‘Try Not To Suck?’

Is Joe Maddon getting in Cardinals’ heads with ‘Try Not To Suck?’

ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Cardinals appear to be developing a bit of a Cubbie complex, even if Joe Maddon won’t admit he’s in their heads now.

“I did not say that,” Maddon said, trying to suppress a grin near the end of a media session that lasted 20-plus minutes before Wednesday’s rivalry game.

The star manager of the team with the best record in baseball started rolling when a reporter asked if he had heard about the crackdown on “Try Not To Suck” T-shirts at Busch Stadium.

“I’d love to know the definition of why they’re offensive in any way, shape or form,” Maddon said. “Whoever thinks they’re offensive has a dirty mind.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals will likely relax a ballpark policy that instructs ushers to have fans remove – or turn inside-out – clothing with explicit language. “Sucks” has been on the list of banned words for apparel and signs.       

The blue T-shirts feature Maddon’s iconic glasses and the advice he gave last September to Javier Baez, who went on to hit the big three-run homer in Game 4 at Wrigley Field, helping eliminate the Cardinals from the National League division series. 

How Maddon heard about fans getting hassled at Busch Stadium sounds like an episode from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” one of his favorite TV shows starring his buddy Jeff Garlin. 

“We went to Hooters for some wings and some beer,” Maddon said. “A guy came in with the shirt on – a Cubs fan – and he told me he was denied access at the ballpark.

“I was debating all kinds of methods to combat all that. But then I decided to let it fly and I think the fans are responding. That’s the best way to indicate how foolish it is.”

This series has already seen a Busch Stadium sound system mix-up where classical music played while the Cubs took batting practice. And then it shut down and turned back on when assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske brought out a portable speaker.

Jason Heyward got booed throughout for switching sides in the rivalry – and then had to respond to unconfirmed tweets that fans yelled racial slurs at the $184 million outfielder.

Maddon – who grew up as a Cardinals fan in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining territory and got to meet Hall of Famer Bob Gibson before Tuesday night’s game – thought about wearing the T-shirt on purpose.

“I think it’s much better if the fans make a big deal out of it,” Maddon said. “Let somebody else blow your horn and the sound travels twice as far.”

A reporter sarcastically suggested the Cubs should respond by banning jorts at Wrigley Field.

“I would love to know where the original concept or thought came from, because it’s not a unilateral decision made by an usher,” Maddon said. “It’s got to be an edict among the powers that be here. Was it the mayor of St. Louis? Is it the president?

“It’s interesting. It speaks to the politics of the area a little bit also. I think you have to be careful with that.

“I’d love a full explanation as to why they find it offensive. And I said if you do find it offensive, you really have to dig down deeply and understand why you find that dirty in some way. I’d love to know why it’s dirty. Because that’s what it comes down to – somebody finds it dirty. And I don’t find it that way at all.”

Maddon is still thinking bigger and better, because sales of the T-shirts benefit charities affiliated with the Cubs and the Hazleton Integration Project in his hometown. This free publicity won’t suck.

“If you look it up in the dictionary,” Maddon said, “I think it’s very appropriate to utilize that word in a lot of different moments in our daily adventures. We’re also trying to tone it down a bit for kids. I’m trying to come up with the kids’ version of ‘Try Not To Suck.’

“Actually, for those that are really interested, the ladies’ versions came out today. We have both tank top and a V-neck and they’re fabulous.

“We’re also looking into the potential of doing it in every team’s colors, and that would be kind of interesting to absolutely inundate the market with ‘Try Not To Suck’ T-shirts.”

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.