Joe Maddon likes to quote Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State and retired four-star general, even on a conference call where he essentially admits that he lied to the Chicago media, and by extension Cubs coaches and their families.
Maddon also basically doubled down on Thursday and said he would do the same thing all over again, the focus shifting away from the decorated new hitting coach (Chili Davis) and the third base coach with a great resume (Brian Butterfield). But the Cubs manager might want to remember Powell’s Pottery Barn Rule: You break it, you own it.
That’s one way to read the coaching changes announced eight days after Maddon said “of course” he wanted his entire staff back next season. There are only so many places left to shift blame when the pitching (Chris Bosio) and hitting (John Mallee) coaches get fired after being part of the teams that won last year’s World Series and made three straight trips to the National League Championship Series.
Maddon gave the vote of confidence during a session with beat writers before an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field, where he sat in his office and completely dismissed the idea of a reunion with Jim Hickey,his longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who will now be Bosio's replacement.
“Well, I was asked a really awkward question at a tough time when we’re in the playoffs,” Maddon said. “I thought that was the only way I could respond to it, because I did not want to negatively impact the room. That’s it. There’s no other way to describe it.
“If you put yourself in my position having to answer that question during the playoffs — if I had answered it any differently — I thought that would have really caused a lot of concern in the coaches’ room when we have a lot of stuff going on.
“So it’s just a tough situation to be in, question-wise. Would I have answered it differently? I don’t necessarily think so, based on the explanation I just gave you, because it’s really difficult to have your coaches read something less than that in the situation where you’re in the middle of the playoffs.”
That’s Cub. Maddon has been a big-league manager for 12 straight years, a job that requires him to do hundreds of media briefings each season, an area where he excels selling an organization’s vision.
Maddon easily could have given the non-answers: “We’re trying to win tonight. That’s offseason stuff. We’re still focused on winning a World Series. That’s also up to the boys in the front office, and our guys might have some good opportunities somewhere else.”
Two days later, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein did his year-end press conference in a Wrigley Field stadium club, where the wrong answer would have made it look like he kneecapped Maddon once the changes happened. So Epstein said: “Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back.”
“This is about all of us,” Maddon said. “We get together, we make decisions as a group. It’s not unilateral. Theo just doesn’t dictate to me, and of course I’m never going to do that to him or (general manager) Jed (Hoyer) or Mr. (Tom) Ricketts.
“When you sit down, you have discussions, and there’s going to be differences of opinion. But at the end, I’ve talked about this before and I’ve quoted Colin Powell: ‘You give your best advice and then you give your strongest loyalty.’
“You discuss. You argue. You disagree. But at the end of the day, you come to a conclusion. And once you’ve done that, you move it forward, and you move it forward as a group. Never, never individually. It’s about all of us, man. It’s about making us better.
“Don’t ever be deceived that it’s ever one guy. It’s never the manager’s seat that does all of this stuff. That’s back to the days of the 60s and the 70s, primarily, and sometimes into the 80s. We work together. We work as a group.”
This could actually refocus and reenergize Maddon, who didn’t have any answers when the uber-talented-on-paper Cubs hit the All-Star break with a 43-45 record and a 5.5-game deficit in the division and Epstein kept talking about how the team didn’t play with enough edge.
A widely respected hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox the last three seasons, Davis carved out a 19-year playing career that featured three World Series rings and three All-Star selections and overlapped with Maddon while he coached for the California Angels.
Beginning with the 2013 World Series year, Butterfield spent the last five seasons with the Red Sox, overseeing infield instruction and base running and developing a strong reputation for high energy and attention to detail.
“They are definitely force multipliers,” Maddon said, quoting Powell again. “These are definitely impact coaches.”
Given this much change, do you feel like the onus is now on you to set a new direction and win another World Series?
“Of course not,” Maddon said. “It’s about the team. We’re all a spoke in the wheel, whatever you want to call it. I think we’ve done pretty well over the last three years, actually. First World Series in 108 years, I’ll take it. Three times to the Championship Series in the last three years, I’ll take it. And if we start looking past that as not being successful, then we have to reevaluate how we look at the world in general.
“So, no, this is not just about me. It’s never just about me. It’s about all of us. This is about the Cubs moving forward, and we think that these new coaches can absolutely help take us to another level and get us back to the World Series again. But by no means am I denigrating the coaches that are leaving.”