Joe Maddon didn't sound defensive and it sure didn't seem like he was engaged in a war of words.
This was a manager calmly and rationally protecting his guys and letting the world know his team can police itself, thank you very much. Though at the time Maddon met with the media ahead of Thursday's series finale with the Pirates, the pointed comments of Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle had not yet been made public.
The issue in question was Javy Baez's bat-flip in the seventh inning of Wednesday night's 13-5 Cubs victory. Baez popped up to the shortstop and sent his bat sailing 20 feet in the air and almost halfway down the first-base line in frustration.
That prompted Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle to sound off Thursday morning on how MLB players should police their own clubhouses (h/t The Athletic):
“Where is the respect for the game?” Hurdle said. “He’s hit four homers in two days, does that mean you can take your bat and throw it 15-20 feet in the air when you pop up, like you should have hit your fifth home run? I would bet that men went over and talked to him, because I believe they’ve got a group there that speaks truth to power.”
But it didn't stop there. An unnamed Pirates player also commented on the matter before Hurdle went on to discuss Willson Contreras' at-bat early in Wednesday's game where he was called out on strikes with runners on base:
“That’s just the Cubs being the Cubs,” one player said. “It could be a little less sometimes, maybe.”
“The catcher, I mean … he’s a talented young man,” Hurdle said. “There is a day, he would have been thrown out as soon as he (gestured) that the ball was high. Those are things you try to help your young players with as they go through it that’s not respect for the game, that’s not the way we do things here.”
Even if Maddon had heard these comments before his press conference, he's fine with where his team is at.
After all, it was a player who came up to Baez and told him that was the right way to act, and Baez immediately owned up to his mistake after Wednesday's game, spending more time talking about how embarrassed he was at the bat-toss than on discussing his second stright two-homer game.
Maddon is a very hands-off manager, known for letting his players be themselves. There are almost no rules in Camp Maddon and players are encouraged to handle matters internally without getting any coaches involved.
"That's actually a proud moment," Maddon said of the incident where a Cubs player approached Baez in the dugout. "Those are the kind of things that if the players feel strongly that they're free in a sense — not only from my perspective, but Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer], etc. — that they could have these kinds of convos independent of us to really attempt to galvanize the culture even further, that is wonderful.
"Then, in practice, here comes a guy — 'Javy, we don't do that here.' Javy: 'You're right, I made a mistake.' What else could you possibly ask for?
"I don't think that's going away. I wanna believe through both good and bad, you're gonna see that method incorporated."
The season is only a few weeks old, but the Cubs are already marveling at the "chemistry" that is brewing within the clubhouse.
Some pundits deny any possible boost that clubhouse chemistry can provide, but players and coaches around the game swear by it and constantly refer to how a team meshes together.
Ben Zobrist is in his 13th MLB season and said this 2018 Cubs group is conversing at a higher level than any other team he's been on before. Brian Duensing — a 10-year veteran — said the same thing.
Maddon — a 64-year-old baseball lifer — is on the same wavelength and pointed to how the moment indicates the maturation of Baez.
"That's definitely the needle moving in the right direction," Maddon said. "There's no question. Listen, when you're accountable — which I believe our guys are as a group — they really do police each other well. They are unbelievably good at that.
"It's been going on the last couple years but more recently, this spring training was incredibly different in all the best ways, meaning that they were getting together just to talk about stuff. Not just baseball, but stuff.
"I've never been around that. Really impressed with where they're going mentally now as human beings, which is going to spill over into baseball and benefit us, too."
It typically takes time for chemistry to develop, but this Cubs core has been together since 2015 now with Maddon and a handful of coaches. So even when a bench coach, two hitting coaches, a pitching coach, a former Cy Young piece of the rotation, a veteran closer and a "glue guy" outfielder leave in the offseason, enough pieces remain to keep the culture intact.
"We have done a better job than I've ever seen any team do at bouncing ideas off of each other early in the season and in spring training and in the first week of a season," Zobrist said last weekend in Milwaukee.
"Everyone can rest assured that there are a lot of conversations happening behind closed doors. There's a lot of thought being put into what's happening on the field. You still have to go out and execute and you have to find a way to get things going."