Joe Maddon met Da Coach for dinner on Sunday night at Ditka’s Gold Coast restaurant. But the Cubs manager didn’t waste his time asking Iron Mike to compare his team to the ‘85 Bears, the way Chicago fans and media personalities will this summer, trying to fill time before what now looks like an inevitable playoff appearance.
But with roots in blue-collar Pennsylvania, all those must-see press conferences and his own restaurant/endorsement portfolio, Maddon is already this city’s hardball version of Ditka, someone with a look distinctive enough to inspire Halloween costumes.
“It’s always fun,” Maddon said. “We talked a little bit about the Super Bowl. We talked about defense – the 46 defense – and how it worked and things like that.
“He watches our games. He knew everything that was going on. He asked how (Kyle) Schwarber was doing, things like that. (Coach Ditka’s) very much aware, very much alive. I thought he looked great.”
It’s too early to seriously talk about the World Series. So much can happen between now and October. But the 24-6 Cubs are, according to STATS, off to: the best start in franchise history since 1907; the best start for a National League team since the 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers; and the first 24-for-30 start since the 1984 Detroit Tigers.
Only the steady rain on Monday night slowed down a team with a plus-102 run differential, setting up Wednesday’s day-night doubleheader against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. Baseball Prospectus (99.0 percent) began the day a little more pessimistic than FanGraphs (99.3 percent) in its playoff odds report.
Whether or not this group spawns “Saturday Night Live” sketches and comes anywhere close to the crossover appeal of Walter Payton, Jim McMahon and William “Refrigerator” Perry, the Cubs are in position to own this city for years to come.
“I wouldn’t want to be on any other team right now,” said Ben Zobrist, the NL’s co-player of the week (four homers, 15 RBI, .455 on-base percentage) along with New York Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon. “This is where everybody wants to be.
“There’s probably a lot of players across the league that wish they were here, too, with what’s going on. Chicago is the place to be right now in baseball, on both sides. We’re having a blast on the North Side.”
That’s a reflection of Maddon, who absolutely loves the big-market spotlight after spending almost all of his 31 years in the California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels organization doing grunt work, and then managing the Tampa Bay Rays for nine seasons, always trying to do more with less.
“That’s my second meeting with Coach Ditka,” Maddon said. “It’s very comfortable and easy. He’s from Western Pennsylvania. We had the same kind of background growing up. We like the same kind of foods. He likes red wine.
“He’s just entertaining to speak with. He’s watching everything that we’re doing. He loves what we’re doing. Just good conversation between football and baseball and what he had done in the past and what’s going on here now.
“He’s just as he appears. He’s just a tough old football guy, man. And I know a lot of guys like him, so the conversation’s very easy.”