Cubs

Joe Maddon feels the heat from White House comments and rethinks Trump vs. sports world

Joe Maddon feels the heat from White House comments and rethinks Trump vs. sports world

MILWAUKEE – Sticking to sports becomes impossible when Donald Trump calls protesting NFL players sons of b------ and feuds with NBA superstars Stephen Curry and LeBron James on Twitter while the University of North Carolina’s national championship men’s basketball team declines a White House invitation (scheduling conflict) and Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell takes a knee during the national anthem.

All that happened within 24-plus hours, a head-spinning news cycle that will not stop. It’s impossible to escape for a high-profile organization with political connections like the Cubs.

That’s how manager Joe Maddon wound up feeling the heat in Miller Park’s visiting dugout before Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, clarifying his comments to the Chicago Sun-Times that went viral: “It’s dangerous when folks in our country stop respecting the White House and the seat of the president.”

“What would you like me to say?” Maddon said. “I’ve read it all and I’m saying it’s understandable why these people – why the players – jumped back at him the way they did. It’s very understandable, absolutely. I had no idea.”

The Sun-Times asked Maddon for a reaction minutes after Saturday afternoon’s 10-inning, playoff-intensity loss to the Brewers as the media session was breaking up in the manager’s office inside the visiting clubhouse. That quote appeared deep within a longer story headlined: “Sports world revolts: LeBron James, Roger Goodell fire back at Trump.”    

“I had no idea what the president had said prior to being asked that question,” Maddon said, “so I wasn’t commenting on what the president had said. When (the reporter) asked me that question, I had no idea it was in that context whatsoever.”

The Cubs angle: The World Series champs starred in the final official White House event for President Barack Obama on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A group of players, staffers and executives returned for an Oval Office photo op with Trump on June 28, a side trip in the middle of a likely playoff preview against the Washington Nationals.        

Curry already made it clear that he would vote against the Golden State Warriors making a ceremonial visit to Trump’s White House. After Trump tweeted that he withdrew Curry’s championship invitation, Maddon told the Sun-Times: “With all due respect to everybody, I just believe that we need to get our acts together collectively, all of us.”

“I had no idea what he said,” Maddon said during Sunday’s pregame briefing. “I had no idea what was said. How would I? I had no idea what was said prior to (getting asked) that question.

“My response is typical: I always respect the office and the White House and the seat of the president, like I said before we had attended. That was what my response was about. It had nothing to do with the situation yesterday.”

Maddon backtracked and said he has no issues with LeBron using his @KingJames account to support Curry, call Trump “a bum” and tell his 38.5 million Twitter followers: “Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

“I’ve always spoken what’s on my mind,” Maddon said, “and I’ve always respected other people doing the same. It’s that simple. I just did not know the context of the question yesterday at all.

“And then I read about it last night when I got back to my room. And I could understand what all the uproar was about, easily. But I had no idea after the game that’s what had been said.”

Maddon wore a black turtleneck and an olive coat to the White House in January and enjoyed seeing Obama, who gave him a shout-out during the East Room ceremony: “Let’s face it, there are not a lot of coaches or managers who are as cool as this guy. Look how he looks right now.”

Maddon also eagerly posed with Trump, a meeting set up through Cubs ownership and the Ricketts family’s influence within Republican politics. Maddon also aligned himself that week with a childhood friend from Pennsylvania, Congressman Lou Barletta, an early Trump supporter who recently announced a Senate campaign.

“Again, I have respect for the government of the United States,” Maddon said. “I have respect for the office. I have respect for the seat of the presidency. When it comes down to individual battles, I have nothing to do with that.

“All I’m saying is that I understand why the players responded the way they did. After I read the comments, it was very clear why they would respond the way they did.

“It’s just unfortunate we’ve arrived at this point where it’s so easy to have this dialogue between the highest office in the country and everybody else in such a negative way. That’s the part that’s really disappointing.”          

Cardinals-Pirates series postponed, series vs. White Sox, Cubs loom on schedule

Cardinals-Pirates series postponed, series vs. White Sox, Cubs loom on schedule

The Cardinals' upcoming series against the Pirates has been postponed, MLB announced Sunday.

St. Louis hasn't played since July 29 as at least 16 members of the team have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week. Their series against the Brewers last weekend was postponed due to an outbreak involving seven players, including catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong, and six staff members.

The Cardinals were set to return to play this weekend against the Cubs, but that series was postponed as at least three more Cardinals (two players — Austin Dean and Ryan Helsley — and one staff member) tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days.

The Cardinals have played five games this season and are now looking at playing 55 in just 46 days. They have a doubleheader against the Tigers scheduled for Thursday before opening a three-game series at the White Sox this coming weekend. They then have a three-game set scheduled at the Cubs Aug. 17-19.

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Cubs players union rep Ian Happ said the possibility of dropping a team for the rest of the season, one that’s sidelined for an extended period due to an outbreak, hasn’t come up in any conversations he’s been a part of.

“I don't think the league's entertaining it; I don't think the Cardinals are entertaining it. I think that right now, you're looking at just how many games can they get in,” Happ said Sunday. “The people making the schedule, the people making the decisions on that, I think they're totally committed to trying to get 60 games in for that team and for every ballclub.

“I think if we get in a situation where something like this happens on Sept. 15 or Sept. 20, that's where we're looking at, 'OK how do we make this work?’ But right now, we still have plenty of time. 

“There's days on the calendar and they're gonna go ahead and see how many games they can get in.”

The Cardinals could play several doubleheaders when it's safe for them to return. MLB recently made a rule change to shortening those to seven-inning games.

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Cubs trusted MLB to 'do the right thing,' but that hasn't always worked in 2020

Cubs trusted MLB to 'do the right thing,' but that hasn't always worked in 2020

Before the Cubs headed to St. Louis for what would end up being a postponed three-game series, they discussed the risks they would be facing by sharing a ballpark with the Cardinals.

“We trusted the process and the league,” Cubs MLBA representative Ian Happ said Sunday. “Trusted that the testing they were doing, as shown, would pick up any positives. That they would do a good job of making sure that we were safe.”

As it turned out, COVID-19 testing did reveal that the Cardinals’ outbreak wasn’t over, and Major League Baseball postponed the weekend series. The Cubs’ trust in the league was validated in this case, but the process also emphasized how vital it is for MLB to get COVID-19 related decisions right.

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Just a week ago, commissioner Rob Manfred passed blame for the outbreaks onto the players, telling ESPN’s Karl Ravech, “The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now.”

But Manfred has made mistakes along the way, with broad consequences.

From manager David Ross to the club’s front office, the Cubs have urged patience with the league as it navigates uncharted road blocks.

“We know the league has learned a lot with what happened with Miami,” Happ said. “And now they're continuing to learn with what's happening with St Louis, and we trust that they're going to do the right thing.”

Putting on a season in the middle of a pandemic was always going to be a challenge. But by going forward with it, Major League Baseball made a promise to its employees that it could handle the surprises. When people’s health and even lives are on the line, naivete is no excuse.

So, yes, there’s solace in the fact that the league pushed back the St. Louis series before any Cub could come into contact with a Cardinals employee. But the fact that it took mismanaging the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak to get there is troubling.

Don’t forget that when the Marlins had four positive tests, they still played the Phillies. Soon after, the Marlins’ positive test count skyrocketed to 21 players and staff members. Both Miami and Philadelphia’s schedules were impacted.

The Nationals took a vote – a step Happ said the Cubs never reached because they were in consensus that they’d play if cleared to do so – and a majority were against traveling to Miami.

“I probably wasn’t as aware of how many dominoes would fall when a team had an outbreak,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said last week.  

It wasn’t Hoyer’s job to know that. It was the league’s job to anticipate it.  

Thankfully only three Phillies staff members tested positive for COVID-19 after the team played the Marlins, and MLB identified two of those tests as false positives.

Major League Baseball seemed to learn from its mistake. When the Cardinals had two positive tests a week and a half ago, the league rescheduled their next game.

In a release, MLB said that the schedule change was, “consistent with protocols to allow enough time for additional testing and contact tracing to be conducted.”

By the time the Cubs sat in a St. Louis hotel Friday, waiting for the league to decide if their weekend series would be cancelled, MLB had adjusted the way it implemented the protocols it referenced. It had even strengthened its health and safety guidelines, for road games especially.

“The testing protocols worked,” Happ said. “They did a great job of picking everything up and making sure that the process was taken care of, when it pertains to the direct contacts and making sure that they took the right amount of time.”

The Cubs, who still have not had a player test positive, didn’t have to go through what the Phillies did: watching their opponent’s COVID-19 cases spike, with their own future unclear.

Major League baseball’s next challenge is cramming makeup games into an already packed schedule.

“It's important for us to get the Cardinals back on the field in the next week,” Happ said. “That's a big part of this.”

Even if the Cardinals are able to resume play Thursday, they would have to play 55 games in 46 days to complete a full schedule. But Happ said he hasn’t been involved in any discussions about dropping a team from the season due to COVID-19.

“I don’t think the league’s entertaining it,” he said. “I don’t think the Cardinals are entertaining it.”

As the league reshuffles the schedule, Major League Baseball is again in unchartered territory. Let’s hope this time it can get it right on the first try.

 

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