Cubs

Joe Maddon trying to create baseball magic in Cubs clubhouse

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Joe Maddon trying to create baseball magic in Cubs clubhouse

NEW YORK – Joe Maddon sat in the office with a big smile on his face, bobbing his head and blasting The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic?”

“Whatever it takes,” Maddon said after Tuesday night’s 1-0 win over the New York Mets.

With the Cubs on a five-game losing streak, Maddon had reached into his bag of tricks and arranged for a magician to perform inside Citi Field’s visiting clubhouse.

A Cubs PR official asked the media to clear the room at 4:30 p.m. for what would be an unconventional team meeting. But these types of gimmicks – dressing up in pajamas or like nerds for themed road trips – helped make Maddon a star while managing the Tampa Bay Rays.

“It was about time,” Maddon said. “We’re always trying to create some magic around here, so why not bring a magician in?”

[MORE: How the Cubs could cash in at the trade deadline]

Kyle Hendricks – the second-year pitcher who came into the game with a 5.88 ERA through five June starts – felt like the stunt loosened everyone up and responded with six scoreless innings.

“That’s what Joe does,” Hendricks said. “He kind of knows what triggers to pull at the right time."

Maddon came up with the idea after watching the St. Louis Cardinals sweep his young team over the weekend. The light bulb went off sometime early Monday morning, either on the bus ride from Busch Stadium to the airport, or the flight to New York. Maddon asked traveling secretary Vijay Tekchandani to find a magician during the team’s off-day in Manhattan.

“It’s hard to grab a zoo animal on the road,” Maddon said. “You can do it at the last minute at home. You always have the home connection when it comes to animals. It’s much easier to acquire a magician on the road than it is a 20-foot python. I’ve always felt that way.”

Simon Winthrop – whose website bills him as a Las Vegas magician, mentalist and mind reader – entertained the players and coaches for about 30 minutes before batting practice.

“That was pretty sweet,” rookie second baseman Addison Russell said. “In the middle of his magic tricks, he would take like someone’s watch without us knowing, and then it would be in someone else’s back pocket.”

“I try to stay as far away from that (as possible),” said Matt Szczur, who drove in the only run with a double in the sixth inning. “That stuff makes me nervous. I don’t want him to take my wallet.”

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Maddon described a scene where Winthrop asked All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo to write down the name of a movie star – living or dead – on a piece of paper in a book.

“He held it up, and then showed everybody it was John Travolta,” Maddon said. “So Simon types into Google: ‘What is Anthony Rizzo thinking of right now?’ And hit enter. Pictures of Travolta popped up all around (on his computer screen).”

The Cubs didn’t hesitate to give Maddon a five-year, $25 million contract because they wanted a leader to create a relaxed, positive environment where their young talent could thrive. Deflecting attention and distracting the media would be an added bonus.

“I’m more concerned about just mental fatigue more than anything,” Maddon said. “When you have a couple bad days in a row, or a bad week, it can wear on some guys who have never really gone through with it before. So my biggest concern is just keeping it light for them, because they work.

“They care. All the stuff that needs to be in order is in order. The stuff that’s difficult is playing in the major leagues every day. You just went through (Zack) Greinke, (Clayton) Kershaw, the Dodgers and now St. Louis. It’s not easy.

“(It’s) keeping their minds intact. That’s all it is. They’re going to be fine. As we gain more experience by the end of the year, I really anticipate seeing a different group the next time we walk into Busch Stadium.”

The Cubs are now 40-35 overall and 5-0 against the Mets (40-38), a team they figure to be battling in the wild-card race. This will go down as The Simon Game.

As Maddon wrapped up his postgame media session, he asked reporters “You guys ready for it?” before turning up The Lovin’ Spoonful again and making a reference to one of his all-time favorite TV shows: “The Office.”

“I feel like Michael Scott right now,” Maddon said.

Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox

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USA TODAY

Report: People around baseball believe Joe Girardi is waiting for managerial job with Cubs or White Sox

Joe Girardi won't be the manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 2019, perhaps because he has hopes of landing a gig in Chicago.

According to Fancred's Jon Heyman, Girardi was in the running for the Reds' managerial job (which went to former Cubs third-base coach David Bell this weekend) but pulled himself out, this after interviewing for but not getting the same position with the Texas Rangers. Heyman cites "industry speculation" that Girardi might want to remain a free agent so he can land the job of skipper in Chicago.

Heyman is of course not specific, listing a city with two major league teams, leaving this open for interpretation as either the Cubs or the White Sox.

Obviously Girardi has a history on the North Side. He had two stints there as a player, from 1989 to 1992 and again from 2000 to 2002. Joe Maddon has one year remaining on his contract, and Cubs president Theo Epstein said during his end-of-season press conference that the team has not had discussions with Maddon about an extension. After managing the New York Yankees to their most recent World Series championship in 2009, Girardi might again want a crack at managing a big-market contender.

But if Girardi is simply itching to get back to his home state — he was born in Peoria and graduated from Northwestern — perhaps he has the White Sox on his wish list, too. Rick Renteria has one year remaining on his current contract, as well, and should the rebuilding White Sox see all their young talent turn into the contender they've planned, the manager of such a team would be an attractive position to hold.

But just because folks believe Girardi wants to manage in Chicago doesn't mean there'd be mutual interest. Despite Epstein's comments that there have been no extension talks with Maddon, the president of baseball operations also backed his manager in that same press conference, refusing to blame Maddon for the team's "broken" offense down the stretch last month. And Rick Hahn and the rest of White Sox brass heap frequent praise on the job Renteria has done in his two years, describing him as an important part of player development and of establishing a culture hoped to spread throughout the organization.

Plus, it's worth mentioning that Girardi's decade-long tenure in the Bronx came to an end amid suggestion that he was unable to connect with his young players. It's unknown how much of a realistic concern that would be for any team thinking about hiring him. But the recently fired Chili Davis believed that very issue was part of the reason his time as the Cubs' hitting coach came to an end. And there are few teams out there younger than the White Sox.

Again, it's just speculation for now. But if for some reason one or both Chicago teams don't hand out new contracts to their current managers, perhaps Girardi would be interested in an opening on either side of town.

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the offseason, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute, I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.