Joe Maddon’s message to Cubs before playoff pressure turns up

Joe Maddon’s message to Cubs before playoff pressure turns up

Joe Maddon doesn’t believe in meetings or rah-rah speeches or dress codes. The Cubs manager doesn’t want his players showing up to the ballpark early or taking extra batting practice, refusing to pigeonhole them into one position or follow baseball’s unwritten rules.

If players became frustrated with the spring-training feel at the end of the regular season, then Maddon also sounded annoyed at the passive-aggressive comments to reporters. If Maddon sometimes seems to make it about himself, then there’s also no denying his hands-off, big-picture, media-friendly style has been a spectacular success for a World Series-or-bust franchise. 

The cold water sprayed all over Maddon’s white hair, Great American Ball Park’s visiting clubhouse and the manager’s office after Sunday’s 7-4 comeback victory over the Cincinnati Reds marked a Game 162 release and a celebration of his 200th win in a Cubs uniform.

 “Just look around the clubhouse,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “(With) the character of the people and the players that we have – if we hold each other accountable – that’s the kind of regular seasons that we can have as a unit if we stay healthy and we perform to our ability. 

“Yeah, 200 wins in two seasons is no easy feat. But after we win a ring, we’d like to make it three seasons with 100.”   

“Try Not To Suck-tober” is here, so when the players gather before Tuesday afternoon’s simulated game at Wrigley Field, Maddon will give a rare State of the Cubs address, something simple and to the point, an updated postseason version of what he told them in spring training and around the All-Star break.    

“Most of the guys have been there (before),” Maddon said. “I don’t want to give them any stark advice regarding how they should deal with any of this stuff. It’s not going to be a long meeting. It’s primarily going to be about: In playoff baseball, things are going to go wrong. And how do you deal with (it) when things go wrong?

“You have to be able to maintain your focus. When things are going well, it’s easy. We all can do that. I just want to remind them to be able to maintain our focus, maintain our methods, even if something goes awry.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon wants his team to play the same game all the time. In theory, it shouldn’t matter if it’s April and the Arizona Diamondbacks are filling Chase Field with noise pollution, or an August weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals in front of 40,000 in Wrigleyville, or the October spotlight that can be blinding. 

So before Friday’s Game 1 against the winner of the National League wild-card game – either the New York Mets or San Francisco Giants – batting practice will be optional.

“Nothing should change,” Maddon said. “We’ll have our workout Tuesday (and) get some pitchers involved. Wednesday and Thursday, we will do different things, just to brush up. And then Friday it will be normal pregame. 

“If you don’t want it on the field and want to hit in the cage, please do. If you want to go hit on the field, please do. I don’t want anything to change. I want minimal or no changes whatsoever.”

Theo Epstein’s front office may have handed Maddon the keys to a Ferrari, but as Lou Piniella once said: This is not some push-button operation.

Even with multiple candidates for MVP (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo) and the Cy Young Award (Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks) and a range of personalities that goes from a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell) to accomplished veterans in their mid-to-late 30s with World Series rings (Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, David Ross) to the role players (Javier Baez, Matt Szczur, Travis Wood) who have thrived with Maddon’s keep-everyone-involved philosophy.

“Joe has that great sixth sense when it comes to people,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “He knows when to be where he needs to be, and the tone he needs to set for us. We’ve done a good job of being ourselves and policing ourselves on things and fighting through the ups and downs of the season.”

So the Cubs will rely on the daily routines, natural talent, emotional intelligence and scouting reports that got them to this point – and not try to reinvent the wheel just because the fans and the TV networks will be so focused on 1908.

“I want them to go out and play with a free and clear mind,” Maddon said. “There’s no information right now that’s really that above and beyond pertinent. You might grab a nugget or two. You might. Might. I’m all about the nugget. But I don’t want them carrying anything differently than when we’ve been seeing them (while) winning (103) games this year. I don’t want them to be any different.

“This is what we want to do. But don’t go nuts and try to do anything differently right now.”

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

If baseball wants stars that transcend the game, they need guys like Javy Baez on the field MORE, not less.

That whole debate and baseball's marketing campaign isn't the issue the Cubs took exception with, but it's still a fair point on a nationally-televised Saturday night game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Baez was ejected from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when he threw his bat and helmet in frustration at home plate umpire Will Little's call that the Cubs second baseman did NOT check his swing and, in fact, went around. 

Baez was initially upset that Little made the call himself instead of deferring to first base umpire Ted Barrett for a better view. But as things escalated, Baez threw his bat and helmet and was promptly thrown out of the game by Little.

"I don't think I said anything to disrespect anything or anyone," Baez said after the Cubs' 6-3 loss. "It was a pretty close call. I only asked for him to check the umpire at first and he didn't say anything.

"I threw my helmet and he just threw me out from there. I mean, no reason. I guess for my helmet, but that doesn't have anything to do with him."

Baez and the Cubs would've rather Little check with the umpire who had a better view down the line, but that wasn't even the main point of contention. It was how quickly Little escalated to ejection.

"We're all human," Baez said. "One way or the other, it was gonna be the wrong [call] for one of the teams.

"My message? We're not animals. Sometimes we ask where was a pitch or if it was a strike and it's not always offending them. I think we can talk things out. But I don't think there was anything there to be ejected."

Upon seeing his second baseman and cleanup hitter ejected in the middle of a 1-0 game against a division rival, Joe Maddon immediately got fired up and in Little's face in a hurry.

Maddon was later ejected, as well, and admitted after the game he was never going to leave the field unless he was tossed for protecting his guy.

"He had no reason to kick him out," Maddon said. "He didn't say anything to him. I mean, I watched the video. If you throw stuff, that's a fine. That's fineable. Fine him. That's what I said — fine him — but you cannot kick him out right there.

"He did nothing to be kicked out of that game. He did throw his stuff, whatever, but he did not say anything derogatory towards the umpire.

"...You don't kick Javy out. If he gets in your face and is obnoxious or belligerent or whatever, but he did not. He turned his back to him. That needs to be addressed, on both ends."

Maddon and the Cubs really want Major League Baseball to get involved in this situation. 

There are many other layers to the issue, including veteran Ben Zobrist having to come into the game as Baez's replacement. Maddon was not keen on using the 37-year-old Zobrist for 1.5 games during Saturday's doubleheader and now feels like he has to rest the veteran Sunday to lessen the wear and tear of a difficult stretch for the team.

There's also the matter of the groundball basehit in the eighth inning that tied the game — a seeing-eye single that just got past Zobrist as he dove to his left. It tied the game at 3 and the Cardinals took the lead for good the following inning.

Does Baez make that same play if he were out there instead of Zobrist? It's certainly possible.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Maddon said. "Again, listen, if it's deserved, I'm good. It was not. They don't need me out there, we need Javy out there.

"And it surprised me. I stand by what I'm saying. It was inappropriate. MLB needs to say something to us that it was inappropriate because it was and it could've led to the loss of that game."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 37th homer of the 1998 season was a big one, an opposite field blast off the front row of fans in right field and into the basket at Wrigley Field.

The eighth-inning 3-run shot gave the Cubs some insurance in a game they ultimately won 9-5 and the Wrigley faithful responded by throwing a bunch of trash on the field.

Earlier in the contest, Sosa tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth inning. He finished with 4 RBI, giving him 93 on the season with more than 2 months left to play.

Fun fact: Vladimir Guerrero was the Expos' No. 3 hitter for this game an dhe also hit a homer (his 20th). Now, Guerrero's son is nearing his MLB debut as a top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

Fun fact No. 2: Mark Grudzielanek - who later played for the Cubs in 2003-04 - was Montreal's No. 5 hitter for the game at Wrigley. He was traded 10 days later from the Expos to the Los Angeles Dodgers for another fellow Cub - Ted Lilly.