MESA, Ariz. – Joe Maddon snapped his fingers, a reminder about the rhythm of the game and how you need to have a feel for the moment that can’t be found on an iPad in the dugout.
“That’s why I have that card in my back pocket,” Maddon said.
It’s always about the players. Maddon could have signed into Netflix and watched episodes of “The Office” during the games Jake Arrieta pitched in the second half of last season and still looked like a Manager of the Year.
But the Cubs are also an organization, packing up the Sloan Park clubhouse on Wednesday and leaving Arizona as a World Series favorite built around old-school talent evaluations, under-the-radar scouting finds, a sophisticated game-planning network, the Ivy computer system and the personality of their progressive manager.
Yet by the end of spring training – even one as colorful as Camp Maddon – the Cubs manager didn’t have much practical interest in Major League Baseball’s new marketing agreement with Apple that will equip coaching staffs with iPad Pro tablets. Commissioner Rob Manfred also told The Wall Street Journal that the deal coincides with laptops, tablets and smartphones no longer being prohibited in dugouts.
“This might sound nuts to you, but it might slow down the process,” Maddon said. “Those things are wonderful to access information. But when you need it very quickly, I think you almost have to wait for artificial intelligence to take over where it actually moves at the speed of your thought.
“I really should know in advance of the moment based on the information I gather prior to the game – and then all the information I want on that card in my back pocket during the game – because it’s so fast.
“If I have to start typing on stuff or pushing buttons…that’s where the piece of paper has it all over the computer in that moment.”
Maddon is 62 years old, but he carries himself like a much younger man. He already keeps an iPad Pro in his office, using it to control his speakers, send e-mails and check his Twitter account.
Maddon remembers doing all the grunt work himself as an Angels coach in the mid-90s, getting to the ballpark around lunchtime for a night game and studying the stat sheets to prepare for meetings with players.
Maddon then spent nine years managing a small-market Rays team influenced by Wall Street thinking, at a time when the entire industry began to embrace Big Data.
“I’m not denigrating Apple or anything else right now,” Maddon said. “I’m just telling you that when you’re trying to get something done quickly in a dugout, I want to believe that all stuff should be in place prior to, and I’ve been doing this for a while.
“I’m not putting it down. I’m just curious as to the relevancy and how it actually does (work) in the course of the game.
“I got to see it to know that it’s going to actually benefit me in the dugout, whereas I’m pretty comfortable with my system right now.
“That’s the old-school component of me just bleeding right now.”
Maddon also actively seeks out information from “The Geek Department,” posing questions and testing theories, trying to fuse his observations after all those years as a scout, minor-league manager and hitting instructor.
“I’m into trends,” Maddon said. “Beyond the big bucket of information everybody talks about – the larger sample size – which everybody is so into. I am, too. But I also like the small bucket of trends. Tell me what’s trending right now. I need to know that also, because people change.
“The number is a number – I understand that – but during the course of the season there are trends that you have to pay attention to. A guy makes an adjustment – all of a sudden the guy’s just good. When a bad guy gets good and a good guy gets bad, you got to know that, like now.”
That combination of people skills and intellectual curiosity helps explain why the Cubs went from being a last-place team to a 97-win playoff contender last year. You can’t look everything up on an iPad.
“That’s the kind of stuff you try to compile before the game begins,” Maddon said. “If you’re waiting for it happen, you’re way behind.”