Cubs players explain what Joe Maddon has meant to them

Cubs players explain what Joe Maddon has meant to them

ST. LOUIS - The players inside the Cubs clubhouse were officially informed Sunday morning that the 2019 series finale would be the last game with Joe Maddon at the helm.

But they knew unofficially Friday night at the Cubs end-of-season party when Maddon let them know what was likely coming down the line. And even before that, the players knew the score - they read articles and watch TV and talk to people in the industry.

Heck, the only people who didn't know the speculation surrounding Maddon's job status are the people who have no interest in following sports or professional baseball. In some ways, this move has been coming for almost a year, ever since Theo Epstein said last November that the team would not discuss an extension with Maddon.

So the Cubs players had a lot of time to think about how Maddon impacted their lives. Even a former player who could be in line to take over as manager - David Ross - paid homage to Maddon.

Here's what a few others said:

Ben Zobrist

The 38-year-old veteran has seen his career linked to Maddon throughout his entire career, beginning from Day 1 in the big leagues for Zobrist in Tampa Bay. 

The Zobrist-Maddon pairing is kind of like baseball's version of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady duo.

So it was no surprise that the first player to react to the official news of Maddon's departure was Zobrist.

"There’s a sadness there that we feel, that I feel personally as a player," Zobrist said. "I think players always feel that way when a manager has to move on after a season. We feel like as players we could’ve done a little bit better."

When asked where Maddon ranked in his life, Zobrist smiled and said:

"Oh man, that’s a tough question. Well, when I look at my career, he’s at the top. I don’t know that there’s been anybody that has been more of an advocate for me personally as a player. I’ve seen him from the first year that he managed to now, and I’ve seen his consistency, the things that he’s always done and always been good at. 

"And I’ve also seen how he’s grown and changed, so at the same time, I’m doing the same thing as a player, so it’s kind of an interesting parallel player/manager. Joe’s a special person. Those kind of people, let alone managers, don’t come along very often."

Jon Lester

Lester said last week - days before the Maddon news - the Cubs manager should be revered as a legend in Chicago.

Hard to argue with that. Maddon will go down as the the best manager in franchise history, leading the Cubs to the playoffs in four straight seasons for the first time ever.

Anthony Rizzo said Lester has told him before he would not have signed with the Cubs before the 2015 season if not for Maddon. 

The veteran pitcher didn't go quite that far, but he did credit Maddon with changing the entire course of the organization.

"In '15, he was the first one to believe in this," Lester said. "He did what we all came here to do, what Theo built this team to do - win a World Series. After 108 years, we won a World Series, so Joe should be revered as a legend here. He's probably one of the greatest - if not the greatest - manager in Cubs history. I don't know the numbers on that, but I would put him up there without even knowing that. 

"I think he should definitely be looked at that way. I think his time here should be looked at in a positive light all the way around. That's how I'm gonna look at it. I have cherished the last five years playing for him. And this next chapter will be fun and exciting for all of us, including him."

The Cubs are going to miss Maddon the manager, but they're going to miss Maddon the person even more, Lester said. 

"Joe the person is genuine, he cares about everybody in that clubhouse, Lester said. "He makes it a point to let those guys know that. And as a manager, he's done one hell of a job for five years."

Kris Bryant

Maddon has always been a champion for Bryant, but he was particularly supportive of the 2016 NL MVP this year. 

Bryant has admitted that he's his own harshest critic and Maddon has tried all season to make sure he's not beating himself up too much.

At the team gathering Friday, Maddon went to each player individually and gave some of those parting words of advice and support. 

What did he tell Bryant?

"Just that he's always available to me and that even if he might be on the other side, somewhere else, he's always a phone call away," Bryant said. "And that means a lot. That was his message to me his five years here - he's always here, his doors always open and I can talk to him about anything and I did. 

"Some of my favorite moments with him are just me and him sitting in his office, breaking down how I'm feeling or what I'm doing at that certain moment in time. And for him to tell me to keep doing that, even though he's not gonna be here, it means a lot to me."

Anthony Rizzo

While Maddon was the face of the Cubs by virtue of talking publicly to the media twice a day, Rizzo is the face of the Cubs roster. 

When Rizzo first came up to Chicago, Dale Sveum was his manager. Then, he had a year with Ricky Renteria before Maddon's first season. So that makes Rizzo essentially the only person who can attest to life as a Cub without Maddon as the skipper. 

“From losing 100 games to winning 100-plus, Joe has changed my life, changed my career. I love him like a dad," Rizzo said. "I talk to Joe all the time. I’m very grateful for him.

“When I talk to Joe, we’re talking baseball, we’re talking the game, we’re talking situations, we’re talking life. That’s the best part so you can go in and say Joe ‘I had a couple shots and a beer last night.’ He’s like ‘Good, just try to hit the middle one.’ That’s 2015. He said that to me just joking around. 

"I was like this guy understands the human element of this game more than anyone I’ve ever been around. That’s what made it so special for me.”

Talk about keeping things loose...

Ian Happ

Happ spent the first four months of the season working on making adjustments in Triple-A, but he's always had a fan in Maddon. 

When Happ came up and gave the Cubs a spark in early 2017, Maddon understood how impactful he could be as a player.

"He's the best ever," Happ said. "Joe's ability to bring in young guys and immediately acclimate them to the culture, acclimate them to the big-league level and let them be themselves, I think is such an unbelievable skill that he has. And it's so natural to him. He doesn't have to try. I'm eternally grateful and so fortunate to have played for him for three years. what an unbelievable person."

How Cubs’ Jose Quintana learned to speak English and more unique facts

How Cubs’ Jose Quintana learned to speak English and more unique facts

José Quintana is one of the more divisive players on the Cubs. The club acquired him from the White Sox in July 2017, sending top Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease to the South Side.

In the long run, that trade will be viewed as one-sided. But no matter how you feel about it, Jimenez and Cease were the price for a durable starting pitcher with a solid track record and team-friendly contract.

We all remember the trade. Let’s get into some lesser known facts about the Cubs left-hander.

1. Quintana is the only pitcher to make 10 or more starts for both the Cubs and White Sox in the same season. In fact, he made nearly a clean split between the Sox (18) and Cubs (14) in 2017.

Bonus: the Quintana trade was the first Cubs-Sox deal since November 2006. The Cubs acquired Neal Cotts in exchange for David Aardsma and Carlos Vasquez.

2. Quintana is one of 24 Colombian born players in MLB history. Others include shortstops Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria, and starter Julio Teheran.

RELATED: Brush up on your Cubs trivia with these Anthony Rizzo facts

3. On the last note, Quintana pitched for Colombia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic — the country's first appearance in the tournament.  He made one start, allowing an earned run in 5 2/3 innings in an extra innings loss to the U.S.

4. As a prospect with the Yankees, Quintana learned to speak English by watching Jimmy Fallon’s late-night talk show on NBC.

Come on, that’s pretty cool.

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Forget about full Cubs schedule, plan for a short, bittersweet season

Forget about full Cubs schedule, plan for a short, bittersweet season

The bad news for the Cubs after Thursday’s scheduled Opening Day is that they’re 0-1. The worse news is that so is everybody in baseball.

And with Friday’s agreement between MLB and the players union addressing the coronavirus shutdown, the only known winner, at least in this city, might be Kris Bryant, who will not lose yet another year before he can become a free agent.

Remember when that was the biggest concern surrounding the Cubs’ season — whether the Cubs were going to trade their star third baseman and whether they could co-exist with him if they didn’t — after beating him in a grievance hearing over service-time manipulation?

That was just last month. And a lifetime ago.

The highlights of the MLB-MLBPA agreement include freezing transactions until a date for resuming play is determined, the assurance that major-leaguer players will accrue full service time for the 2020 season even if it is not played, the likelihood of additional roster spots once play resumes, and $170 million in salary advances to players across multiple contract tiers, most to those with guaranteed deals.

Multiple teams, including the Cubs, optioned players who were on 40-man rosters but not expected to make the club to the minors ahead of the deal Thursday night, which, among other things, prevented service-time accrual. 

Pitcher Dillon Maples was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, leaving 30 members of the Cubs’ 40-man roster still on the active major-league roster. They include three bullpen candidates who are out of options: Alec Mills, Duane Underwood and Casey Sadler.

But the most important element of the plan for fans involves the report that MLB and the players agree to wait until they get the all-clear from health and government officials that mass gatherings are safe again before starting the season. Unless that looks like it won’t happen in time for something feasible, in which case they might discuss playing without fans, possibly using spring training sites.

Some in the game are still suggesting methods for trying to play close to a full 162-game schedule, maybe 140. The hope of a June start and lots of doubleheaders seems popular — maybe with seven-inning games making up the doubleheaders.

But for all the numbers of games, innings and dollars being thrown around and negotiated, only one number continues to matter. On Friday it was close to 1,500.

That’s the number of U.S. deaths attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a number that includes this week a 17-year-old boy in Los Angeles County who reportedly had no underlying risk factors, a 12-year-old girl before that and many others who, by CDC definitions, were not in high-risk groups.

And it’s a number that’s rising fast.

Certainly, baseball officials and players appreciate the gravity of the moment, and that’s why anything and everything seem to be in play as eventual options.

And it’s why for now, regular-season ballparks/weight rooms and spring training facilities finally were shutting down across baseball Friday to all but a select few players who might have specific (such as medical) needs for them.

Cubs Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo are among the individual players across baseball raising awareness and money for those affected, from stadium workers to first responders and small businesses. Cubs manager David Ross published a short video through the team’s Twitter account thanking healthcare workers and encouraging continued safe practices during the crisis.

Jon Lester, Jason Kipnis and others have tweeted about the bigger picture in this time of missing the game.

But the mere suggestion of trying to squeeze most of a full schedule into 2020, against the hope of playing those games in fan-filled stadiums, is perhaps understandably wistful thinking.

If there’s going to be a baseball season this summer/fall, it’s going to be a short one, and it probably should be.

The fewest games played in a season since the two-league format began in 1901 were the 103 games some teams played during the 1981 strike season.

The plan now should involve redrawing schedules for 80- and 100-game contingencies. Plan for no — or extremely limited numbers of — fans. Play the games in spring ballparks; eliminate interleague play; position one league in Florida and one in Arizona — or all in Arizona if it’s safer there than Florida.

An 84-game schedule would allow for a balanced league schedule with six games per opponent. Or unbalanced (albeit, less drastic) schedules could still be used. Restructure the playoffs? OK. Add teams? Sure. Maybe by then those games can even be played in neutral-site, warm-weather or domed stadiums with fans.

A lot of us around sports talk about sports being important to our culture and things like civic pride, or at least as escapes from real-life issues. President Franklin Roosevelt recognized that much in 1942 when he urged MLB to play its season for the good of the country during a war.

But this we haven’t seen before. It’s why so many uncertainties hang in the air even after scheduled openers, months after the virus first was identified, weeks after federal action was taken in this country.

“Worst opening day ever,” Lester tweeted, “but focused on what’s most important right now and that’s keeping the team safe at home so we can get back to baseball soon.”

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