Joe Maddon weighs in on the bat-flip debate


Joe Maddon weighs in on the bat-flip debate

You won't be finding Joe Maddon among Tim Anderson's defenders, but he's also not using this week's incident as a teaching moment for his players.

Maddon is still under the belief that it's better not to create a list of rules in the clubhouse to govern the players, but he also isn't into the whole show of celebration, of which bat-flips are at the forefront.

When Anderson flipped his bat on a home run Wednesday against the Royals, Kansas City pitcher Brad Keller responded by drilling Anderson the next time up. That resulted in a benches — and bullpens — clearing incident and then on Friday afternoon, both Anderson and Keller were hit with suspensions (Anderson was suspended for using a racial slur in his response to Keller). 

This is just the latest — and maybe one of the most charged — examples of the whole bat-flip/unwritten rules ordeal. Baseball's long tradition of punishing players for "showing up" a pitcher is alive and strong, and that's true even in the younger generation (Keller is only 23 years old). 

At 65, Maddon has been in the game of baseball since decades before Keller was even born, but he subscribes to a similar line of thinking as the Royals right-hander.

"I know my first year [with Cubs in 2015], I got upset at Junior Lake down in Miami [for flipping his bat]," Maddon said. "At that time, my being upset was about trying to flip the culture here — being more professional-looking and act like you're gonna do it again. That was my whole point about that.

"For me, I would prefer our guys didn't do that. I would prefer that the younger group right now doesn't need to see demonstrations like that in order to feel like they can watch baseball or that baseball is more interesting because somebody bat-flips really well and I kinda dig it and if I watch, I might see a bat-flip. 

"I would prefer kids watch baseball because it's a very interesting game, it's intellectually stimulating and when it's played properly, it's never too long. I prefer kids learn that method as opposed to become enamored with our game based on histrionics. I really would prefer that, but it seems to be that we are catering to that a bit.

"...When somebody choose to [bat-flip] and somebody gets hit in the butt because of it, that's what you're looking at. Regardless if you're old or new school, if you're a pitcher, I think you're gonna be offended by that. Act like you're gonna do it again would be the method that I would prefer with our guys. I want to believe we're not gonna do that, but it may happen here, too. And then we're just gonna have to wait and see how the other team reacts."

Though Maddon is not a fan of bat-flips and excessive celebration for big moments, he has not coached his players into avoiding such moments. 

That's why you still see Javy Baez out there being his typical flashy self and David Bote with an epic bat-flip on his walk-off grand slam (though that was obviously a much bigger moment than a run-of-the-mill fourth-inning homer) and Pedro Strop nearly dislocating his shoulder with some aggressive fist-pumps after nailing down a big out late in games.

But if anything does get out of line, Maddon prefers the policing comes from the players within the Cubs clubhouse or from the other team. Think back to last year when Baez tossed his bat in frustration after a pop-out against the Pirates at Wrigley Field and Strop pulled Baez aside to let him know "we don't do that here."

"I think the tried-and-true method of policing the group — whether it's the team policing itself or the industry and players doing the same thing," Maddon said. "I'd be curious to see if [Anderson] ever does that again, based on the result the other day." 

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Why longtime Cubs ace Jon Lester has never been more important to team

Why longtime Cubs ace Jon Lester has never been more important to team

This isn’t exactly the way Jon Lester envisioned the final year of his $155 million free agent deal with the Cubs.

A couple of months ago it was difficult to envision anything this season, much less the scene at Wrigley Field he has been part of the past week — and certainly not the mask he has at all times and the piped-in ambient crowd noise he’ll hear for the first time when he pitches in an intrasquad game Sunday night for the first time during this restarted training camp.

“It’s weird,” the five-time All-Star said. “It’s unique. The cool part is everybody’s taking it in stride. All this stuff with the mask and the protocols and the testing and all that is weird but now we just have to adapt and make it kind of normal.”

That’s not going to happen. Not for the Cubs or any other team, no matter how long this 30-team, 1,800-player effort at playing baseball during a pandemic lasts.

But for the Cubs, Lester might be as close as normal gets in the middle of all the “weird.”

When asked Saturday about what Lester brings to the team, the first words out of manager David Ross’ mouth were, “his presence.”

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It’s been there since 2015 as the stabilizing, credibility-building influence for a team that went from last place to 97 wins in his first season and a rise to that historic championship in his second.

Lester has earned two All-Star selections, made 10 postseason starts and four Opening Day starts for the Cubs during his five seasons in Chicago.

And just because he won’t start this year’s opener or that he’s coming off a disappointing 2019 season (4.46 ERA) doesn’t mean he won’t have a major influence on this team’s chances to focus and have success on the field this year and, perhaps just as important, off the field as it navigates the COVID-19 risks.

“Jon’s done so much for this group and this organization as far as preparation off the field, how he goes about his business prior to his start day, the routine he has when he comes in here,” said Ross, a teammate before he became Lester’s manager. “He doesn’t vary from that routine.

“His resumé obviously speaks for itself of what he’s done. But outside of what he’s done on the field, I think he’s influenced this organization as a whole in a really good way."

Lester, 36, is the most accomplished, longest-tenured player on the club — a career workhorse and three-time champion who’s five years older than one of the coaches and closer in age to four more than he is to any of his teammates.

So when Lester wears a mask, those around him notice.

“I think we’re all a little nervous,” he said. “Nobody wants to get this thing. You have to just believe in the testing process; you have to believe in kind of the bubble community we’re trying to create here; you have to believe in these things [holds up a mask].”

RELATED: Cubs COVID-19 tests return negative, Theo Epstein cautions against complacency

Whether Lester is able to achieve the bounce-back performance in a short season that he sought when he started the original spring training in February, he starts the second training camp behind the four other projected starters in a rotation already missing Jose Quintana (thumb injury) — all of whom started twice in scrimmages the first eight days of workouts

“I had a hard time just diving into going and trying to throw bullpens and trying to simulate innings [during the uncertainty timeline of the shutdown],” said the only Cubs starter who didn’t try to ramp up aggressively ahead of camp. “I figured that if I kept my body in shape and kept my arm going [in the weight room] that I would be fine when we got to this stage — it would just be a little slower.”

He said the “multiple factors” involved in that approach includes knowing himself well enough at this point in his career to trust what he needs to get ready — even in a short, “weird” prep period.

“I feel like I’m in a good place,” he said.

Who’s going to tell him he’s not? After the past five years, who’s going to suddenly decide they don’t trust what Lester brings to his job, or even the rest of the room?

In February Ross looked at a “leaner” version of Lester and said he had no concerns about the longtime ace and where he would be once the season started: “I know what his mentality is,” he said. “He is a guy that still has the top-of-the-rotation potential for me.”

That mentality. The presence. Lester’s belief and lead role in creating a “kind of normal.”

It might put him at the top of the Cubs’ rotation in more ways this year than he ever has been in his career.

MORE: Jon Lester on shortened 2020 MLB season: 'A trophy's a trophy'


Cubs extend Wrigley Field dugouts to keep players engaged, out of stands

Cubs extend Wrigley Field dugouts to keep players engaged, out of stands

The Cubs plan to practice social distancing as much as possible during games this season. They also want their players and coaches — and those from their opponents — to be comfortable.

The solution? Extending Wrigley Field’s dugouts further down the foul lines. 

As sports return worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, players will need to social distance as much as possible. During games, one way to do this is having teams sit in the stands rather than their dugouts. David Ross said that was a concern for the Cubs, however.

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“That was a concern of ours, that sitting on the bench is way different than sitting in an actual seat in the stands,” Ross said on Saturday. “You're gonna want to be active, you want to get up, move around, you want to go down to the cage and take some swings. 

“Just a little bit closer to the action and to help with the energy in the dugout and root guys on.”

Ross said the Cubs don’t know whether players have strong feelings against sitting in the stands. He put himself in their shoes and thought about the drawbacks of not being in the dugout.

“You don't want to sit for three innings in that environment and then try to get up and get loose and then hit,” he said. “We have nervous energy, I guess I'm speaking for myself, but you’ve got energy that you want to get out, move around, stay loose. 

“You may want to run up to the clubhouse, check your locker, all that stuff. I just think it's a little more convenient for the players.”

As MLB embarks on the challenging season ahead, keeping things as normal as possible for the players may help alleviate the added stress from this season.