Cubs

Will Cubs staff shakeup put the heat on Joe Maddon?

Will Cubs staff shakeup put the heat on Joe Maddon?

Joe Maddon likes to quote Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State and retired four-star general, even on a conference call where he essentially admits that he lied to the Chicago media, and by extension Cubs coaches and their families.

Maddon also basically doubled down on Thursday and said he would do the same thing all over again, the focus shifting away from the decorated new hitting coach (Chili Davis) and the third base coach with a great resume (Brian Butterfield). But the Cubs manager might want to remember Powell’s Pottery Barn Rule: You break it, you own it.

That’s one way to read the coaching changes announced eight days after Maddon said “of course” he wanted his entire staff back next season. There are only so many places left to shift blame when the pitching (Chris Bosio) and hitting (John Mallee) coaches get fired after being part of the teams that won last year’s World Series and made three straight trips to the National League Championship Series.

Maddon gave the vote of confidence during a session with beat writers before an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field, where he sat in his office and completely dismissed the idea of a reunion with Jim Hickey,his longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who will now be Bosio's replacement.

“Well, I was asked a really awkward question at a tough time when we’re in the playoffs,” Maddon said. “I thought that was the only way I could respond to it, because I did not want to negatively impact the room. That’s it. There’s no other way to describe it.

“If you put yourself in my position having to answer that question during the playoffs — if I had answered it any differently — I thought that would have really caused a lot of concern in the coaches’ room when we have a lot of stuff going on.

“So it’s just a tough situation to be in, question-wise. Would I have answered it differently? I don’t necessarily think so, based on the explanation I just gave you, because it’s really difficult to have your coaches read something less than that in the situation where you’re in the middle of the playoffs.”

That’s Cub. Maddon has been a big-league manager for 12 straight years, a job that requires him to do hundreds of media briefings each season, an area where he excels selling an organization’s vision.

Maddon easily could have given the non-answers: “We’re trying to win tonight. That’s offseason stuff. We’re still focused on winning a World Series. That’s also up to the boys in the front office, and our guys might have some good opportunities somewhere else.”

Two days later, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein did his year-end press conference in a Wrigley Field stadium club, where the wrong answer would have made it look like he kneecapped Maddon once the changes happened. So Epstein said: “Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back.”

“This is about all of us,” Maddon said. “We get together, we make decisions as a group. It’s not unilateral. Theo just doesn’t dictate to me, and of course I’m never going to do that to him or (general manager) Jed (Hoyer) or Mr. (Tom) Ricketts.

“When you sit down, you have discussions, and there’s going to be differences of opinion. But at the end, I’ve talked about this before and I’ve quoted Colin Powell: ‘You give your best advice and then you give your strongest loyalty.’

“You discuss. You argue. You disagree. But at the end of the day, you come to a conclusion. And once you’ve done that, you move it forward, and you move it forward as a group. Never, never individually. It’s about all of us, man. It’s about making us better.

“Don’t ever be deceived that it’s ever one guy. It’s never the manager’s seat that does all of this stuff. That’s back to the days of the 60s and the 70s, primarily, and sometimes into the 80s. We work together. We work as a group.”

This could actually refocus and reenergize Maddon, who didn’t have any answers when the uber-talented-on-paper Cubs hit the All-Star break with a 43-45 record and a 5.5-game deficit in the division and Epstein kept talking about how the team didn’t play with enough edge.

A widely respected hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox the last three seasons, Davis carved out a 19-year playing career that featured three World Series rings and three All-Star selections and overlapped with Maddon while he coached for the California Angels.

Beginning with the 2013 World Series year, Butterfield spent the last five seasons with the Red Sox, overseeing infield instruction and base running and developing a strong reputation for high energy and attention to detail.

“They are definitely force multipliers,” Maddon said, quoting Powell again. “These are definitely impact coaches.”

Given this much change, do you feel like the onus is now on you to set a new direction and win another World Series?

“Of course not,” Maddon said. “It’s about the team. We’re all a spoke in the wheel, whatever you want to call it. I think we’ve done pretty well over the last three years, actually. First World Series in 108 years, I’ll take it. Three times to the Championship Series in the last three years, I’ll take it. And if we start looking past that as not being successful, then we have to reevaluate how we look at the world in general.

“So, no, this is not just about me. It’s never just about me. It’s about all of us. This is about the Cubs moving forward, and we think that these new coaches can absolutely help take us to another level and get us back to the World Series again. But by no means am I denigrating the coaches that are leaving.”

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here:

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Growing up in the Chicago area, we have been fortunate to hear some of the greatest names in sports broadcasting. From Jack Brickhouse to Harry Caray to Pat Foley to Jim Durham to Pat Hughes to Wayne Larrivee, the list is long and illustrious of the best play-by-play men in Chicago sports history.

For me, growing up listening to and watching many of these men on an almost daily basis only served to stoke my interest in pursuing sports broadcasting as my chosen career. All of the greats were obviously well prepared and technically excellent calling their respective sports, but for me one man stood above the rest because of his irreverence and ability to entertain people in a variety of ways. I ran home from Middleton School in Skokie to watch the final innings of many afternoon Cubs games in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, and I loved Jack Brickhouse and the enthusiasm he brought to each and every broadcast.

However, Harry Caray was the one that captured my heart and pulled me toward this great field of radio and TV broadcasting. Harry was one of the best technical baseball announcers in the history of the sport, but many people who only became aware of him as the announcer for the Cubs on WGN-TV only got to experience him in the twilight of his career, when he was best known for singing the Seventh Inning Stretch and his mispronunciations of players' names.

In the main portion of his 50-plus-year career, Harry called some of the game's greatest moments and saw many of the all-time greats. As the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and the White Sox, he became one of the best in the sport with his colorful calls and honesty about the team he was working for. Fans loved his willingness to tell the truth and to openly cheer for the team he was affiliated with. However, when he was hired as the voice of the Cubs on WGN-TV, he became larger than life. With the power of the superstation behind him, he reached another level. A whole new generation of young people became Cubs fans — even if the team wasn't very good — because of the man in the funny glasses who was wildly entertaining.

I fell in love with his style and his entertainment ability. He was must-watch TV even when the games weren't very good. Until the Cubs signed Jon Lester and he became a key member of a World Series champion, Harry Caray was the single best free-agent signing in the history of the Cubs. From 1982 to 1997, he was bigger than almost every player who wore Cubbie Blue. Former All-Star first baseman Mark Grace remembered with a wry smile a story from his days as a Cub that shows just how big Caray was in relation to even the biggest-name players.

"We were playing the Marlins in Miami, and I was signing autographs alongside Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg," Grace said. "There were long lines for each of us, and then Harry poked his head out of the Cubs dugout. The fans spotted him and someone yelled: 'Hey everybody, there's Harry!'

"I'm not kidding, everybody ran over to him, and the three of us were left with no one to sign for. We looked at each other, and Sutcliffe says to us, 'Guys, now you know where we rank on the totem pole.'"

Harry Caray was a legend and for me. He was the most entertaining play-by-play man I ever listened to. I still find myself listening to old tapes of him, and I am still as entertained today as I was then. Harry was simply the best.