Maddon made for the Cubs

MlbHlSqDuring his recently-ended tenure with the Tampa Bay Rays, Joe Maddon became known for unusual antics designed to make sure coming to the ballpark never got stale for his players.

Various guests were invited into the clubhouse, from magicians to a 20-foot python, and there were occasional fancy dress team flights to keep players loose, and to raise some money for charity to boot.

What can we expect now that Maddon has officially been named as the Chicago Cubs’ new manager?

Don’t be surprised if one of the first guests into the Wrigley Field clubhouse is a goat, designed to help break the dreaded ‘Curse of the Billy Goat’ that has left them waiting for a World Series since 1908 and counting. Cubs players may also need to start researching 1908 fashions to prepare for their team flight to recapture the era in which the north side of Chicago last won the Fall Classic.

Life certainly will not be dull for Cubs fans now that Maddon is in charge, but these colourful antics are just a minor part of his reputation. He was instrumental in turning a burgeoning franchise that didn’t know what it was like to win into a team of overachievers, able to more than punch their weight against the big-spending behemoths in the AL East.

What his departure will mean for the Rays is a matter for another article. Suffice to say, they are sad to see him leave and there are reports that the speed of his signing with the Cubs after he opted out of his contract has made the Rays consider taking action against the Cubs for potentially tapping him up.

Tampa Bay have every right to stand up for themselves and if they can get something out of the Cubs then it’s worth trying; however the accusation could be dismissed on the basis that Maddon and his agent Alan Nero had no need to engage in any behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Having earned the reputation as one of the best managers in the game, no elicit phonecalls were needed to know that plenty of teams would have strong interest in employing him once he invoked his opt-out clause.

Maddon clearly would have preferred to go straight into a new managerial post if an appealing opportunity presented itself quickly, but if not he could have taken a job as a TV summariser (ESPN and Fox would have been falling over themselves to make that happen) and bided his time.

In that sense, the Machiavellian act of the Cubs’ Front Office to sack incumbent manager Rick Renteria, who they sheepishly admitted “deserved to come back for another season”, seems a little less harsh.

Maddon was precisely the sort of manager the Cubs should have been looking to acquire as their rebuilding project starts to bear fruit. In the long run it was better for everyone for the Cubs to be blunt and to stick the knife into Renteria’s chest rather than leave a sword constantly dangling over his head whilst Maddon sat summarising games in a commentary box.

The justifiable sympathy towards Renteria makes the way it has been handled seem distasteful to a degree, yet that will soon be forgotten (by everyone except Renteria, at least) once the team reconvenes at Spring Training and the Maddon era with the Cubs begins.

No one needs to warn Cubs fans against getting ahead of themselves and planning their 2015 playoff game plans. Even the most wide-eyed optimist would be cautious about counting their chickens when they haven’t seen an egg hatch for over 100 years.

However, they will all notice a genuine rise in excitement around their team’s prospects – in more ways than one – and, whisper it quietly for the curse believers, it’s an excitement that’s well-founded.

The Chicago Cubs are on their way up once again, with added clubhouse guests and fancy dress orders.

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