Well, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming.
Joe Maddon is out in Chicago. Five years, four playoff appearances, three NLCS, and one city-healing World Series title later, the end is here. Despite all that success, the 2019 season felt like one long executioner’s countdown. There was no talk of an extension, no vote of confidence, just a five-year marriage sloping steadily toward divorce.
Cub fans have been sharply divided on whether Maddon should have been retained. Opinions broke basically along blame lines, with some glaring at Epstein, saying Maddon could only play the players he was given (particularly in the bullpen), and those who felt that Maddon’s quirky, unique managerial style had worn thin both with fans and the clubhouse.
From the outside, of course, there’s no way to know, and in the end, it doesn’t matter. Maddon will go down as the 2nd-best manager in Cub history (behind Frank Chance), and as The Man Who Ended The Curse, he’ll never pay for a drink in the city again. He and Mike Ditka, brothers in colorful leadership of one-and-done Chicago sports teams, can spend their twilight years sipping beers in their native Pennsylvania, comparing notes on the circuses they led.
So who’s next?
As it became clearer over the summer that this day was approaching, fan speculation narrowed to three main candidates. The most vocal group wants Joe Girardi, the former Cub catcher, and championship Yankee manager. Cub fans, perhaps more so than in other cities, tend to prefer homegrown options, and Girardi, as a native of Illinois, fits that bill both personally and professionally. His 2009 championship certainly gives him a pedigree many other candidates lack, but in 10 years at the helm in the Bronx, he never reached another World Series, missed the playoffs four times, and won less than 90 games five times. All this despite having the highest payroll at his disposal eight times (and second the other two). Also, his vacant treatment of the press – always saying nothing, just with variations of cheerlessness or annoyance – will quickly become weaponized by an entrenched Chicago media.
A second name, popular with the non-Girardi crowd, is another former Cub catcher, David Ross. His pedigree as the beloved “Uncle Rossy” from 2016 gives him a lot of rope with fans eager to reclaim that championship persona. However, having so recently been a teammate of many members of the team, there’s a concern whether he can command the locker room in a way that someone less connected might be able to. Additionally, with no coaching experience, it seems risky to hand him the reins of a team expected to contend again in 2020.
The most intriguing option and least popular with the fans is bench coach Mark Loretta. When he joined the Cubs’ staff before this season, there was immediate speculation that he was the heir apparent for the job. This was his first season coaching since his retirement in 2009, which would seem to make that promotion an odd decision. He spent the previous nine seasons, however, in the Padres’ front office as an assistant to the baseball operations staff. That’s a fertile area for learning all aspects of an organization’s structure – scouting, video, game-planning, the draft, the minor-league system, etc. Sure, he hasn’t managed a major-league team, but he’s been at the right hand of a proven winner for a year and has surely spent that year using his Padre experience to immerse himself in the Cubs’ overall worldview. He knows what questions to ask, and what research he needed to do. Quietly, he’s accrued a combination of attributes that neither of the others can claim.
Surely, nothing is imminent. Some of this is proscribed; MLB forbids managerial decisions until after the World Series, and also requires an interview process to be held (which, presumably, the Cubs would do anyway). Frankly, as a Cub fan myself, I’m happy to have the break. These last five years are probably the best I’ll ever see from this franchise, and I want to sit back, reflect, and just feel thankful for everything Maddon’s era brought to my Cub experience. No matter what his managerial flaws may have been, Joe Maddon brought me the single greatest day I’ll ever have as a sports fan. For that, Broad Street Joe, I’ll raise my glass to you forever.