Monday Joe Maddon was introduced as the new manager of the Chicago Cubs. For many around here it was a bitter-sweet day. On one hand it is great to see someone you know and care for getting a chance to get a job of a lifetime. On the other hand it is sad to see an old friend go. The Devil Rays were the doormat when Maddon got here and with him gone, who ever the Rays bring in, there will be huge shoes to fill. The press conference, held in bar across the street from Wrigley Field, was Maddon’s coming out party to the Chicago media and to Cubs fans across the country. It was vintage Joe Maddon. He was glib and funny, he was cool and hip, he was thoughtful and sincere, but most of all he was positive above everything else. He spoke of the magic of Wrigley Field and playoffs and World Series. The Chicago media ate it up. In question after question he was charming and quirky and you could feel him capture the moment and the hearts and minds of Cubs fans who thirst like a man in the middle of desert for a drop of water.
It felt odd to watch our Joe Maddon trying on a new cap with a red C on it. Seeing his number 70 on his back with blue Cubbies pinstripes struck a pang in the heart of the Rays Republic. It was like seeing your ex girlfriend riding in a brand new convertible BMW with a guy who just won Powerball. You wish him the best but have an empty spot in your stomach because he left the Rays.
There have been a storm of charges flying around in the media about how Joe Maddon got the job in Chicago. Do the Rays think that the Cubs reached out to Joe Maddon while he was still employed by the Rays? Did Joe have a deal in place before he opted out of his contract with Tampa Bay? Was it proper for Joe Maddon to talk to someone about a job that wasn’t open. When it came up in the press conference it was a very uncomfortable and had to be explained how and why the Cubs hired Joe Maddon.
I have heard from many people around the game over the last week or so since Maddon opted out of his deal with the Rays. I have heard from people with opinions on both sides. Some say Joe crossed a line in pursuing a job that wasn’t open. Some have told me that Joe Maddon had to grab the brass ring because you never know when you would have a chance to be the manager of a historic franchise like the Cubs. I reached out to a lot of people I respect in the game, some where managers, some where front office guys. some were agents and some were in the minor leagues for a long time. At the end of the day I have come to this conclusion that the world is all shades of grey and the only time you know what is really fair of foul is when the umpire calls it on the ball field.
Just like a player coming off an MVP year Maddon is at his prime right now at the game of 60. Like that player there is a high water mark when you are at your highest earning potential. Maddon was underpaid by the Rays, no doubt about it. He was rumored to be paid 1.8 million a year by the Rays. I know you and I would be stand on our heads for that kind of money, but in baseball Maddon had produced more with less and had been named Manager of the Year a few times. If he peaked at 1.8 after 9 years with the Rays I imagine he was really underpaid in 2008, 2010, 2011. 2013 when he took his team to the post season. This is Maddon’s last best chance to cash in after years in the minor leagues. This is something that he felt he had to do for him, his career and his family.
The Cubs had a manager in place and gave him a vote of confidence just a few weeks ago. They had begun their off-season plans with Rick Renteria as their skipper. Then the world changed. Joe Maddon was on the open market. In the blink of an eye the best manager in baseball was out there to be had. As much as they liked their skipper, this was too big a fish to let get away. The Cubs felt like they had to go after Maddon once he was available. The hardest thing in the world to do when being a leader is make the hard choices. If you compared Maddon and Renteria straight up side to side, it’s an easy choice. Maddon was the man for the job, even if the job wasn’t open. If both came in for an interview it would be easy to pick Joe and thats what the Cubs did. That is why there is that old saying “It’s lonely at the top”, because you have to make the tough uncomfortable calls that others can’t make.
As for Rick Renteria, I really feel for him because he is out of a job, because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many baseball people will say you don’t go after someone else’s job. If that happened every time a manager has a rough year for what ever reason, they would all be looking over their shoulder if they finished under 500 even if they were a good manager, Joe Maddon included. Renteria walks away with a big league manager credit on his resume and two more years of paychecks that will bring him 800K per year. He will have friends around the game that will hold a grudge that he got the shaft in this whole thing. They might be right or wrong. As much as they like Renteria all would have to say that Maddon is a better Skipper than he is at this point of his career. If he is bitter, he probably has the right to be, for he was a victim of bad timing.
Like everything off the diamond there is no umpire to call fair or foul in real life.