Commentary

Meet the next Cubs manager

Maddux's blend of new and old-school ways seems a perfect fit for Theo and the Gang

Updated: November 9, 2011, 10:35 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Once again, the Chicago Cubs are doing it wrong.

Having reporters meet with managerial candidates in the tony PNC Club is no way to simulate how the would-be skippers might deal with the Cub Experience.

While I'm sure the game simulations behind closed doors and long interviews are taxing, they have nothing on the real suffering that tests every manager who dons the blue pinstripes.

[+] EnlargeMike Maddux
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMike Maddux was a hit in his interview session with Chicago media on Wednesday.

Theo and the Gang should've first subjected the candidates to a "Clockwork Orange" style montage of Cubby Occurrences: Randy Wells gopher balls; Alfonso Soriano outfield plays; Cubs hitters waving at ball four, time and time again. How about just a highlight reel of Cubs baserunning?

Then, when they can't watch another play and are screaming for mercy, place the Jim Essian wannabes in a sauna in full uniform with Sammy Sosa's old salsa music on full blast. Or better yet, "Go Cubs Go."

After that torture, send them right to the interview dungeon to face 10 of the city's most strident reporters, who will ask repetitive questions about bunting with cleanup hitters and Rodrigo Lopez's pitch selection.

That will tell you a little more about the candidates' ability to manage in Chicago. If you're going to go through with this song and dance, at least make it realistic. But that's just a reporter's fantasy. We played along with the Cubs' real ideas Wednesday.

On a bitterly cold day at Wrigley Field, Mike Maddux, the latest managerial candidate to appear before the press, certainly seemed at ease with the grueling interview process. In fact, he called it "pretty neat."

While Pete Mackanin showed up dressed to the nines in a gray suit and handkerchief and Dale Sveum went with a coat, no-tie look, Maddux looked like a dad at the mall.

He rocked his familiar "disguise kit" mustache-with-a-soul patch facial hair, and dressed in a simple black coat, a red striped shirt and dark jeans.

Like his attire, Maddux seemed laid-back and unruffled. He was quite droll, cracking up the room a few times, and definitely sounded impressive. He has a way about him that seems humble, but confident.

He did get noticeably annoyed at some questions, mostly the ones about his or his brother Greg's personal life. He's got that dagger stare that will come in handy during those four-error games we've grown to accept.

I wonder how he'll answer prying questions, however, if and when the Cubs go in the tank in mid-July and are 12 games back, going nowhere fast.

The Cubs can make funny guys turn dark real quick, and it takes a tough skin to deal with the rigid scrutiny here, from the fans and the media. Reporters love the give-and-take, but managers don't often enjoy being second-guessed.

While we're all pretending this new start erases the past, there is still the matter of a pretty lousy major league club to attend to. Is Maddux the guy to "change the culture"?

Many assume he is the top candidate for the open managerial job, and I agree. He gives off the vibe that he's not at all desperate to leave his current post as pitching coach of the Texas Rangers. He already turned down the Boston Red Sox and seemed conflicted about leaving his current situation.

That kind of attitude just makes him more desirable to a management team that apparently covets him.

"I'm very happy with what I do," he said. "I enjoy what I do, administering to half the team in spring training and during the season. People have reached out to me. It wasn't something where I reached out to other people. I think it's kind of cool to be considered."

Like most pitchers, Mike Maddux's career paled in comparison to the Hall of Fame legacy of his brother Greg. The elder Maddux pitched for nine teams in 15 years, the definition of a successful journeyman. His approach to conditioning is probably based on his own experience.

"It takes no talent to be in shape, that takes desire," he said. "You only get one go at it and your window of opportunity is short, man."

He would've loved Carlos Silva, that's for sure.

After coaching in Milwaukee for six years, he went to Texas in 2009. The team's ERA was 5.37 before he got there and has decreased every year since, down to 3.79 in 2011. You might not agree with ERA as a measuring tool, but two World Series appearances are nice, too. That's why the 50-year-old Maddux was desired by the Red Sox and the Cubs.

Olsen It's art. You can make some things out of them. But there's a lot of real stuff to them also. Good numbers don't lie. Bad numbers can be a little deceptive. You use all the information you can, but when it comes down to it, you gotta trust yourself, trust your players and try to put your players in positions where they can succeed.

-- Mike Maddux on sabremetrics

Indians bench coach, and Bucktown resident, Sandy Alomar Jr. interviews Friday, and the Cubs haven't released any additional candidates outside of those four. The annual general manager meetings take place Tuesday in Milwaukee. One would think it's between these four.

I'm really interested to listen to Alomar, but Maddux probably has the upper hand, given his coaching experience and the new management team's desire to put out a team based on strong pitching and defense. Given the state of this fading roster, that's probably a good idea.

I'm all for this supposed culture change, which to me means eschewing the bench coaches and hitting coaches that have made up the Cubs' recent managerial hires.

Hiring a pitching coach to run the club shouldn't be a big deal. Sure, some turn out like Larry Rothschild did in Tampa Bay, but as Maddux pointed out, Tommy Lasorda was a pitcher and so were current managers, and former pitching coaches, Bud Black and John Farrell. It's really all about communication skills, and Maddux seems to have them.

When asked what Maddux would look for in a pitching coach, he cracked, "Somebody who could put up with my second-guessing."

He said he's brought up working with his brother, but most believe it's an unlikely scenario, given Greg's family obligations. Mike said his own family situation is a concern, too.

Like a lot of baseball players, Maddux said he looked at his kids when he retired and wondered what he missed. Then, like a lot of baseball players, he immediately went into coaching.

Maddux has two daughters in college in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, Makayla at Texas Christian and Lexie at Southern Methodist. His youngest just graduated from high school in suburban Milwaukee in 2011. She and his wife, Lise, lived in Milwaukee during the season for three years.

He called his current arrangement, coaching in Texas with his family around him, "special" and noted, "There does come a time where you have to stop and smell the roses."

"It's a pretty big gut check with me and family," he said. "The situation we're in, in Texas, is pretty nice. Both of my kids are in school down there. A lot of things to go through, a lot of tough decisions that have to be made."

The Cubs say the concerns are real, but when it comes down to it, Maddux is a baseball lifer. This is a great situation, a historic team with a promising front office and the chance to overtake his brother's legacy in Chicago. I think he takes the job if offered. Who passes this chance up?

So, with that in mind, what kind of manager would he be?

"A young one!" he said. "I'd be a guy that would trust his players. I'd be demanding, hold them accountable. That's the big thing. Hold your players accountable. Send the message, give the message and make sure they adhere to the ground rules. We're not out there cracking the whip, you gotta walk this way, talk this way. You post your guardrails and let your guys go within the guardrails."

So speaking of whipping your players and posting guardrails, what would Maddux do about Carlos Zambrano if, by some miracle, Big Z returns from a team-imposed exile?

"I heard he's a big teddy bear," he said with a smile."I might pick him up and just burp him."

Forget for a second, the open insinuation that Zambrano is a big baby, the logistics of that scenario are puzzling. Maddux is quite slender. Zambrano is quite grande. How would that work?

"Strong back, baby," he said.

Maddux went on to express his respect for Zambrano's skills, going back to his days coaching against him in Milwaukee. He called him "the best thing since sliced bread" once upon a time.

"He's a great competitor," Maddux said. "He was the best pitcher in the National League. That's what I have in my mind about him. I've seen him dominate."

With the Cubs desperate to peddle Zambrano and his onerous contract year, Maddux couldn't have been a better salesman if he were pushing Cubs Convention passes. ("Sixty bucks to take a picture with Jason McLeod and check out a herd of old ladies in Theriot jerseys? It's like we're paying you, man.")

Because the Cubs are now one of those "sabermetric" teams, after years of living in relative seclusion, Maddux was asked if he's into advanced statistics and all that jazz.

"It's art, you can make some things out of them," he said. "But there's a lot of real stuff to them also. Good numbers don't lie. Bad numbers can be a little deceptive. You use all the information you can, but when it comes down to it, you gotta trust yourself, trust your players and try to put your players in positions where they can succeed."

That was probably his best answer, and I wish I had turned around to see if Jed Hoyer was in the back of the room fist-pumping. That's exactly what Hoyer and Epstein want to hear. Part of the Cubs Way we keep hearing about is a blend of new and old philosophies, and Maddux seems to fit the bill perfectly.

I think I just met the next Cubs manager.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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