Joe Maddon is awesome. Even though he finished second to the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts in the Manager of the Year vote, Maddon managed to steal the (unnecessarily long) show. In order to fill an hour-long time slot, MLB Network had a find a way to fill 30 minutes with the managers from each league. As tiresome as that was, it afforded viewers the opportunity to hear from the Cubs manager on everything from his management style to his interesting choices in external lighting.
Maddon was diplomatic in addressing the panel’s opening question about Jason Heyward’s struggles throughout the season.
“Jason’s fabulous, man,” the blissed-out skipper explained. “He demonstrated why he’s so fabulous in Game 7 of the World Series. Everybody focuses on batting average and I don’t. He’s a really good baseball player. He impacted us on the field, in the outfield, on the bases.
“Of course he didn’t hit to the level that he’s capable of and we understand that. But listen, I really wish and hope that people stop just worrying about numbers all the time. This is a human being that really made a tremendous difference in our clubhouse and on the field and he’s a big reason why we won that seventh game of the World Series. So no, (dealing with/managing Heyward’s struggles) was not my focus.”
Then Maddon played the role of hype man, basically repeating what a lot of us have said, written, or thought over the last couple years.
“The focus was, you have to understand, these are a lot of young guys that lacked experience, whether it’s Javy, KB, Addison. Everybody talked about us being the best team in baseball, but I’m here to tell you, man, these guys were young and lacked experience. They were very green.
“So when you see them at the end of the year performing like they did in the World Series and in the playoffs, that’s wonderful. But they’re gonna get better, our guys are gonna continue to get better [emphasis mine]. So my focus was, almost like what Dave (Roberts) was talking about, it’s a day-to-day process kind of a situation where you have to keep your finger on the pulse of the moment and make sure your guys are constantly improving.”
And finally, the coup de grâce, when Maddon explained the backyard decor everyone was wondering about. And of course there was a great story attached to it.
“I want you to understand that sign behind me, Derby Lane, comes from a local racetrack where Coach Don Zimmer, my man, who I wish I had an opportunity to speak with all season, but did not. When he passed away, I used to drive by that sign every day going to Tropicana and asked to purchase it, but the people from Derby Lane gave it to me.
“This is my backyard. So I had it charged up tonight, you see some really nice neon flowing in the background. But that’s my tribute to Coach Zimmerman, as I called him. Zim, extraordinary human being and probably the best strategist I’ve ever been associated with.”
I suppose a few Cubs fans might be a little salty over their guy not winning MOY after leading his team to 103 wins (remember, it’s a regular-season award, but I think Maddon’s perfectly fine with the Commissioner’s Trophy. After all, he did beat the teams managed by both league winners (Terry Francona in the AL) in the playoffs. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was like the Mental Attitude award given to the best player from the losing team in high school sports.
So before you go grumbling about the results, just remember: Joe Maddon is awesome and he could be managing an even better team next season. And, let’s be honest, the IBWAA awards are really the most important ones.