Commentary: Cubs fans should appreciate Maddon for what he’s done

  • Manager Joe Maddon #70 of the Chicago Cubs watches as his team takes on the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field on July 12, 2019 in Chicago, Ill. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images/TNS) **FOR USE WITH THIS STORY ONLY**

  • Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon looks on in the first inning against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Thursday, June 20, 2019. The Cubs won, 7-4. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

  • Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon watches Javier Baez during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Chicago, Saturday, July 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Chicago Tribune
Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Chicago coaching legends usually miss out on the victory laps they deserve.

Their farewells tend to revolve around regret more than reflection — as was the case with Mike Ditka. Ditka’s voice shook Jan. 4, 1993, as he thanked George Halas the day the Bears fired their only coach to win a Super Bowl.

“This too shall pass,” Ditka proclaimed.

Phil Jackson practically rode his Harley into the sunset in June 1998 after leading the Bulls to their sixth NBA championship in eight seasons. The Zen Master’s departure was overshadowed by a mass exodus led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

Ozzie Guillen bolted the White Sox to manage the Florida Marlins with two games left in the godforsaken 2011 season, his final month marred by drama and rumors that made the 2005 World Series title feel like it came in the Dead Ball Era.

Joel Quenneville quietly faded into hockey oblivion after the Blackhawks fired him 15 games into last season, resurfacing publicly only when the guy who won three Stanley Cups was filmed downing shotskis at a Soldier Field tailgate.

Quenneville since has sounded nothing but gracious about the transition, but Hawks fans will have to settle for showing their appreciation Jan. 21 when he returns to the United Center coaching the Florida Panthers.

Which brings us to Joe Maddon.

If the start of the second half indeed marked the beginning of Maddon’s long goodbye, everyone in town should savor the experience. Even if you are a “lineupista” who aims his attacks at Maddon every time he starts Daniel Descalso, embrace the target, if you will.

The arrival of the man who managed the Cubs to the 2016 World Series title always will coincide with the dawn of the franchise’s golden age. Maddon’s departure, especially if it comes as early as October, as some project, will leave a gaping hole in our city’s sports culture — not to mention the Cubs’ dugout.

Around Wrigleyville, these are the good old days. The Cubs have averaged 95 victories per season and made four straight playoff appearances — and counting — under Maddon. Be careful what you wish for, lineupistas.

Even after the Cubs started the second half by sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates, Maddon’s future remains uncertain.

Even the most educated of guesses still are guesses. Recent words of support offered by president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer flatter Maddon, but they were mere words. The decision to allow Maddon to manage the final year of his contract without an extension speaks louder.

Maddon merits an extension through 2021, when the Cubs core could start to change. But realistically, Maddon makes $6 million a season, and baseball trends make it harder to envision a Cubs organization typically ahead of the industry curve investing that much money in a manager — even the best one in franchise history.

You would want to believe that Cubs players returned from the All-Star break motivated to play for Maddon’s job. The baseball romantic in me loves that notion. I wish I could buy into it. But it seems based on a flimsy premise, that winning the division or even something greater somehow would convince the front office that Maddon is the right man for the job next season and beyond.

My sense is we would know by now if that were the case. Under Epstein, the Cubs seldom have followed their hearts over their heads.

By the way, this would be an ideal time for Epstein to exert some of his special brainpower and give Maddon the professional hitter the Cubs lack, such as Eric Sogard or Freddy Galvis of the Blue Jays. The bullpen needs a left-hander. And depending on the status of Cole Hamels, out indefinitely with an oblique strain, the rotation might benefit from some of Epstein’s creativity even if Yu Darvish continues his overdue ascent.

Through it all, Maddon remains as compelling and consistent as one would expect from a 65-year-old whose legacy is secure. Maddon is the Uber driver whose stories make every ride fly, the doctor with the one-liner that eases the tension, the bartender who keeps talking after last call. He is as fascinating as he is funny, smart yet self-deprecating. Players say he is as respected and relevant as ever.

No, Maddon isn’t for everybody, and some have grown tired of his act. But he still wins. He also still has a knack for making each day of a 162-game grind different.

Nobody who witnessed Maddon’s July 4 fireworks, charging the Pirates dugout to defend his players, doubts his vitality. Players responded to that by winning five of the next six games, a good reminder that Maddon can be as competitive as he is contemplative.

The most indelible image of the recent City Series came after Guillen threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Guaranteed Rate Field, accompanied by his granddaughter, Adela. After leaving the mound, Guillen pulled the White Sox logo on the jersey he was wearing and kissed it.

The guy who once was in such a hurry to end his Sox tenure cherished every step on a field full of so many memories. How touching. How telling.

Even in baseball, absence can make the heart grow fonder. Don’t wait until Maddon is gone from the Cubs to realize how true that is.