From the Pages of Vine Line: Joe Maddon’s relationship with the front office is built to last
Photo by Stephen Green
Joe Maddon and his players are clicking as the Cubs have won 10 of their last 11 games. Part of the reason for that success is that Maddon and the front office have been on the same page since he was hired in November. The following can be found in the August issue of Vine Line.
Too often, the marriage between field manager and front office goes from bliss to blisters before the honeymoon cruise returns to port. With both sides intent on stressing their points, everyone stresses out, creating irreconcilable differences not even a championship can cure.
But you don’t need a marriage counselor to certify the relationship between first-year Cubs skipper Joe Maddon and his bosses, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and Executive Vice President and General Manager Jed Hoyer, is built to last.
“We all understand no one person has all the answers,” Maddon said. “The most important thing is that nobody has to be right. It’s just about getting it right.”
Epstein and Hoyer, both 40 when they hired Maddon last fall, felt secure enough to bring in a manager 20 years their senior. And Maddon, who was 60 at the time, welcomed the opportunity to work with and learn from aggressive, young leaders, as he had in Tampa Bay with Andrew Friedman.
“They’re all way beyond me when it comes to [intellect],” said the typically self-deprecating Maddon. “But I really like being pushed and expanded.”
The Cubs skipper may know what to say, but a yes-man he is not.
Consider the Spring Training dialogue over the future of 22-year-old prospect Javier Baez. Maddon felt the struggling young hitter could continue to develop in the major leagues under the tutelage of the Cubs coaching staff. Epstein and Hoyer advocated more Triple-A seasoning. The latter view ultimately prevailed, but the two sides moved on together as a unified front.
“Our talks are always wide open,” Maddon said. “No one is worried about someone else’s feelings. Nobody worries about whose idea something is.”
Such is the case when mutual respect reigns. Maddon signed on knowing Epstein and Hoyer captured World Series titles with Boston in 2004 and 2007. For his part, Maddon managed low-budget Tampa Bay to four playoff berths in nine years, including a losing World Series appearance against Philadelphia in 2008. In that season’s ALCS against Boston, Maddon left tire tracks on Epstein and Hoyer as his resilient Rays eliminated the BoSox in seven games.
Before the 2004 season, the front-office pair nearly hired Maddon—then Mike Scioscia’s bench coach with the Angels—to manage their Boston squad. Instead, they tapped Terry Francona, and Maddon didn’t get his managerial shot until 2006 with Tampa Bay.
Still, Epstein and Hoyer never lost sight of the man with the black horn-rimmed glasses. When a contractual exit clause made Maddon a free agent last fall, the astute Cubs executives snatched him up.
Maddon’s passion for helping develop talent is well documented, but he also thrives on partnering with young, modern-thinking executives. Former Rays GM Friedman was just two days past his 29th birthday when he gave himself a present and hired Maddon to manage a team that had averaged 97 losses in its first eight years of existence.
Maddon recognizes in Epstein and Hoyer the same qualities he appreciated in Friedman.
“These guys are cut from the same intellectual cloth,” Maddon said. “Conversations with them cover everything. I might be way out here on a subject, and they bring me back with a thought I hadn’t even considered yet. And sometimes I do the same for them. We have a common goal.”
Epstein and Hoyer, after employing two less-accomplished field generals in their first three Cubs seasons, appreciate Maddon all the more. Secure in his leadership skills, they’re free to tackle issues like player procurement and international markets while leaving day-to-day communications with players and the media to the manager. Moreover, they no longer feel obliged to micromanage the use of young pitchers as a means of protecting their assets.
“Their questions are really good, and I enjoy well-thought-out questions,” Maddon said. “But they do respect what I’ve done in the past, and that includes, to a large extent, the developing of young players.”
Epstein praises Maddon’s ability to meld talent of varying backgrounds and experience. As for bedside manner, even the manager’s toughest messages are delivered with positive prefaces and epilogues.
“We’ve made the usual young mistakes and mental mistakes all developing clubs make,” Epstein said. “It’s a credit to Joe and his staff that it’s usually cleaned up within a day. He doesn’t get bogged down in mistakes or let them bother him or the atmosphere around the club.”
Suffice it to say Cubs management trusts Maddon with the organization’s crown jewels.
“Any time you can improve from within, it’s the most efficient way to get better,” Epstein said. “Joe and his staff help our players relax and get better. When we bring in a player, we know he’ll be attended to in the proper way. We’re thrilled with the way players have grown, and the identity of the team has been an obvious strength.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t proud of the team and having a lot of fun.”
May the honeymoon never end.
—By Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig