Maddon's Successor Faces Big Challenge: David Haugh

The next Cubs manager needs to show they got closer to winning a World Series.

WBBM Newsradio Staff
September 29, 2019 - 12:46 pm

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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(670 The Score) -- Duty compels us to look ahead.

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To spin forward and speculate about what happens to the Cubs after Joe Maddon departs.

To pose the big questions that Sunday’s seismic-but-unsurprising move leaves unanswered at Clark and Addison.

But wait. Just wait.

Wait just a second before rushing to guess who replaces the best manager in modern Cubs history to appreciate why that lofty designation for Maddon isn’t so outrageous. Pause to realize Maddon deserves more than a shot-and-a-beer toast on his way out of town – even if that is The Hazleton Way. Maddon earned more than that after winning the 2016 World Series, appearing in three straight National League Championship Series and forever changing the perception of an organization once known for marketing futility.

He certainly merited more consideration than having to work a lame-duck season without a contract for 2020 and spend his final days on the job like the narrator of his own documentary. By now it indeed feels like the right time for Maddon to move on – but partly because we’re all tired of the conversation that Theo Epstein allowed to start a year ago by not renewing his manager’s contract.

And so the Cubs parting company with Maddon after the season finale inevitably will cast the manager as the scapegoat for this year’s disaster even though the blame more appropriately should be spread evenly between him, the players and the front office. The onus for missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons falls equally on everybody, not just Maddon. The players were the ones who failed to hit and pitch consistently and blew too many leads thanks to the bullpen or bad defense. The front office employed the executives who signed the wrong players and never developed a pitcher capable of contributing. But in pro sports, as the adage says, you can’t fire everybody, so the Cubs will get rid of the manager – and it bears repeating that you should be careful what you wish for, Cubs fans.

Chicago will miss Maddon. We will miss Maddon’s candor and his color, his sense of humor and perspective, his slogans spread all over T-shirts and TV and radio shows. We will miss Maddon the entertainer as much as Maddon the manager, the character in the black hipster horn-rimmed glasses as much as the thinker in the blue Cubs cap. We will miss the way Maddon made the Cubs relevant for the right reasons after he arrived in November 2014, creating a comfortable and confident culture conducive to all the winning that followed. We will miss Maddon the way our sports city missed Phil and Ditka and Ozzie and Coach Q.

You could find flaws with what hitter Maddon batted lead-off or what pitcher he brought in from the bullpen, but nobody could argue there always was a method to his Maddon-ness. There always was an explanation rooted in rationale that he willingly shared.

That’s the challenge now facing Epstein: Explain this decision. Explain how everything came to this. Explain how letting Maddon go now makes more sense than extending his contract a year ago through 2021, which would've prevented the daily distractions from affecting the Cubs.

At his annual state-of-the-Cubs postseason press conference, Epstein needs to use his considerable oratorical skills to articulate how replacing Maddon after his fifth season brings the Cubs closer to a World Series.

That’s all that really matters.

Nobody really wants to hear about the shrinking salary structure in Major League Baseball making Maddon’s next contract untenable for the Cubs. Nobody who has spent more than five minutes walking around Wrigley Field will buy the notion that the Cubs can't afford to pay Maddon, who made $6 million this season. Nobody wants to hear that Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts doesn’t have the money for the right manager a winter after Ricketts claimed not to have the money for the right free agents.

Maybe rumored replacements David Ross or Mark Loretta or Joe Girardi or another name the Cubs computer spits out can win more games than Maddon did as the manager. Maybe the next guy meshes more philosophically with the Cubs front office than Maddon did in the end or has a voice that gets through to players who perhaps got too comfortable. Maybe change for the sake of change is the right move at the right time for the Cubs organization.

But it better work. It better prove the premise that managers don’t matter as much as they once did. It better make the words of Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija seem more hollow than prescient.

Samardzija, a former Cub who grew up in northwest Indiana, appeared on 670 The Score in August and summed up much of what was going through my head all summer as it related to Maddon’s future.

"Listen, when I was growing up if you had told me a guy who had won the World Series with the Cubs and then would be canned three years after that, I’d have sent you packing and kicked you out of my house," Samardzija said.

Turns out Maddon is the one packing. He leaves the Cubs better than he found them, a reality worth remembering before focusing on what’s next.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at david.haugh@entercom.com.