As a long-time Chicago Cubs fan, the shock is beginning to wear off. The Chicago Cubs are in the World Series!
I watched the game on National TV and saw the Chicago Cubs fans linger in the stands, and celebrate outside of Wrigley Field.
The Cubs got great performances from Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks, who pitched masterfully in the biggest start of his young career. Yet, behind the players, all season, was one of the great managers in the game. And now, in Chicago Cubs history, Joe Maddon.
Maddon set the tone for the season when he pulled into Spring Training camp with a 70’s era tee-shirt, sunglasses, and music blaring from his car.
The Cubs had opened camp with high expectations. Now, the team had baseball’s attention, and all eyes were on the Cubbies, who were pre-season favorites to win the World Series.
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Experts predicted them to go far, ardent Cubs fans crossed their fingers, and the media kind of anointed them as well.
Maddon was the steady hand, and steady head behind this young, talented team, sprinkled with some veterans who knew how to win. He had won a World Series ring with the Anaheim Angels in 2002, took the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to the World Series in 2008, and had won and lost in playoffs.
At least he got his teams there. He became available in 2014 and Cubs President Theo Epstein immediately signed him to a deal. When Maddon was signed, it sent a message to Cubs fans, that this club was serious about contending.
The last time the Cubs were in a World Series was 71 years ago. Could this be the manager who could finally get the team over the hump?
He has won Manager of the Year three times, and this year could be in contention again. But for the fine job that Dave Roberts did with the LA Dodgers, getting them to the playoffs without injured Clayton Kershaw. A man who missed two months of the season with a herniated disc.
Maddon was ever the optimist. Always seeing the positive in his players. If a pitcher went five innings and gave up three runs. He would look at what was working for the pitcher, as opposed to what he could have done better.
Maddon is bright, thoughtful, and articulate. He is a people person. And, he relates to his players extremely well. He knows about analytics, yet knows the game comes down to people and he is a master at getting his players to perform their best.
Maddon put a charge into his team early with the expression: Embrace the Target. He knew that he had a very good team. Cubs’ management did a fantastic job in acquiring talent, and traded for Aroldis Chapman, the fastball specialist, in July.
Now, the Cubs were ready. Maddon had made up tee-shirts that said, “Try Not to Suck.” A light-hearted approach to the high hopes that the legion of Cubs fans had for this team. They did not suck but ended up winning 103 games and their division with relative ease.
The team had two weeks to prepare for the playoffs. Against the Dodgers, he guided the team through a major hitting funk, and the Cubs bats came alive. The team won three consecutive games to win the 2016 pennant.
He may not win Manager of the Year this season. But for Cubs fans, he is the manager of the team that finally made it to the World Series. That achievement can be summed up in one word.