Friday, October 31, 2014

No average Joe taking over, kudos to Renteria...

Gale force winds sent waves crashing onto Lake Shore Drive this Halloween, but they were nothing like the waves the Chicago Cubs sent through the baseball community today.  A trick for one man, and a treat for another, wrapped up a crazy week at Wrigley Field, with the dismissal of Rick Renteria and the impending signing of Joe Maddon to take over the Cubs managerial reigns.  Team president Theo Epstein and the team released a statement on the events of the day: 
"Today we made the difficult decision to replace Rick Renteria as manager of the Chicago Cubs. On behalf of Tom Ricketts and Jed Hoyer, I thank Rick for his dedication and commitment, and for making the Cubs a better organization. Rick’s sterling reputation should only be enhanced by his season as Cubs manager. We challenged Rick to create an environment in which our young players could develop and thrive at the big league level, and he succeeded. Working with the youngest team in the league and an imperfect roster, Rick had the club playing hard and improving throughout the season. His passion, character, optimism and work ethic showed up every single day.  Rick deserved to come back for another season as Cubs manager, and we said as much when we announced that he would be returning in 2015. We met with Rick two weeks ago for a long end-of-season evaluation and discussed plans for next season. We praised Rick to the media and to our season ticket holders.  These actions were made in good faith."
I agree completely with the first part of this multi-leveled statement.  It must have been a difficult decision, one I'm sure that came down to this, which guy would/could win in 2015. Which guy had the proven managerial track record.  Which of the two has guided teams filled with young players, and a few veterans, and won.  Unfortunately for Renteria, all the answers came up Maddon.  Fortunately for the folks at 1060 W. Addison Street, Maddon became available, and had a lot of interest in coming to Chicago.

Renteria did an admirable job in my opinion.  He was charged with getting Starlin Castro back on track, and to get a bounce back from Anthony Rizzo.  You can put a check by both of those tasks.  Castro, hit .292 in 134 games, hit 14 homers and drove in 65 runs.  Rizzo followed up a sub par 2013, to hit 32 homers, drive in 78 and play a solid first base.  Rizzo also emerged as a young leader in the Cubs clubhouse, becoming a vocal leader and one others followed by example.  Renteria certainly rubbed these two players the right way.  As mentioned in the statement, the Cubs felt he did a nice job, bringing along some of the young talent in the organization, that we got to see first hand at Wrigley Field.  The opportunity to bring in Maddon, outweighed the body of work and thus a change was made. 

Don't get me wrong, it's not like the team is replacing Renteria with some average Joe (pardon the pun), but I still feel badly for the man.  I realize he's going to be paid, even he told me via text this week not to worry about him, but this was a dream job for him, and to get only a year at the helm, on the surface seems wrong.  Renteria is a great man, and a great baseball mind, I have no doubt that he'll be an asset to an organization in the near future. 

But Theo and Jed Hoyer are thinking the future is now on the North Side. 
"Last Thursday, we learned that Joe Maddon – who may be as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us – had become a free agent. We confirmed the news with Major League Baseball, and it became public knowledge the next day.  We saw it as a unique opportunity and faced a clear dilemma: be loyal to Rick or be loyal to the organization. In this business of trying to win a world championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has priority over any one individual. We decided to pursue Joe."
So now Joe Maddon becomes the 54th manager in the history of the Cubs.  In his 9 years with the Rays, he won 754 games, while losing 705, a winning percentage of .517.  Maddon took his team to the post season 4 times, winning the American League pennant in 2008, before falling to the Phillies in the World Series that season.  

In reading about his managerial style, and talking to several people that know Maddon personally, he does seem like a perfect fit.  Not only for what the Cubs have on their current roster, but what they may be able to bring in, during the free-agent period starting now.  Seemingly potential big name FA's will look at this move by the Cubs as a sign that they are serious about contending, and soon.  There are those that have ties to Maddon, such as James Shields, who pitched for the Rays for 7 seasons, winning 87 games.  The Cubs will certainly be looking for a front line type of pitcher or two this off season.  

Most every guy that ever played for Maddon, has praise for his unique ability to relate to players, while at the same time getting the most out of them.  He is known to keep the clubhouse atmosphere light, inviting in snakes, dancers, bands and a medicine man among other things.  Road trips are "different" as well.  Many managers require sport coats on road trips, Maddon may be among those, but there were several "unity" trips where the dress code was a bit lax.  Including having his team wear hockey jerseys on a trip to Toronto in 2010 to honor both the national sport of Canada, and the Chicago Blackhawks, who were up 1-0 in their series with the Flyers at that point. The team also wore camouflage outfits to another trip, and high school letterman's jackets on a trip to Boston in 2013.  For those that have never traveled a 162 game baseball schedule, these out of the ordinary things can buoy the spirits of a club, allowing a little fun in stressful times.  

Maddon has also been called the "King of the shift" by many in baseball.  Unconventional defensive alignments are his specialty.  He uses all the data provided to him by those in his former organization to design these defenses.  It's estimated in 2012 that he used over 200 specialized shifts during the season.   

His line up card is unique at times as well.  For example:

For those that don't understand the reference, Tommy Tutone had a one hit wonder with Jenny/867-5309 back in 1982.   Maddon also took his lineup to the people at one point.  In April 2011, he allowed the Tampa Chamber of Commerce choose his lineup for a game against the Twins, after attending a luncheon for the group.  

How will his "quirks" play in Chicago?  I think just fine.  I don't imagine it will be long before there's a run on those thick black framed glasses Maddon wears.  In fact they had their own twitter account in Tampa.   He'll keep things light, he'll keep things interesting, but will he be able to change a culture?  It all begins Monday, when he's formally introduced in a press conference at of all places, "The Cubby Bear".  

While the process was a bit ugly, in the fact that it cost a man his job, in the end, the reasoning is fairly fact based.  Now the pressure is on, Cubs fans have been dying for a winner for, well, a long time. Expectations are huge, and the timetable for a winner may have been moved up a bit as a result of Maddon's arrival in Chicago.