Things you need to know about Joe Maddon.
He has the power-hitting Cubs playing for the National League pennant — the National League Championship Series starts on Saturday against either the Mets or Dodgers. And isn’t that a hoot? The Cubs.
Maddon came into this season, his first in Chicago, with expectations higher than usual, but nothing like this. Ninety-seven wins — up from 73 in 2014. His Cubs beat the Pirates in the wild-card game, beat the Cardinals in the Division Series.
He is the second-best manager in baseball. Maybe. The Cubs have a long way to go before accomplishing the big thing — winning the World Series. Before that, there’s the issue of actually getting into the World Series. But, come on, what Maddon did is big. He may be second to Bruce Bochy in the manager ratings — at this point, a distant second. Everyone is a distant second to Bochy.
The last time the Cubs won a World Series was 1908. The last time they played in a World Series was 1945 — before Maddon was born (1954). Not saying the Cubs are World Series bound. Not saying they aren’t, either.
Maddon’s personality is unusual. If he feels a player is pressing, he sends the player home, tells him not to think about baseball. He’ll ask his players to wear Hawaiian shirts — just because. A while back, he came to a press conference wearing a catcher’s mask. It seems two reporters spat at each other at a previous presser, and Maddon wanted to protect himself, or make a point, or show the reporters what dopes they were.
And there’s this. Maddon attended Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. Lafayette just happens to be my alma mater, although we didn’t know each other. Maddon graduated 10 years after me. In my research — the Cubs media guide and Wikipedia — I noticed he grew up in Hazleton, Pa. (population 25,000), about an hour from Lafayette.
He played baseball and football in college. He got an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Lafayette. Me, I never knew Lafayette gives honorary doctorates of anything. I never got one. And he got inducted into the Lafayette Hall of Fame. Me, I have not been inducted into the Lafayette Hall of Fame. I didn’t know we even have a Hall of Fame.
He played catcher four years in the minors but never got higher than “A” ball. His “hugest” home run total was three in Salinas in 1977.
In 2014, his final season managing Tampa Bay, I waited for him in the visiting clubhouse at the O.Co. Coliseum — the Rays were in town to play the A’s. For years, I had meant to talk with him about — exploit? – our Lafayette connection and I finally got around to it. I stood idly in the clubhouse with my Lafayette yearbook, a big heavy relic I almost never look at. For starters, it weighs a ton and I don’t do weight training anymore.
And I waited and waited.
Maddon, it seems, is casual about time. He’s casual about lots of things and that explains why his Cubs, a young team, played so well. Maddon is a pressure remover.
Finally, he rushed into the clubhouse, late for his pregame stuff. And he would have pushed right past me, a mere stranger, if I hadn’t shoved the yearbook in his face. He stopped dead. Think of Dracula stopping dead after Dr. Van Helsing holds up the cross, except Maddon had no negative feelings about the yearbook.