By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — At 61 and with decades of professional baseball in the books, the question of whether Cubs manager Joe Maddon can be better at his trade may be interesting to delve into. Certainly, the Cubs front office is thrilled with the initial returns on the five-year, $25-million investment they made in November 2014.
Maddon’s laid-back, passive-aggressive style was fun to watch work for a team that improved from 73 wins in 2014 to 97 in 2015. An eclectic man from Pennsylvania, Maddon has made himself the most talked about Cub manager since former owner Phil Wrigley hired Leo Durocher ahead of the 1996 season. That hire by Wrigley changed the culture of a franchise that was losing and not lovable in 1965.
What followed the Durocher hiring was the first sustained succession of contending Cubs teams since the 1930s. Although Durocher’s teams didn’t make it to the postseason (there weren’t any playoffs outside of the World Series from 1966-’68, and only four teams made it from 1969-’72), the Cubs were in contention and over .500 in his final six seasons in charge.
Maddon will have a great opportunity to establish the same type of continuous success over the next five to 10 years with his present group of young stars. Can this unique man for all seasons infuse even more leadership with his club going forward?
I asked Maddon if his preparation and methods change from year to year.
“My motivation to myself is to be consistent, if that makes any sense to you at all,” Maddon said. “You definitely feel the edge as everything (a new season) draws near. My goal each year is to try to figure out what to do with each particular group.”
The way Maddon has approached each season is based on experiences of the past. At the same time, he holds an open-minded view of these distinctly different baseball players and individuals he’s mandated to help mold into champions.
“Not every group requires the same message from the manager,” Maddon said. “I have never had this many veteran players that are this accomplished at one time. I am in the process of figuring out what I need to do really help these guys the most. At the same time, I look at these younger guys and I realize they really require more one-on-one conversation.”
Maddon has become the master of gaining trust of players, bosses and media types alike. He’s a hard guy not to like. When a young reporter asked a silly question last season (I ask plenty bad ones myself), Maddon gave a polite five-minute answer with aplomb and insight added in. I asked him why he is so directly forthcoming and acts so interested when asked off-center questions.
“What if my son or daughter were in a new business and they were asking someone of experience a question that was important to them?” Maddon said. “Don’t you know I would want the person to be respectful of my kids? That is how I view my role with people in all walks of life.”
Maddon has one goal each day when he goes to work.
“What I try to do is not miss anything,” he said. “I have done this for a while so you never want to go backward. The only threat of that is if you’re not eager and anxious. I still get butterflies in my stomach when you start out every year. I take that as a positive. I am not over anything. I want to be consistent, communicative and I need to read my guys properly.”
That sounds like a man ready to lead his team into another championship battle in 2016.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.