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Maddon’s auspicious debate guides Cubs to postseason

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This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Oct 3 Cubs Issue. Subscribe today!

THE CIRCLE IS perfect. Like a target. Or a Cubs’ logo, which, come to consider of it, looks like a target.

The swarming diagram, drawn on Joe Maddon’s iPad, embodies a speak a manager gave to a Cubs on Feb. 24, a initial full day of open training in Mesa, Arizona. The scratch is distinguished — “the product of a Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Catholic propagandize education,” he says — and so is a arrow that pierces a circle, with feathers looking like a seams of a round and an arrowhead that could unequivocally good be a hell-bent outing around a bases. The process to a stupidity can be seen scribbled during a unequivocally top: Pressure [Is] a Motivator, a Positive, an Indicator You Are in a Right Place.

Cubs’€™ 2016 defining moments ‘€˜not as obvious’€™ to Joe Maddon

It’s misleading if any of this will lead to a Cubs championship, but, as unchanging seasons go, it would be tough to ask for anything more.

The round competence also mount for a object that has been resplendent on a Cubs this season. With a difference of one day, Apr 8, when they trailed a 4-0 Pirates by one game, Chicago has been on a north side of a NL Central standings.

Winning is zero new for Maddon’s Cubs: They done it to a NLCS final year in his initial deteriorate during a helm, customarily to be swept by a Mets. But streamer into a final 3 weeks of a season, they were on gait to win 104 games, that would be their tip regular-season sum given 1910, that is twin years after they won their final … all right, we won’t discuss it.

What’s many fascinating is what Maddon wrote inside and around a circle. Almost all seems prophetic now, that is one reason a glyph has turn a renouned fan T-shirt done and sole by Korked Baseball-emblazoned with horn-rimmed eyeglasses on a front, blueprint on a back. (A poignant apportionment of a deduction go to Maddon’s Respect 90 Foundation.)

As starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks listened to Maddon’s speak that day in February, he was ecstatic behind to Dartmouth College, where he was an economics major. “It unequivocally was like being in a unequivocally cold category with a unequivocally cold professor,” Hendricks says. “I’m not certain we totally accepted all he was saying, yet we all walked out of there with smiles on a faces. We were prepared to welcome a target.”

It was that circle, and a messages inside and orbiting it, that set a theatre for this season.

1. Embrace a Target

Maddon initial began formulating his summary behind during baseball’s winter meetings final December, after a Cubs had acquired outfielder Jason Heyward, second baseman Ben Zobrist and starter John Lackey. “They have that media scrum for managers,” Maddon says, “and everybody is articulate about a vigour and a expectations, that we were a group to beat, and we thought, ‘Well, we improved welcome a position rather than run divided from it.'” At a time, he also checked out a book from a estimable library in his head: Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger. “There’s a stage when a president’s spin doctors are revelation him he has to stretch himself from his crony who was killed by a drug cartel. But a hero, Jack Ryan, stairs in and says, ‘No, Mr. President. Not customarily was he your friend, he was your best friend, and we have to residence it.’ Sometimes it’s improved to run toward a fire.”

It roughly goes yet observant that there is a second definition to “target” for a Cubs. Maddon wants them to penchant their standing as a bull’s-eye for a other NL teams. With that confidence, they competence improved be means to strike what they’re aiming for: a championship. Just don’t consider about a concern of finale 108 years of frustration.

“With all due honour to a true fans,” he says, “I will not get held adult in that 1908 stuff. we wasn’t here for all a years of pain, and conjunction were any of my players or coaches. It’s a large adequate aim as it is. This is about now, not then.”

2. We All Have to Set Aside Our Personal Agendas

There is one thing that Maddon always writes on his differently indeterminate lineup cards: DNBAFF. That’s his sign to set aside his possess biases. “Do not be a f—ing fan,” he says. “You can get held adult in a game, only like everybody else in a park. But we can’t play favorites and wish this man gets a strike or that man gets an out. we have to make decisions formed on information and common sense. we have to conduct each diversion to win.”

The heading of Maddon’s Rays (he managed them from 2006 to 2014) and Cubs has been flexibility, definition players are mostly asked to consider some-more about a group and reduction about themselves. That came into play right divided on Apr 7, when rarely touted outfielder/catcher Kyle Schwarber was mislaid for a deteriorate since of an ACL damage he suffered in an outfield collision with core fielder Dexter Fowler.

Fortunately, a Cubs have Kris Bryant, who has played third base, initial base, shortstop and all 3 outfield positions; Zobrist, who plays in a outfield when he’s not during second base; and Javier Baez, who’s played everywhere yet pitcher and catcher. There’s no certainty in a Maddon lineup.

3. All Do Our Jobs

This goes palm in palm with No. 2. “Your position competence change, or we competence be called on to start when you’ve been sitting on a dais for a week,” Maddon says. “That ‘9 on 1’ in parentheses [on a whiteboard] is to remind them that invulnerability is unequivocally many a group bid and offense is one opposite nine.”

Baez, of course, has taken a application actor outline to a new level. On offense, a 23-year-old giveaway swinger had 13 homers, 50 RBIs and a .271 batting normal by Sept. 12, and on defense, Maddon says, “he’s a diversion changer.” Indeed, a Cubs would not lead a majors in defensive runs saved yet a 17 Baez has supposing — 11 during second, 4 during brief and twin during third. Nobody in round is quicker with a tag.

Baez is also indirectly obliged for a observant that desirous a many renouned Maddon T-shirt: At a Cubs gathering in January, Baez told a assembly of a whimsical recommendation Joe gave him when he assimilated a group final year: “Try not to suck.”

4. Know We Are Not Perfect yet Can Be Present

“I don’t wish anyone to ever go [on a field] fearful to make a earthy mistake since that will lead to a mental mistake,” Maddon says.

In baseball, somebody can find error with anybody: Cy Young Award leader Jake Arrieta was stranded in a Orioles’ teenager joining complement when a Cubs acquired him in 2013. Free representative Dexter Fowler happily returned to a bar in Feb after removing a runaround from a O’s. Rookie prodigy Willson Contreras was on nobody’s radar his initial 6 years in a Cubs organization. Jon Lester is carrying a best deteriorate of his career, so who unequivocally cares if he’s demure to chuck to initial base?

Tommy La Stella, a versatile maladroit hitter, was forced to face critique and beating in mid-August when a bar sent him down. When he responded by not reporting, Maddon was understanding: “I was immature once and reading Kurt Vonnegut, so we kind of know what he’s going through. We’ll only give him his space.”

After a week of reflection, La Stella motionless to news to Double-A. Now he’s behind with a large club, providing a maladroit bat off a bench.

5. We Are Our Own Little Planet and 6. Rotate Around Same Goal

The Cubs bought into these twin concepts from a start. “We have this conspicuous mix of knowledge and youth,” Maddon says of a hall atmosphere. “The comparison guys watch out for a younger guys. They can be tough on them when they do something wrong, yet they’re a initial ones out of a cave when they do something right.”

It’s engaging to note that of a 4 Cubs a fans voted to start in a infield for a All-Star Game, initial baseman Anthony Rizzo and second baseman Zobrist, a right side, were proven veterans; shortstop Addison Russell and third baseman Bryant, a left side, were sophomores.

Yet a presentation of Contreras during catcher best embodies a one-world truth on Planet Cubs. “The child has been great,” Maddon says. “But it’s not only about him. It’s about David Ross and Miguel Montero holding him underneath their wing and assisting him even yet it competence meant fewer at-bats for them.”


BELOW THE CIRCLE, a manager laid out twin of his other tenets:

Do Simple Better

Maddon wants his players to revoke a diversion to a essence. That’s because he binds an annual American Legion Week in mid-August, vouchsafing a players arrive during a ballpark after than common to remind them of a days when they only got out of their automobile and played Legion ball. It’s all partial of Maddon’s faith that for all a advantages that video and information have brought to pitching and defense, they can work to shackle a hitter who thinks too much. If we had Kris Bryant, wouldn’t we wish him to do what comes naturally?

The Process Is Fearless

This is something Maddon openly admits that he borrowed from mythological NFL partner manager Tom Moore, whose truth is that if we combine on a small things, you’ll eventually arrive during a Big Thing. There are 4 small definitions underneath a header to explain The Process — it lacks emotions, it’s a moment, it’s a mental anchor, it simplifies a task. Case in point: On Aug. 10, a Cubs were holding a 2-0 lead over a Angels in a tip of a eighth inning when rookie reliever C.J. Edwards was called on to face a heart of a sequence — Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Andrelton Simmons — with runners on second and third. He struck out Trout and got Pujols and Simmons to belligerent out. Asked after a Cubs’ 3-1 feat either he was disturbed about confronting Trout and Pujols in that situation, Edwards simplified to combine on creation a right pitch. “I only pulled my shawl down some-more so we don’t see their faces,” he said.


BY MAY 8, a Cubs were 3 games adult on a ’27 Yankees, yet they couldn’t utterly means their prohibited start. As they headed into a heartless partial of their report before a All-Star break, they became a aim that Maddon had warned they would.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander pushed a panic button, suggesting on Jul 8 that Maddon’s shtick competence be wearing thin. It was “time to right a ship, Joe,” he wrote.

Maddon stayed a course. He customarily addresses a infantry 3 times a year — open training, mid by a deteriorate and before a postseason. As it happens, he chose that unequivocally day — a Friday when a group was about to start a three-game array in Pittsburgh — to call a meeting.

He came full circle, handing out new copies of a speak he had given behind in February. Says Zobrist, “It was his approach of reminding us that this is still a unequivocally good group and that we indispensable to stay on target. Not only for a multiplication title, not only to win a NLCS and get to a World Series. The genuine aim is to win a final diversion of a season.”

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