One of my first jobs out of college was at a company, which shall remain nameless, that was run by the three men who had founded it a decade earlier. It was not a particularly fun place. While the partners came and went as they pleased, the employees were expected to be in by 8 and out at 5. Lunch was to be eaten at your desk and there was no Internet access as it may interfere with productivity. But what, really, were we going to do? We were paid well and had little to no chance of making that kind of money anywhere else. One day, they realized they needed a network expert. To their credit, they went out and hired the best available.
He was different. He came in when he felt like it. Took long lunches. Sat around and, not infrequently, poked fun at the bosses. What was the difference? He had a resume a mile long and could have gotten another job in seconds if he’d walked away. Meanwhile, the company would likely have to take a step downwards if they replaced him. He saw himself as the equal of the three partners because, in a real sense, he was. They would lose much more credibility than he would if he walked away.
I couldn’t help but remember this as I saw Joe Maddon saunter up to the microphone for his introductory press conference in ripped jeans and a casual shirt, having to be asked to stand up and do the photos for the press.
This guy was different than what had come before him.
Over the last three years, we’ve seen a number of personnel decisions — Carlos Marmol and Jose Veras, for example — that seem to come from the front office, not the manager’s office. To their credit, Jed and Theo were quick to say that on-field decisions were made by the manager. I’m sure that, technically speaking, this is absolutely correct. But just think about this from a human nature standpoint. If you’re Dale Sveum or Rick Renteria, in your first job as a big league manager and looking to succeed, how do you disagree with Theo Epstein, the boy genius who is working to end a second curse? As Rick Renteria found out the hard way, there are more experienced candidates who Theo could go to at any moment.
This is not meant to disparage either man. In fact, I was one of the few defending Renteria’s record once the Maddon news broke. But they were brought in, largely, to implement the front office’s plan and, hopefully, learn to be major league managers along the way. They were employees.
From the moment Maddon had to be reminded to stand back up for pictures, a very different message was sent: I’m a big deal. Unlike Sveum and Renteria, Maddon has earned his battle scars over 9 years making one of the most inexpensive teams in baseball competitive year-in, year-out. This is a guy with a resume that rivals Jed’s and Theo’s. He can stand up to them in a way that the others simply couldn’t because, at the end of the day, he had 10 other job offers and chose the Cubs. Those 10 other offers aren’t going anywhere. For good or for ill, Maddon is a partner in this.
Indeed, I heard rumors today that the Cubs will make some roster moves this winter to give Joe the tools he wants. Can anyone realistically see Rick Renteria dictating personnel moves?
What Theo gets out of this is someone who will challenge him and, ultimately, make the organization better. While he will always know this intellectually, I suspect there will be moments next summer when he longs for the days when managers would go with the flow. Maddon, for all the laid back attitude, will not.
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