CHICAGO — Joe Maddon has created one of baseball’s most distinctive brands. Through his deft handling of the media and his touch within the clubhouse, he’s made himself into the horned-rim-glasses-wearing, T-shirt-making, RV-driving, fancy-wine-sipping, salt-and-pepper-haired exemplar of the new wave.
The manager of the defending world champion Chicago Cubs became a commodity by showing that Baseball Man and Renaissance Man are not mutually exclusive.
Yet even the best branding has proved ineffective lately. It has not shielded Maddon from a recent wave of intense criticism after he refused to bring in closer Wade Davis to stem the tide in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
One day later, Maddon doubled down on his defense, insisting that while Davis is healthy, he couldn’t be used for more than one inning only three days removed from retiring the last seven batters he faced in the Division Series closeout game against the Nationals.
“Listen, this guy just did yeoman kind of work — I love that word — in Washington and was not prepared to go more than three outs,” Maddon said. “I don’t understand why that’s difficult to understand.”
Besides, he said, Davis was to be deployed only with the lead. So John Lackey served up Justin Turner’s walk-off three-run homer in the ninth, sending the Cubs back to Chicago trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
Maddon’s public interactions often are a combination of charming and engaging. But as he defended himself about his tactics, he struck a different tone: condescending.
The shift came as Maddon addressed questions raised by fans on social media about why Davis had warmed in the eighth inning during a tie game. Such an action would dispute the manager’s assertion that the closer was not available unless the Cubs took the lead, and that had been the script from the start.
“First of all, social media, the moment I start worrying about that, I really need to retire,” Maddon said. “Second of all, that was all predetermined last night, again. Wade was not warming up to come in the game. Wade was probably just testing his arm at that point.”
Not that questions of bullpen management are new for Maddon. Even last October in the World Series, he came under fire for burning Aroldis Chapman in Game 6, which came back to bite the Cubs when a flamed-out Chapman staggered in Game 7.
Through two games of this NLCS, it is clear that the Dodgers hold a huge advantage in the bullpen, which has only magnified Maddon’s decisions on relievers. Through two games, Dodgers counterpart Dave Roberts has shown the ability to break from convention. Maddon has not.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen entered in a tie game on Sunday night while elite closer Davis was saved for a situation that never presented itself. It prompted unflattering comparisons to Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s infamous refusal to use Zach Britton in last year’s AL wild-card game.
Of course, Maddon dismissed the criticism as the stuff of social media second-guessing and nothing more.
“I really hope that you all understand that social media doesn’t count at all,” he said. “Twitter doesn’t count at all. And really, as sports writers, you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, quite frankly.”