Just looking at Joe Maddon tells you he’s a little different.
Addressing the media 90 minutes before his Cubs’ 4-3 loss to the Mets on Saturday night, the 62-year-old manager leaned back in the Citi Field visitors’ dugout with his spiked white hair, trimmed beard, Cubs pullover, black aviator sunglasses and six different-colored wristbands.
The Mets swept the Cubs in the 2015 NLCS and have won the first three games of this weekend’s four-game series, but Maddon doesn’t appear worried about his team’s lack of recent success against them — which is reasonable, given that the Cubs already have won more than 50 games before the All-Star break and own the National League’s best record.
Maddon is known as a players’ coach. He’ll organize themed road trips — making players dress up as “nerds” or wear “zany” suits — and bring animals into the clubhouse. Anything to keep his players loose during a six-month, 162-game season.
“He does things very differently, but it’s fun,” said Cubs slugger Kris Bryant, who has two home runs against the Mets in this series. “He keeps it loose. Baseball is so monotonous, you kind of do the same thing over and over again, but he really makes sure to shake it up a little bit.”
And when it comes to conventional managerial wisdom, Maddon often finds himself on the outside — which Bryant knows just as much as anybody. When Bryant receives his morning starting lineup text message, he rarely knows where he’ll hit in the order or his position for the day — and how long he’ll be playing it. He’s started 46 of the Cubs’ first 80 games at third base, along with 23 in leftfield, six in rightfield and three at first base. He even has played centerfield and shortstop, often playing multiple positions in the same game.
“At first, it was a little weird for me because I’ve always stuck at one position,” Bryant said. “But you never know what to expect from Joe, anyway, so I’m enjoying it.”
Nothing might explain this better than when Maddon used three pitchers — relievers Travis Wood, Spencer Patton and Pedro Strop — in leftfield in the Cubs’ 7-2, 15-inning victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday. It was about as unconventional as it gets in baseball as Maddon flip-flopped the lefthanded Wood and righthanded Patton between the mound and leftfield in the 14th inning. But it worked. The two combined to pitch a perfect inning.
“I’ve done it. I’ve seen it done,” Mets manager Terry Collins said yesterday. “Joe would certainly be the one guy who would attempt to do it, so I’m not surprised.”
But Maddon wasn’t thinking like a mad scientist in a laboratory, even though both his appearance and actions sometimes create that impression. He just thought that was the best move at the moment to give the Cubs the best chance to win.
“I think moving forward, it’s something to be looked at down the road,” Maddon said, “where you can actually get a nice inning’s worth of work out of two pitchers — even two innings out of two guys — based on the other team’s lineup.”
Maddon was out of options. He already had used five relievers in the game’s first 13 innings. In order to take advantage of the lefty-righty matchups he wanted, he didn’t have enough arms to bring in pitchers for one or two outs, only to remove them for the rest of the game. So he relied on the pitchers he viewed as athletic enough to play the outfield.
Also, he knew it would provide fun for his players. Winning comes first for Maddon, but there’s no reason fun can’t be a close second.
“He knows how to keep it loose,” Bryant said, “and that’s what’s fun about it.”