MESA, Ariz. (AP) Joe Maddon is already putting his imprint on the Chicago Cubs, from what they hear to how they wear their hair.
The new manager has been meeting with his team and getting to know his players at spring training – not that they needed much of an introduction.
”I like him. Everyone I’ve spoken with loved playing for him,” said reliever Jason Motte, who signed with the Cubs in December. ”I was hoping if one day if I ever get a chance to play for that guy, I’d love to.”
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Motte had been recognized for his beard during his days with St. Louis. Sometimes it’s short and well-trimmed, other times long and scraggly.
Maddon said he’s not about to give anyone tips on personal style.
”Why would I want to get in the way of their day with some inane rules that mean nothing?” he said Friday. ”Dress has nothing to do with your success or failure, how you wear your socks, if they have long hair, if they have an earring or tattoo. Why would I ever care about something like that?”
”Every generation has its own little gig going on. Why do you always want to impose your will on everybody else? I don’t quite understand that. I choose not to,” he said. ”I just told the boys out there, `I’m a product of the `60s and `70s.’ And they’re going to have to put up with that.”
Maddon has always moved to his own beat.
He’s been piping in music to the field where the Cubs begin their days by stretching. He walks through his ideas on fundamentals on a practice field, instead of sitting in an office and drawing up concepts on a chalkboard.
”He’s up to date,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, noting Maddon may have more Twitter followers than any of the players.
Among the other opening thoughts from Maddon: ”I’m anti-rules. Integrity has no need of rules.”
Maddon cautions that he’s talking in a baseball sense, adding, ”Society needs rules.”
But in a clubhouse, he believes players should lead each other.
”If somebody strays a little bit … I should be the last guy, always, to have to intervene if this is running properly. I really believe that,” he said.
”When you get the accountable professional baseball player that reacts well to freedom and gives you discipline and respect in return, they will carry the message for you. I believe that,” he said.
Moving from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Cubs has certainly raised expectations in Chicago, where there hasn’t been a World Series game at Wrigley Field since 1945.
”His track record speaks for itself. He took that franchise to a World Series-contending team every year on a very low payroll,” said the Cubs’ prized newcomer, pitcher Jon Lester.
Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president for baseball operations nearly hired Maddon when he ran the Boston Red Sox. Epstein said Maddon finished a ”close second” behind Terry Francona.
Lester, Francona and Epstein went on win championships in Boston. Maddon, meanwhile, got to try out his theories on shifts and other facets of the game at Tampa Bay, where he managed for nine seasons, including the World Series year of 2008.
”When you have somebody who is unique and looks at the world for a different perspective than maybe is traditionally the case, you develop more comfort and more trust in them when you see it actually work, when you see the body of work,” Epstein said.
”Once you see him not afraid to try to new things, and you see how well thought out they were, and you see him fearless … and you see the feel he has to lead players, when you see how comfortable he is in his own skin and with his own methods, it makes the picture clearer,” he said.
Maddon’s transition has been made simple by mere familiarity. He lived and worked in the Mesa area for 20-plus years while with the Angels as a coach and scout.
Earlier this week, he rode his bicycle around his old stomping grounds in east Mesa, touring Gene Autry Park, where the Angels held camp.
The Cubs will spend about six weeks in camp, between workouts and games. Here’s another novel idea from Maddon: He say there’s no need to cut down that time.
”Everybody says spring training is too long. I think it’s just the right length of time,” he said.
”I just love the rhythm … the ability to interact with the fans. Just the rite of spring training. I really enjoy the day. Then you get to go out for dinner afterward, get to know each other. A nice glass of wine. Everything is really cool.”