Joe Maddon will return as Cubs manager for 2019

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Bob Nightengale reports that Joe Maddon will continue to be the Cubs manager in the 2019 season. That this is news and not an obvious proposition requires a bit of backfill.

Ken Rosenthal wrote a story this morning about the possibility — speculation and tea leaf reading, not really explicit information — that Maddon and Cubs president Theo Epstein aren’t seeing eye to eye these days. That, while generally complimentary of one another, Epstein was critical of how Maddon had handled certain things this year, particularly with respect to the bullpen, his use of Brandon Morrow in the runup to his season-ending injury in particular. Rosenthal also sprinkled the article with some references to Maddon being a “celebrity manager” and a guy who is not as controllable by the front office as some of the more “mallable” — Rosenthal’s words — managers in the game.

At no point did that lead to him or anyone else saying “Maddon was on the hot seat” but the suggestion was at least there. A suggestion that someone in the Cubs front office is blowing off some steam about Maddon or laying some groundwork for . . . something. A suggestion that might seem a bit more real the morning after a disappointing playoff exit which at least some people are calling a collapse.

As Nightengale notes, and as Rosenthal suggested could happen, Maddon’s contract is not being extended at this time and, barring a change in the offseason, he’ll enter 2019 as a lame duck, finishing out the final year of a five-year, $28 million deal that makes him the highest paid manager in baseball. Rosenthal says that, for his part, Maddon is not himself asking for an extension yet. Why that is is unclear, but it could be that he feels his negotiating power is at an ebb right now and that he’d rather try to get one following a more successful season. Or maybe he wants out of Chicago. Who knows? Either way, it does suggest that a lot is riding on the Cubs’ offseason and how things get going in 2019.

My gut tells me that this is all just a lot of late season pessimism at the end of what turned out to be a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign. Maddon had a lot to deal with injury wise in 2018 and while his high profile means that his nits are picked a bit more readily than other managers’, the consensus remains that he’s still one of the best skippers in the business. Unless there’s something we don’t know about how he relates to the front office, it would seem rather short sighted to part ways with Maddon at this juncture or to put him on a particularly hot seat next year.

Then again, no one figured he’d leave Tampa Bay either, so maybe some craziness is in the offing.

Barry Zito rooted against his own team in the 2010 World Series

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Retired big league pitcher Barry Zito has a memoir coming out. Much of it will likely track the usual course of an athlete’s memoir. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and a few fun and/or sad and/or thoughtful anecdotes along the way. One bit of it, though, is not the stuff of the usual athlete memoir.

He writes that he ctually rooted against the San Francisco Giants — his own team —  in the 2010 World Series. He did so because he was left off the postseason roster, felt miserable about it and let his ego consume him. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

“It was really hard to admit . . . I rooted against the team because my ego was in full control and if we lost then I could get out of there . . . It would a) prove they couldn’t do it without me, and b) take me out of the situation because I was so miserable coming to the field every day. I was so deep in shame. I wanted out of that situation so bad.”

Zito at that point was midway through a seven-year, $126 million contract he signed with the Giants after the 2006 season. Almost as soon as he signed it he transformed from one of the better pitchers in the game — he had a 124 ERA+ in eight seasons with the Oakland Athletics and won the 2002 Cy Young Award — to being a liability for the Giants. Indeed, he only had one season in San Francisco where, again, by ERA+, he was a league-average starter or better. In 2010 he went 9-14 with a 4.15 ERA and was way worse than that down the stretch. It made perfect sense for the Giants to leave him off the 2010 postseason roster. And, of course, it worked out for them.

Things would improve. He’d still generally struggle as a Giant, but in 2012 he was a hero of the NLCS, pitching the Giants past the Cardinals in a must-win game. He then got the Game 1 start in the World Series and beat Justin Verlander as the Giants won that game and then swept the Tigers out of the series. As time went on he’d fine more personal happiness as well. When his contract ended following the 2013 season Zito took out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle thanking Giants fans for their support. He’d leave the game in 2014 and pitch three more games for the Athletics in 2015 before retiring for good.

Not many baseball memoirs deliver hard truths like Zito’s appears willing to do. That’s pretty damn brave of him. And pretty damn admirable.