Joe Maddon’s Populist Management Style Brings Fun to the Field

Joe Maddon is undeniably cool. The reigning National League Manager of the Year (his third award) is an appealing mix of baseball maestro and middle-aged hipster sensibility. A devotee of military-style spectacles, hoodies and the animal kingdom, Maddon exudes a relaxed yet commanding vibe that inspires others to follow willingly. I couldn’t have said it better than writer Patrick Mooney of Comcast Sportsnet Chicago when he observed earlier this year:

“Maddon has the street smarts and the people skills to survive in an organization that historically has been sabotaged by ownership instability, corporate dysfunction and political infighting.”

Historically, as members of Cubs Nation know, fandom hasn’t always been fun. But Joe Maddon’s time in Chicago has been literally and metaphorically marked by a refreshing change in attitude. A terrific winning season buttressed by a collegial lightheartedness about the silly stuff is beginning to put distance between today and the darker days of Wrigley gone by.

With the start of the 2016 season fast approaching, it seems that the chill Maddon won’t be tinkering with a working formula. This week, attention has been paid to the Manager’s pre and post-game player dress code. It should be pretty simple for the guys to follow: “‘If you think you look hot, you wear it.” He continued in his patented, populist way, “The $5,000 suit on the airplane ride makes no sense to me.”

With the pre-season in full swing and expectations running high for this year’s team, wardrobe discussions may seem like so much fluff. But that’s precisely the point. Baseball is a beautiful game, however sometimes MLB bureaucrats render decisions that tar the sport with a “stuffy old man” reputation. Field reaction rules are just one example.

We can point to the end zone and court side grandstanding allowed in football and basketball, respectively. For fans, witnessing genuine competitive emotion from our guys makes spectatorship more viscerally exciting. On the baseball field, conversely, players are curiously expected to behave like robots. You just hit a grand slam in Game 3 of the playoffs? Better not flip your bat in celebration. You’re pitching a shutout and just struck out yet another batter in the bottom of the 8th inning? Don’t you dare look too happy. This is hard to understand. We become engrossed in sports because we love competition, the expressions of triumph as well as (sometimes) the agony of defeat. We WANT the players to care as much as we do.

Which brings us back to Maddon’s wardrobe pronouncement (or lack thereof). It’s clothes. And it’s 2016. Sartorial choices are a form of self-expression within every demographic of every global society. Maddon, no stranger to personal style, understands this. His job – and the job of the players – is singular. Perform on the field. What team members are wearing before and after this effort is beside the point. So with the savvy, Dude-like wisdom we have come to know and respect from Joe Maddon, his policy is to not have a policy.

It’s simple. It’s focused. It treats players like adults. And it’s fun. This is why Cubs Nation loves its leader.

 

Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885. She’s also a part-time freelance writer, award-winning columnist and blogger who lives in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago with her partner Bob and their beloved pup, Jude. Her collected works are published athttp://www.beckysarwate.com