Cubs October Coaching Liquidation Leaves Mark on Joe Maddon’s Image

In the NFL, the first weekday following the Super Bowl is often referred to as “Black Monday.” The negative association with phenomena like stock market crashes befits an annual bloodletting for the ineffective and unlucky coaches involved with an underperforming football team.

The Chicago Cubs 2017 season may have ended on October 19 with an 11-1 loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS, but for many of us, disappointment in the team’s performance during that run lingers. The bullpen struggles, the anemic hitting, 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant’s admission that the team was “tired” after a no more than usually grueling season. Writer Steve Greenberg of The Chicago Sun-Times wrote on October 18, “Sadly, the whole world can tell…It’s almost like this team is out of gas, wheezing to the finish line, already half in bed and going to sleep.”

Cub fans of all philosophies agreed that changes need to be made in advance of the 2018 season. However we didn’t get much time to consider what those changes could and should look like before the organization embarked on its own version of “Black Monday,” the “Savage Last Full Week of October.”

Perhaps the purge was unavoidable. But what’s especially jarring – and has become the central storyline as opposed to a narrative about the team refining and retuning – is Joe Maddon’s long-running and very recent insistence that all was well in the clubhouse. Rick Morrisey of The Sun-times wrote earlier this week:

“Maddon spent the season speaking glowingly about everything and everyone — players, coaches, management and ownership. If you had asked him about the bathrooms at Wrigley Field, he would have offered a soaring ode to troughs, along with a brief appreciation of urinal cakes.

Then the season ended, and what had been happy, happy, happy was revealed, through his firing of three coaches, as something that didn’t quite match up with Maddon’s flowery praise…The most important question of all: How does any coach or player know where he stands with Maddon?”

My thoughts exactly. Bench Coach Dave Martinez, who accepted an opportunity to replace the beleaguered Dusty Baker as Manager of the Washington Nationals, is to be congratulated. He is the master of his own destiny. Ditto (I think?) the Cubs former Assistant Hitting Coach, Eric Hinske, who’s been promoted to the position of Hitting Coach for the Los Angeles Angels. Although it makes sense to wonder if Hinske felt the heat given the Cubs absolutely horrendous performance at the plate during the 2017 postseason run, he too emerges a winner from the past week’s revolving door exercise.

Not so much now ex-Pitching Coach Chris Bosio, Cubs former Hitting Coach John Mallee and sacked Third Base Coach Gary Jones. (Cue Taps).

Bosio was the first victim of the late-October liquidation. There can be no doubt that the beginning, middle and end of the Cubs pitching staff performed below expectations in 2017. However when I heard the news on October 21, two questions immediately came to mind:

1. If the Cubs didn’t have what they needed in the bullpen this season, whose job was is it to rectify the situation before the playoffs? (Hint: Hoyer and Epstein)

2. Who made all those crazy decisions to pull starters like Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester, when they still had stuff left, in favor of obviously struggling relievers like Carl Edwards Jr., or more inexplicably…John Lackey? That would be Joe Maddon.

Bosio’s dismissal is especially jarring for fans (like me) who emotionally reinvested in the Cubs in recent years after a long period of spiritual apathy. Writers Paul Sullivan and Mark Gonzales of The Chicago Tribune observed:

“Bosio was instrumental in the rebuild. He is credited with fixing Jake Arrieta’s career and accelerating the rebuilding plan, while also building up mid-level free agents Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel to bring back value in trades. Feldman was the key player in the deal with the Orioles that brought in Arrieta, while Hammel and Jeff Samardzija brought in Addison Russell from the A’s organization.

He helped Kyle Hendricks develop into one of the league’s top young pitchers and was instrumental in Samardzija’s career as well. The decision to fire Bosio will be unpopular with Cubs pitchers, who loved him like a family member.”

The subsequent hiring of Maddon’s old friend Jim Hickey from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays is certainly promising. The veteran has worked with top talent such as Roger Clemens, Brad Lidge, Roy Oswalt, Brandon Backe, Chris Archer and David Price over the course of his career. As a diehard Cubs fan who wants to see a stronger 2018 team, I wish him and the other newcomers to the coaching staff nothing but success. Still, the last week has left an icky coating sticking to members of Wrigleyville Nation trying to put the recent NLCS drubbing in perspective. I’ll conclude in further agreement with Morrisey:

“What Maddon said during the NLCS went beyond not telling the truth, and it went beyond keeping up appearances. It moved into the realm of the bizarre. It’s one thing not to criticize a group of people; it’s another to gush about them and then fire them. There’s something almost pathological about that, especially when those coaches hear the praise and think they’re coming back…If you can’t say something not-so-nice once in a while, Joe, don’t say anything at all.”