Joe Maddon is certainly an unconventional manager, especially by MLB standards. He regularly questions the utility of everyday position players. He batted his pitcher eight before anyone else did. He travels to Spring Training every year in a Winnebago. He chooses to live in Tampa during his time off. If it’s not obvious from this list, I’ll say it bluntly: Joe Maddon is a weird guy.
But even by Maddon standards, Joe has been particularly eccentric this spring. Wherein the past, Joe implored his club to “Try Not To Suck”, or “Embrace the Target”. In 2018, Joe wants his players to bring art back into the game. He’s bringing paintings of Michelangelo’s David wearing a jock strap into the clubhouse. He’s got some of Salvador Dali’s finest stuff enhanced with a catcher’s mask. And his latest piece? A portrait of Muhammad Ali, with his “5 Stages of Being a Pro Baller” writ large.
It’s a very weird painting. But I kind of love it. More than the art, I love how Joe articulates how big leaguers mature throughout their career…
Stage 1: I’m happy to be here. The green among the clubhouse. Just excited for a cup of coffee in the Show. The Dillon Maples’s and Victor Caratini’s of the world.
Stage 2: Survival Mode. These guys have gotten a taste, and they don’t want to go back to riding the bus from Des Moines to Omaha. Whatever it takes. On a hunt to find their role and cement a spot on a big league ballclub.
Stage 3: I belong here. I can do this. These guys have matured into everyday contributors. They’re not superstars. But they know their role and do their job. Think Javy Baez. Think Kyle Hendricks.
Stage 4: I want to make as much money as possible. The All-Stars and the cash cows. These cats are established big leaguers who are good enough to drive the team, and motivated enough to want to do it. The Bryzzo Boys.
Stage 5: All I want to do is win. The grizzled old vets who have done everything there is to do in the league. They’re not here for a haircut, they’re here for jewelry. Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, Pedro Strop. The anchors of the ballclub.
Championship teams have the right mixture of guys in each stage. Enough stage 1 guys to provide sparks of energy. Enough stage 2-ers to drive competition. The stage 3 guys to provide stability. Stage 4 powers the ship, and stage 5 steers it.
I know for a fact we have enough guys in stage 5. We’ve seen our no-ego veterans lead from the front time and time again. I know we have superstars who are in stage 4. I’d take Kris, Anthony, and Willy over the middle of any lineup in the Bigs.
What will decide whether the Cubs are riding trolley cars down Michigan Avenue in November is how many guys we can get from stage 2 to stage 3, and how many stage 1 new faces can bring us some juice when we need it.
We need Addison Russell to leave survival mode. We need Ian Happ and Albert Almora to get comfortable in regular big league roles. We need them to be prepared for big-time ABs in October. We need Carl Edwards Jr. to take the next step. And we’re going to need guys in the middle of the summer to provide the spark that Ian Happ did last year.
It takes all 5 stages to win a championship. Joe Maddon might be a weirdo, but he’s in stage 5 of his career, and he knows what he’s doing. If he wants to bring art into baseball, more power to him. I think another World Series ring on his hand would make one hell of a final piece in his 2018 gallery.