MESA, Ariz. -- It is an interesting managerial philosophy: If you treat baseball players as adults, then they, in response, will act like adults.This is part and parcel of Joe Maddon's approach to managing, and it will be in full force in his second season managing the Cubs. In another
MESA, Ariz. -- It is an interesting managerial philosophy: If you treat baseball players as adults, then they, in response, will act like adults.
This is part and parcel of Joe Maddon's approach to managing, and it will be in full force in his second season managing the Cubs. In another Maddon mixture of literary reference and common sense, the Cubs will have a group of "lead bulls" in charge of all clubhouse matters.
The "lead-bull" concept in the clubhouse is Maddon's work, although he freely acknowledges that he borrowed it from the novel "Centennial" by James Michener.
This useful information came to light by an indirect route Thursday, as the Cubs worked out at the Sloan Park complex. Maddon was asked, as many people in baseball were being asked, about the Adam LaRoche matter. The frequent presence of LaRoche's son in the White Sox clubhouse led to controversy and LaRoche's retirement.
So Maddon was asked what his policy was on "kids in the clubhouse."
"We're all for kids on the infield," the manager said with a smile, referring to his corps of talented young infielders. "We were pretty good with that. They have their own lockers. We get them whatever toys that they like. We put their names on their toys. It's something that we kind of advocate.
"Regarding actual children, what we attempt to do -- and I'll do it on Sunday -- is I'll have my 'lead bulls' meeting on an annual basis. And in your lead-bull meeting you talk about moments such as that; kids in the clubhouse, dads in the clubhouse, entourages in the clubhouse, everything about the clubhouse, travel, how do you dress, hotels, how do you act.
"I like to talk about all that stuff in advance with the lead bulls. The lead bulls are influential people on your team. The influence of the lead bulls came to me through a book by James Michener, where the Indians, not having the wherewithal to kill buffalo other than running them over the cliff, they would find the lead bull, head him in that direction and the rest of the buffalo would follow. Thus, they would have meat and clothing for the entire winter."
The Cubs, on the other hand, are looking to take care of themselves over the summer. Maddon gets the leaders of the club together. They agree on policies to govern their environment. The lead bulls take the word to the rest of the players. This philosophy worked for Maddon with the Rays. It wasn't bad last season in Chicago, either.
"I like to get my lead bulls and have them run in the right direction," Maddon said. "And then they carry the message to the rest of the group. Quite frankly, I have an office. Every ballpark I'm at, I hang out in my office. They hang out in the clubhouse. If they don't want kids out there and the rule is to not have kids, then they have to go up to a player and say: 'Listen, your kid is not supposed to be here at a certain time.'
"I much prefer that the players make that rule and then enforce it.
"So with these guys, it will be me in a room with a list of items to talk about, and then we'll listen to anything that they want to talk about. My concept is, once we leave that room, we're all on the same page when it comes to policy.
"I don't like the word 'rules,'" Maddon said. "We like to create policy, how we're going to conduct ourselves, how we're going to act. And then I believe it's among the more experienced guys on your team to make sure that it's adhered to. It's not about me to do that. It's not about the coaching staff. It's among the players. It's a part of our overarching philosophy, [which] is to treat you like a man, to give you all the freedom that you need. I believe that we get greater discipline and respect in return."
There will be more than a few lead bulls on this year's Cubs team.
"I like to keep it under 10, normally, but you look at our team," Maddon said. "This year, you include John Lackey, Jason Heyward shows up, Jonny Lester's been there, David Ross, [Anthony] Rizzo. You look in the bullpen, you've got guys who have been around. Ben Zobrist will be a part of that; he's been there for a long time. Eight's a perfect number, I think. But I'm not going to exclude anybody, because the number is too large. "
This is a grown-up, democratic clubhouse model. It may not be the traditional model, but it's one that works.
"They know it's legit," Maddon said of his players. "They know how much I respect their opinion, and it's got to work both ways. The dictatorial component of this game, I think, is slowly fading. It was prominent in football; maybe it still is."
After all of this, there was yet another question about Maddon's personal feeling regarding kids in the clubhouse.
"If the players are OK with it, I'm OK with it," Maddon said. "That's my point. It's up to them."
This is not the inmates running the asylum. This is a very astute manager sharing the decision-making with his players.
Mike Bauman is a columnist for MLB.com.