Maddon, Cubs part ways after five seasons

September 29th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Every managerial tenure, no matter the prestige of the man in the chair nor the height of success experienced, reaches an inevitable expiration date.

That moment has arrived for Joe Maddon and the Cubs.

On Sunday, the Cubs announced that they would not be offering Maddon a contract extension following this season, making the decorated manager a free agent for 2020. Following arguably the greatest managerial era in the team’s long, storied history, there will be a new voice at the helm.

“It’s just time,” Maddon said.

Maddon and Theo Epstein met over a bottle of Caymus wine on Saturday night in the hotel room of the Cubs president of baseball operations in St. Louis. They agreed that a mutual parting of ways was in order and they stood side by side at Busch Stadium to deliver the news together on Sunday morning.

They both explained that the decision will allow the Cubs to usher in a new era and give Maddon the chance to explore a new managing job.

"He's in a great position and I so look forward to his next chapter,” Epstein said. “And it's going to be good for the Cubs, too. I think we're at a point where we just need a little bit of change and something new and that's natural. That's the natural way of things. Change, if you embrace it the right way, is good for all of us." Maddon echoed that sentiment.

"It's really a really good day," Maddon said. "It's a great day, actually, because like Theo said, I agree. You've heard me talk about it in the past -- change is good. Change can be very good for everybody involved. I'm eternally grateful."

No matter who occupies the manager’s office at Wrigley Field next, there is no denying Maddon’s place in Cubs lore.

Chicago jumped at the chance to sign Maddon prior to the 2015 campaign, and he guided a pack of young, budding stars to World Series glory by ‘16. Maddon became the only manager in Cubs history to lead the team to four consecutive postseason berths, amassing 471 regular-season wins along the journey.

Maddon's .582 winning percentage is the second-highest total for a Cubs manager with more than two seasons, trailing only the .664 mark compiled by Frank Chance from 1905-12. Only Cap Anson (1,282 wins), Charlie Grimm (946), Chance (768) and Leo Durocher (535) have more managerial victories for the Cubs than Maddon, who is a three-time Manager of the Year recipient.

“His leadership and dedication produced one of the best eras in the history of Cubs baseball,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “Words simply cannot describe how much Joe has meant to this team and its fans. We are forever grateful.”

Maddon created a loose clubhouse culture with his easygoing manner, but he balanced that with demanding focus on the field. It worked for years -- just as it had previously in his time managing the Rays -- but the dynasty that Cubs fans felt was in place never truly came to fruition. Maddon preached never having the pressure exceed the pleasure, but pressure and urgency took hold over the past two seasons.

"Don't forget, three NLCS in a row," Maddon said in the season's final weekend, referring to the Cubs reaching the National League Championship Series from 2015-17. "I mean, just a couple knocks away from three World Series in a row. People want to focus on thoughts, focus on that one. Everybody tends to focus on negativity. I don't."

This year, Maddon’s run of consecutive trips to the October stage ended in remarkable fashion.

The rival Cardinals stormed Wrigley Field from Sept. 19-22 and swept the Cubs in their own house in a four-game series for the first time since 1921. Each loss was of the gut-wrenching, one-run variety. That came amidst a nine-game losing streak that dropped Chicago out of contention in the National League Central and Wild Card races.

And this year’s improbable late-season fade came one year after a 95-win Cubs team endured a swift exit as a one-and-done Wild Card club. That spurred an offseason search for answers and caused Epstein to refer to 2019 as a year of “reckoning” for the franchise.

“It hasn't been the easiest year,” Epstein said. “We've been trying to make the whole be as good as the sum of the parts, and it's been an organizational struggle to do that. It's not Joe's fault. When I say that that's not Joe's fault, that's on me. It's on the whole organization, and it's just sometimes that's just the way it is. So I think the change will be good for the group.”

The 65-year-old Maddon agreed to embrace a more hands-on approach, putting on his coaching cap again with another overhauled staff. Veteran players gave their input for some changes behind the scenes. The Cubs also moved into 2019 with mostly the same roster in place due to budgetary restraints, but with the most robust payroll in team history.

Epstein said in Spring Training that October starts in March. Now for the first time since 2014, the offseason is beginning in October for the Cubs.

The team’s existing flaws, coupled with even more setbacks throughout a trying ‘19 season, proved too much to overcome. And the cracks in the foundation gave way in overwhelming fashion across the season’s final two weeks.

It all added up to one of the most disappointing finishes to a Cubs season in recent memory, creating the need to examine the club’s operation from the front office down to the clubhouse and throughout the scouting and player development departments.

Maddon never appeared to have lost the room, and he remained upbeat and relaxed into these last days wearing his Cubs cap. Even so, the franchise is plotting a shift in culture and approach given the weaknesses exposed over the past two summers.

“There's no blame. There's no finger-pointing,” Maddon said. “We're both going to move on. The Cubs are going to flourish. Hopefully I get a chance to do this somewhere else.”

And so, Maddon will ride off into the sunset, heading home to Hazleton, Pa., with his wife, Jaye, to begin his offseason. He plans on working on his golf swing, meeting up with old friends and spending time with his family.

Maddon will also hope another team comes calling.

“I don't want to wait. I'm ready,” Maddon said. “I'll play a little golf, get in the RV, take Jaye a few places, go see my grandkids all that kind of good stuff. But, I'm ready.”

Even through the rough end of the season, Maddon said he felt invigorated in a year riddled with turmoil. He reiterated multiple times that he was optimistic about his future, no matter the Cubs’ decision.

That decision arrived, and Maddon’s tenure with the Cubs reached its expiration date, even if that tenure was arguably worthy of a statue outside Wrigley Field down the road.

“There's no tears shed,” Maddon said. “It's a good moment for everybody.”