Mad­don built Cubs to break curse

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Jim Litke

The steady breeze from four, large por­ta­ble fans whooshed through the Chicago Cubs’ lux­u­ri­ous new digs, suck­ing away what­ever mois­ture lin­gered from the just-sham­pooed car­pets.

The steady breeze from four, large por­ta­ble fans whooshed through the Chicago Cubs’ lux­u­ri­ous new digs, suck­ing away what­ever mois­ture lin­gered from the just­sham­pooed car­pets.

“They missed a spot,” laughed re­liever Mike Mont­gomery, sit­ting at his locker. The left-han­der lifted the sole of his shoe to show it was wet. “You can still smell the cham­pagne here.”

On the morn­ing af­ter the Cubs clinched a play­off spot, few mem­bers of the team with the best record in base­ball had wan­dered back into the clubhouse ahead of an af­ter­noon start still three hours away. Man­ager Joe Mad­don, though, was al­ready in his of­fice and fo­cused on what mat­tered next: break­ing a cen­tury-and-count­ing World Se­ries hex.

“I see now what everyone was talk­ing about,” said Mont­gomery, who ar­rived from Seat­tle in July as part of a four-player trade. “Joe knows so much about base­ball — sit­u­a­tional play, what the data calls for, what makes guys tick — but he makes it look easy. So you don’t al­ways see how he works.”

In­deed, Mad­don’s fin­ger­prints are all over this team. With the play­off opener loom­ing Fri­day at Wrigley Field, plenty of the credit for as­sem­bling this sud­den jug­ger­naut goes to Theo Ep­stein, the Cubs’ pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions. He helped as­sem­ble the lineup and has added com­ple­men­tary parts like Mont­gomery, closer Aroldis Chap­man and out­fielder Ja­son Hey­ward in a timely fash­ion.

But it’s Mad­don’s job to fit those pieces to­gether. More im­pres­sive still is how he’s made nearly ev­ery one of them bet­ter.

Take the steady im­prove­ment that has sec­ond-year star Kris Bryant bat­tling team­mate An­thony Rizzo for Most Valu­able Player. Or starter Kyle Hen­dricks’ break­out cam­paign and Cy Young can­di­dacy.

In Bryant’s case, it in­volved teach­ing the muchtouted third base­man to cope with ex­pec­ta­tions. Mad­don ac­com­plished that by en­cour­ag­ing Bryant to take a few shifts in the out­field and even at first base, giv­ing the young­ster another skill to learn in­stead of ob­sess­ing over ev­ery at­bat. In Hen­dricks’ case, it might have in­volved a deep data dive along­side pitch­ing coach Chris Bo­sio, see­ing whether the right-han­der’s pitch se­quence, lo­ca­tion or de­liv­ery needed tweak­ing.

But it might have been some­thing as sim­ple as this. A few weeks ago in Pitts­burgh, Hen­dricks saw Mad­don head­ing in his di­rec­tion in the dugout. Hen­dricks ex­pected Mad­don to ques­tion his de­ci­sion to stop at sec­ond base af­ter Chris Coghlan sin­gled be­hind him.

In­stead, Mad­don asked him about the mas­cot at Dart­mouth, where Hen­dricks went to college.

“When you’re known as the Big Green, is that like Gumby?” Mad­don asked. “Is he your guy? What does the mas­cot look like?”

Hen­dricks smiled at the mem­ory. Nearly ev­ery other player on the ros­ter has a sim­i­lar story to tell.

“I got maybe 10 ca­reer at-bats. I couldn’t re­mem­ber the last time I bat­ted in a game,” Mont­gomery re­called. “But I got a hit the other night and it was one of the hap­pi­est mo­ments of my ca­reer . ...

“So Joe comes up to me the next day and starts dis­cussing hit­ting with me and we have this long con­ver­sa­tion about it, like I ac­tu­ally know what I’m do­ing. He prob­a­bly knows that’s not the case. But now,” Mont­gomery chuck­led, “I’m al­ready think­ing, ‘Maybe I’ll get another one.”’

In an in­ter­view room just off the new clubhouse, Mad­don parked be­hind a bank of mi­cro­phones. In­stead of the big pic­ture, re­porters wanted to know where he went af­ter the party in the clubhouse broke up. In ad­di­tion to be­ing one of the best man­agers in base­ball, Mad­don is one of the most en­ter­tain­ing.

“I did not go out last night,” he said.

“Why not?” came the fol­low-up ques­tion.

“I had noth­ing,” Mad­don said smil­ing, slid­ing his el­bow along the ta­ble and pre­tend­ing he was about to nap. Don’t be­lieve it. This is one guy who al­ways has some­thing up his sleeve.


In this file photo, Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant (17) and man­ager Joe Mad­don cel­e­brate the Cubs’ 6-1 win over the Cincin­nati Reds af­ter a base­ball game in Chicago.

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