With his irreverant personality, laid-back approach, and penchant for the unexpected, Joe Maddon is a singular presence among Major League Baseball managers. Whether he's bringing clowns and live bear cubs to spring training or leading the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series victory in 108 years, Maddon is always one to watch. In Try Not to Suck, ESPN's Jesse Rogers and MLB.com's Bill Chastain fully explore Maddon's life and career, delving behind the scenes and dissecting that mystique which makes Maddon so popular with players and analysts alike. Packed with insight, anecdotes, and little-known facts, this is the definitive account of the curse-breaker and trailblazer at the helm of the Cubs' new era.
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About the Author
Bill Chastain is a sports journalist who covers the Tampa Bay Rays for MLB.com. He is the author of 100 Things Jets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Hack’s 191: Hack Wilson and His Incredible 1930 Season, Payne at Pinehurst: The Greatest U.S. Open Ever, Purpose and Passion: Bobby Pruette and the Marshall Years, Steel Dynasty: The Team that Changed the NFL, and The Steve Spurrier Story: From Heisman to Head Ball Coach. He lives in Tampa, Florida. Jesse Rogers has been part of the Chicago sports media scene since the mid 90's. He covered the Chicago Blackhawks for ESPN when they broke their championship drought in 2010 and was an insider on the Cubs beat when they won the World Series in 2016. He's been a television, internet and radio reporter for ESPN since 2009 and was previously heard on 670 The Score as a longtime studio host for Blackhawks radio broadcasts. Ben Zobrist is a three-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion, and was the 2016 World Series MVP with the Chicago Cubs.
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One thought entered Joe Maddon's mind when Chicago Cubs MVP third baseman Kris Bryant threw the ball across the diamond to All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo for the final out in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.
Just one thought.
"One hundred eight," Maddon said months later during the team's next spring training. "Just 108."
One hundred eight represented the years between championships for the formerly hapless Cubs. It was the longest championship drought in professional sports history; the "Holy Grail of championships," people would call it. Like the chalice itself, a World Series victory from the longtime team from the North Side of Chicago seemed impossible to come by.
But Maddon led a revival culminating in this Game 7 win. A victory he would actually have to answer critical questions about later because it nearly slipped away from him. Rain, of all things, may have saved Maddon from a torrent of criticism potentially unmatched in baseball history. The one thing that all fans of the game dislike equally turned into the Cubs' savior: rain. Not long after the Cleveland Indians tied Game 7 at 7–7, the sky opened, forcing Maddon's team to regroup.
He did as well.
"I'm walking down into the clubhouse and I see the players veer off to the right," Maddon recalled. "I go up to my office and I wanted to see the weather map. And I see my bag right there. And I'm like, It's time for my dad. So I look at the weather map and then after that I grab my dad's hat and stuff it down the back of my pants underneath my hoodie and I said to myself, 'Let's go.' I took him back out there with me and during the course of that next inning I kept touching it back there."
Maddon needed some magic after a series of decisions had gone against him. He chose his dad's Los Angeles Angels hat, the same one he had with him when that team won a World Series in 2002. Maddon was just a coach then, still a few years away from getting his own team to run for the first time. When things are going against you in baseball, people will try anything. Pray to the baseball gods, have a meeting, or just grab a hat.
"My dad was there when we won the World Series in 2002, same hat," Maddon said. "I had it under some books in my office facing the field and I went up and grabbed it. There's two World Series victories. He's been in the dugout for both of them."
While Maddon was playing weather man and grabbing his good luck charm, his players were meeting in a nearby weight room. That meeting became instantly legendary, as before the rain fell in Game 7, the Cubs were on the verge of yet another historic collapse. Right-fielder Jason Heyward led the talk, helping to calm an emotional group. Closer Aroldis Chapman was in tears and there were questions — similar to the ones Maddon would face later — as to how things had slipped away.
A near bystander in those moments, one who could barely speak or understand the language and wasn't even on the playoff roster, understood the importance of that meeting. Japanese infielder Munenori Kawasaki said the memory of that moment is seared in his mind forever.
"My favorite moment is the last game, raining outside and all of us meeting inside," Kawasaki said, "J-Hey [Heyward] talking, Kris [Bryant] talking, Anthony [Rizzo] talking." Kawasaki put his hands together. "I knew 100 percent we were going to win. We came together. Yes. 100 percent. We were together. J-Hey was talking. Chappy [Aroldis Chapman] crying. I don't understand English but I knew 100 percent we were going to win. That's my No. 1 memory."
Kawasaki may have known it but few others could have said the same. Certainly not anyone who's followed the Cubs over the years. "Loveable Losers" wasn't just a nickname, it was a way of life for them and 108 years without a championship was on the verge of turning into 109. Leading the Indians 5–1 and then 6–3, Cleveland had stormed back to tie the game behind Rajai Davis' eighth-inning home run. Somehow, Chapman got through the ninth inning unscathed and then the rain came, seemingly stopping Cleveland's momentum. When play resumed, the Cubs had a new confidence about them, while their manager had his lucky hat shoved down the back of his pants.
"I kept feeling it back there," Maddon said. "I was always aware it was there."
The Cubs took their final lead of 2017 in that 10 inning, then almost gave it back again in the bottom half. But for once in over a century things actually did work out for them. When Bryant threw the ball to Rizzo, every person associated with that team became a legend in Chicago. The man who was hired in 2014 for this exact purpose would achieve a dream that began in 1979 as a coach, four years after making it to professional baseball as a player, but one who never saw the major leagues.
While earning a ring with those Angels in 2002, and then getting a taste of the World Series as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, Maddon finally found his Holy Grail. It's a championship arguably more meaningful to its fan base than any other achieved before it. That's why Maddon's mind wandered to where it did as Rizzo closed the glove on that last out.
"My first thought was 108," Maddon continued. "Then my family. And then I thought about the coaches. Having been a coach and not making even the minimum salary that a player makes, which I think is absurd. I thought about them and how it impacts their family. And clubhouse guys and trainers and everyone who works here.
"I went through that in 2002; it was a year of [labor] negotiations. There was no licensing. My dad was passing away, I was going through a divorce and my daughter was getting married. Really tough year. We won the World Series and that helped everything."
His 2016 win helped a lot of people as well, within the organization and outside. It would cement his legacy in a city he had only called home for a couple of years, though his accomplishments there would last a lifetime. A lifetime in baseball had reached its pinnacle for Joseph John Maddon.
Hello, this is Pino Maddonini....
Such is the greeting callers get when they are forwarded to Joe Maddon's voicemail. Delivered with an Italian accent, the message conveys Maddon's sense of humor and typifies how proud he is of his family heritage, as well as his hometown of Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
"It's a great place to be from," Maddon told The (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) Times Leader. "If you took all of the cars off the street, you would never know what year it was. It's a great small-town city."
Maddon's grandfather, Carmen, arrived in Hazleton from Italy bearing the name Maddoninni. Eventually the name got Americanized to "Maddon" to fit in with the wealth of Irish coalminers in the north-central Pennsylvania city approximately 95 miles from Philadelphia.
Carmen pursued the American dream, opening a heating and plumbing business in the 1930s. The business created opportunities for his five sons, who all worked at C. Maddon and Sons Plumbing. One of those sons, Joseph Anthony Maddon, would serve in World War II and fall in love with a Polish spitfire named Albina Klocek. Joe and Albina — "Beanie," as she was known — were married and lived in one of the four tiny, family apartments on East 11th Street above C. Maddon and Sons Plumbing.
The couple had three children, Carmine, Mark, and Joseph John Maddon, their oldest, who was born on February 8, 1954. He stood out early. Not only did he have athletic ability, he had a natural curiosity. Those around him recognized him as the kid who always wanted to know why.
Hazleton served as the ideal backdrop for Joe and Beanie to raise their kids.
A typical day would see Beanie cook Joseph Sr. breakfast. He would then leave the house to begin his work day at seven in the morning. Furnaces that weren't heating and pipes that had burst never adhered to regular working hours, so he'd continue to work until the phone quit ringing, the smell of his Phillies Cheroot cigar lingering behind him. Beanie had dinner on the table when he returned home.
"Dad wasn't a hugger or a kisser; he just smiled," Joe said. "He'd shake your hand and give you a big smile. He never missed work and refused to get sick. Always in a good mood. A unique man, who just had this way about him.
"A lot of people would have been miserable from time to time doing what he did. Dad never was like that. I think that's one of the reasons why everybody liked him. He'd always be in a good mood, and he was fun to be around. Dad had a modicum of consistency, was patient and kind. I know I've got some of my father in me, I've just never been as stable as he was."
Childhood memories for Joe included watching the fights on Gillette Cavalcade of Sports with his father. Joseph Sr. would fry pepperoni and complement the dish with Cheez-Its. Joe would drink a Coke, and his father a beer, while they enjoyed the action.
Mostly, Joe remembered his father's good nature and how giving he was of his time. Even if he arrived home tired after another long day of work, he'd spend time with his kids. In the winter, they'd shoot baskets at a make-do goal inside the house. Once the weather warmed up, Joseph, Sr. would be showing off his hook shot at their outdoor rim, or he'd be out in the yard throwing batting practice or playing catch.
Beanie resided at the opposite end of the spectrum from her husband. She doled out the discipline and could be more volatile. Beanie wielding a wooden spoon to Joe's hind parts wasn't unusual.
Like Joseph Sr., Beanie had an admirable work ethic, working at the Third Base Luncheonette around the block from the family plumbing business. The slogan for the family restaurant that specialized in cold-cut hoagies: "Next Best Place to Home."
Everybody in Hazleton seemed to be a relative and had something to do with Joe's upbringing, creating a halcyon, storybook climate. Cousins were like brothers and sisters. Aunts and uncles were like parents.
"Because I grew up in Hazleton and came from as large a family as I did, I got raised by more people than my parents," Joe said. "I knew if I got out of line around my uncle and my parents weren't around, I'd get smacked."
All the cousins went to school together and the families often gathered for meals and at the holidays. Beanie cooked many of those meals, and the family feasted on her marvelous blend of Polish and Italian cooking. Joe especially liked an Italian cookie his mother always made around Christmas that had coconut inside.
It's a Wonderful Life remains Joe's favorite Christmas movie. The fictitious town of Bedford Falls reminds him of Hazleton.
Because Joe had so many cousins and friends, and a playground on the other side of the block — along with a playground inside the plumbing shop — he never lacked for someone to play sports or improvise games with. Like when they'd create a basketball rim out of a coat hanger, mount it to a door, and use rolled-up socks as the ball. Or they might venture to the Little League diamond up the street just past the cemeteries. Going deep and hitting the water tower lived as the goal. Local legend says Joe's drives found the target on many occasions.
Nobody had a lot of money — the Maddons certainly weren't rich, but the simplicity of life in Hazleton made for a truly wonderful life.
"Growing up in that environment, having an Italian father and a Polish mother, and going to school with nuns through the eighth grade, I definitely learned respect," Maddon said. "I think Hazleton built a toughness in me, too. When I messed up, I knew I had to pay for it if I didn't own it. Even though I wanted to take off in the other direction at times, I didn't. I knew better. I'm really thankful about those things, because that benefitted me in everything I did and would do.
"Really, I can't imagine a better place anywhere to grow up than Hazleton. People paid attention to you, so you always felt like they cared about you."
Major leaguers hailing from the Hazleton area included Norm Larker and Tom Matchick. Of course, Maddon and the others knew their names and what they'd done.
Larker had played for the Los Angeles Dodgers when they defeated the Chicago White Sox in the 1959 World Series. Matchick had played for the Tigers in the 1968 World Series when they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals.
Maddon and company dreamed of following in their footsteps. The fact that somebody from the area had made it to the major leagues made such a dream seem like a possibility.
Due to Hazleton's proximity to Philadelphia and New York, most of the residents of the city were fans of the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees. Leave it to eight-year-old Joe Maddon to be different.
When his father took him to Yankee Stadium for a White Sox–Yankees game in 1963, Joe decided to take another path. His father asked Joe if he wanted him to buy him a hat and, for some reason, the Cardinals hat captured him. Leaving the Bronx that night, Joe fashioned a navy Cardinals hat with a red "StL" stitched on the front. After that, he acquired an undying allegiance to the Cardinals.
He'd lay on the wooden floor at his home and listen to Cardinals games via a Channel Master radio, though keeping St. Louis' station KMOX radio brought a nightly battle trying to keep the station tuned and hopefully not losing the signal when the game was on the line.
"I had such a mental connection to the Cardinals," said Maddon, who would draw their insignia most anywhere out of his fierce loyalty to the team. "I had the privilege of listening to Harry Caray and Jack Buck. Through them I could see the Cardinals come to life at Sportsman's Park. Listening might have been more exciting than watching."
Maddon's favorite All-Star Game came in 1964, when the starting National League infield belonged to the Cardinals: Ken Boyer at third, Dick Groat at shortstop, Julian Javier at second base, and Bill White at first.
Phillies slugger Johnny Callison won the game with a ninth-inning home run at Shea Stadium, providing Maddon with a day he'd never forgot.
"Seeing all of the Cardinals' infield start that day was such a thrill. I just loved the Cardinals," Maddon said.
Like most kids of his generation, he initially watched the Midsummer Classic on a black-and-white TV. When his Uncle Jack bought an Olympia color TV, the game got better. Suddenly he could see the colors of every major league team gathered all at once.
"I watched most of them on a black and white, but when I got to see it in color, and the NBC peacock and all of that, it really brought everything to life," Maddon said.
In October 1964, the Cardinals met the Yankees in the World Series. The Cardinals claimed the Fall Classic in seven games. Even today, anybody could stop Maddon on the street and ask him about the 1964 Cardinals. He'd be able to spew out the team's lineup and rotation, highlighted by Bob Gibson.
From that baseball affiliation, Maddon also grew attached to the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals, which made him an admirer of quarterback Charley Johnson. When Maddon threw the football in the yard, he became Johnson throwing to Jackie Smith or Billy Gambrell. If he kicked a ball, he became Jim Bakken.
Maddon showed an ability to do things other kids couldn't do at an early age, like being able to throw a football 50 yards at the age of 11. Proper motivation and discipline came from his father and coaches. Maddon credited Ray Saul, his former Little League coach, along with Richie Rabbitz and Jack Seiwell, his midget football coaches when he was 10 years old, and later Hazleton High School coach Ed Morgan, for their efforts to give him a clear understanding about discipline.
"I also learned loyalty and trust," Maddon said. "We were all lucky to have been around caring men, who willingly gave their time for us. They all made sports more fun, and that made sports even more enticing to me."
Maddon led from his earliest days on the playground, or in any other game.
"Everybody bought into what Joe said," said Maddon's sister, Carmine Parlatore, in The (Allentown, Pennsylvania) Morning Call. "He was managing even then."
Maddon excelled in Little League, beginning as a nine-year-old. During his Little League pitching career, he lost just one game he started and that outcome came hand-delivered from his family. Cousin Frank "Bumba" Maddon homered off the water tank to seal the win. Joe maintained his level of excellence after Little League when he played Teeners Baseball (age 13 to 15), and that delivered him to the halls of Hazleton High School, where he starred for the Mountaineers.
During his junior season at Hazleton High, Maddon threw a no-hitter against Marian High in the Mountaineers' 11–0 win in the McGeehan League championship game. Employing, among other pitches, a quality knuckleball, he only faced 23 batters in the seven-inning game, striking out four and walking one in the game that took place at Tamaqua High School's field, giving the Mountaineers their sixth McGeehan League championship in the seven years.
Excerpted from "Try Not to Suck"
Copyright © 2018 Bill Chastain and Jesse Rogers.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Ben Zobrist vii
1 The Hat 1
2 Pino Maddonini 7
3 Joe College 21
4 Coaching Calls 29
5 Moving up the Angels Chain 41
6 To the Major Leagues 63
7 Scioscia Takes Over 83
8 A Sad Time, Then Euphoria 93
9 Angels Swan Song 103
10 A Franchise in Need 111
11 9=8 Magic 151
12 Handling Success 173
13 Shot and a Beer 195
14 Early Optimism 203
15 Four Over Instead of Four Under 213
16 Addison's Plight 223
17 Embrace the Slogan 235
18 A Fast Start 245
19 The Hiccup 251
20 American Legion Month 261
21 Games 6 and 7 269
Epilogue: 2017 283