Cubs players explain what Joe Maddon has meant to them


ST. LOUIS - The players inside the Cubs clubhouse were officially informed Sunday morning that the 2019 series finale would be the last game with Joe Maddon at the helm.

But they knew unofficially Friday night at the Cubs end-of-season party when Maddon let them know what was likely coming down the line. And even before that, the players knew the score - they read articles and watch TV and talk to people in the industry.

Heck, the only people who didn't know the speculation surrounding Maddon's job status are the people who have no interest in following sports or professional baseball. In some ways, this move has been coming for almost a year, ever since Theo Epstein said last November that the team would not discuss an extension with Maddon.

So the Cubs players had a lot of time to think about how Maddon impacted their lives. Even a former player who could be in line to take over as manager - David Ross - paid homage to Maddon.

Here's what a few others said:

Ben Zobrist

The 38-year-old veteran has seen his career linked to Maddon throughout his entire career, beginning from Day 1 in the big leagues for Zobrist in Tampa Bay. 

The Zobrist-Maddon pairing is kind of like baseball's version of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady duo.

So it was no surprise that the first player to react to the official news of Maddon's departure was Zobrist.

"There’s a sadness there that we feel, that I feel personally as a player," Zobrist said. "I think players always feel that way when a manager has to move on after a season. We feel like as players we could’ve done a little bit better."

When asked where Maddon ranked in his life, Zobrist smiled and said:

"Oh man, that’s a tough question. Well, when I look at my career, he’s at the top. I don’t know that there’s been anybody that has been more of an advocate for me personally as a player. I’ve seen him from the first year that he managed to now, and I’ve seen his consistency, the things that he’s always done and always been good at. 

"And I’ve also seen how he’s grown and changed, so at the same time, I’m doing the same thing as a player, so it’s kind of an interesting parallel player/manager. Joe’s a special person. Those kind of people, let alone managers, don’t come along very often."

Jon Lester

Lester said last week - days before the Maddon news - the Cubs manager should be revered as a legend in Chicago.

Hard to argue with that. Maddon will go down as the the best manager in franchise history, leading the Cubs to the playoffs in four straight seasons for the first time ever.

Anthony Rizzo said Lester has told him before he would not have signed with the Cubs before the 2015 season if not for Maddon. 

The veteran pitcher didn't go quite that far, but he did credit Maddon with changing the entire course of the organization.

"In '15, he was the first one to believe in this," Lester said. "He did what we all came here to do, what Theo built this team to do - win a World Series. After 108 years, we won a World Series, so Joe should be revered as a legend here. He's probably one of the greatest - if not the greatest - manager in Cubs history. I don't know the numbers on that, but I would put him up there without even knowing that. 

"I think he should definitely be looked at that way. I think his time here should be looked at in a positive light all the way around. That's how I'm gonna look at it. I have cherished the last five years playing for him. And this next chapter will be fun and exciting for all of us, including him."

The Cubs are going to miss Maddon the manager, but they're going to miss Maddon the person even more, Lester said. 

"Joe the person is genuine, he cares about everybody in that clubhouse, Lester said. "He makes it a point to let those guys know that. And as a manager, he's done one hell of a job for five years."

Kris Bryant

Maddon has always been a champion for Bryant, but he was particularly supportive of the 2016 NL MVP this year. 

Bryant has admitted that he's his own harshest critic and Maddon has tried all season to make sure he's not beating himself up too much.

At the team gathering Friday, Maddon went to each player individually and gave some of those parting words of advice and support. 

What did he tell Bryant?

"Just that he's always available to me and that even if he might be on the other side, somewhere else, he's always a phone call away," Bryant said. "And that means a lot. That was his message to me his five years here - he's always here, his doors always open and I can talk to him about anything and I did. 

"Some of my favorite moments with him are just me and him sitting in his office, breaking down how I'm feeling or what I'm doing at that certain moment in time. And for him to tell me to keep doing that, even though he's not gonna be here, it means a lot to me."

Anthony Rizzo

While Maddon was the face of the Cubs by virtue of talking publicly to the media twice a day, Rizzo is the face of the Cubs roster. 

When Rizzo first came up to Chicago, Dale Sveum was his manager. Then, he had a year with Ricky Renteria before Maddon's first season. So that makes Rizzo essentially the only person who can attest to life as a Cub without Maddon as the skipper. 

“From losing 100 games to winning 100-plus, Joe has changed my life, changed my career. I love him like a dad," Rizzo said. "I talk to Joe all the time. I’m very grateful for him.

“When I talk to Joe, we’re talking baseball, we’re talking the game, we’re talking situations, we’re talking life. That’s the best part so you can go in and say Joe ‘I had a couple shots and a beer last night.’ He’s like ‘Good, just try to hit the middle one.’ That’s 2015. He said that to me just joking around. 

"I was like this guy understands the human element of this game more than anyone I’ve ever been around. That’s what made it so special for me.”

Talk about keeping things loose...

Ian Happ

Happ spent the first four months of the season working on making adjustments in Triple-A, but he's always had a fan in Maddon. 

When Happ came up and gave the Cubs a spark in early 2017, Maddon understood how impactful he could be as a player.

"He's the best ever," Happ said. "Joe's ability to bring in young guys and immediately acclimate them to the culture, acclimate them to the big-league level and let them be themselves, I think is such an unbelievable skill that he has. And it's so natural to him. He doesn't have to try. I'm eternally grateful and so fortunate to have played for him for three years. what an unbelievable person."

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