Why Joe Maddon was the perfect guy to steer the Cubs to the promised land in 2016


Without Joe Maddon, there is no 2016 World Series championship.

Hell, the Cubs may *still* be without a title if he didn't sign here and change the course of the franchise forever.

You can disagree with his bullpen moves in Games 5, 6 and 7. Complain about his ever-changing lineups or who he had leading off or whatever you want.

But there's no denying Maddon will go down as the guy who was steering the ship when that drought and "curse" was broken, regardless of how his run with the Cubs ended this week.

Think of all the pressure and craziness that came along with the Cubs' road to the 2016 World Series. It was the greatest story in American sports history and the weight of generations and generations of fans fell on the shoulders of these players.

As Illinois native Ben Zobrist said, it takes a "special person" to take a team to those heights.

"I remember back in '14 when he came over here at the end of '14 and thinking, he is *perfect* for that situation because I saw him and how he flipped things on its head down in Tampa Bay from 06 to 07 to 08," Zobrist said. "I saw that kinda turn around with that organization. Knowing in a market like Chicago, a fanbase like the Cub fans, I felt like with young players, he's gonna go in and take a lot of pressure off and he's gonna be fun, he's gonna be innovative, he's gonna be interesting and I just felt like he was the perfect scenario to try to take this team back to the World Series and to win a World Series.

"That's why, for me, I was so eager between '15 and '16 to get over here and be a part of it, because I just felt like it was gonna happen, whether I was there or not."

Of course, Zobrist went on to earn the 2016 World Series MVP honors with the game-winning hit in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7.

As somebody who grew up in central Illinois, Zobrist was one of the few people inside that Cubs clubhouse that truly knew how much this World Series meant to the fanbase and how much pressure was on everybody within the organization.

Think about the aftermath - a Grant Park rally attended by millions of people and went down as one of the largest gatherings in human history.

"It was obviously special," said Anthony Rizzo, who heralded Maddon as the leader of the pack to break the 108-year curse. "We talk about it a lot. We want to do it again. Listen, I'm not really one to reflect, but that was something that hasn't happened in 108 years. It was the most iconic championship wins in all of sports. I'm obviously biased, but I think the parade and the celebration and the aftermath spoke for itself. It was just awesome."

So how did Maddon help steer the ship? How did he find a way to take the pressure off the players - especially when so much of the roster was made up of guys who only had a couple years of big-league experience?

Kris Bryant said Maddon's consistency in message and temperament was the key for not only the players in the clubhouse, but everybody in the organization. The now-former Cubs manager was relentlessly positive and upbeat, even in the face of pressure and tough moments.

And to the end, the players saw that same Maddon.

"He's been so even-keeled through the whole five years here," Rizzo said. "As a player, sometimes when you see everyone else panicking and he's not, you can just kinda relax a little bit. I don't care what organization you're in, what sport you're in, at points in the year, there's panic when you're on a good team. There's panic on every team. Every position you're in, there's a little panic and you feel it as a player.

"When Joe comes to field and how even-keeled he was, it was definitely good for us, especially as young as we were to see that."

Yet there was Maddon Sunday evening in St. Louis, Corona in hand, toasting to a 2019 season and his entire Cubs career. Not even three years after that fateful November night in Cleveland, the man who helped lead the franchise to end a 108-year championship drought was on his way out of town.

That's Chicago for ya.

As he stood next to Theo Epstein and talked about what's next Sunday morning, Maddon emphasized the point both he and Epstein agree on - don't do anything for more than 7-10 years. After that point, it's time for something new.

"Although here [in Chicago], I think it's five [years]," Maddon said, laughing. "Everything's accelerated."

Makes sense. Everybody points to New York or Boston as the big markets that are grueling and demanding, but the Cubs and Chicago are right up there. Look at the way this market churns out managers who come to town with legendary status and might do some amazing things here, but yet are still chewed up and spit out within just a few years.

"There's a lot going on, man," Maddon said. "There's a lot going on and you're trying to ameliorate, satisfy - whatever you want to call it - a large contingency of folks. There's all these different narratives always surrounding it. So, at some point, I just think it's wise to get somebody else in and you can scrutinize that as much as you want and then let that person go somewhere else to be scrutinized somewhere else.

"It's just the nature. Everything's accelerated a bit. I've never worked in New York City and it might actually be accelerated even more there, but everything is accelerated here. And I'm not saying that badly. Listen, I love this. You all know this. I'm with [the media] every day and I've enjoyed the exchange every day - twice a day. So that, to me, has been a blast. You guys have permitted me to grow. You've helped me grow and I think that's awesome. But, just admit it sometimes. It's time to do something else. Don't fight the urge."

Epstein and Maddon certainly didn't "fight the urge" to do something else and as a result, big change is coming for the Cubs.

"Every good story comes to an end at some point and we start a new beginning," Rizzo said. "Hopefully the next book we open up is just as good.”

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