With Zen-like calm and a World Series title in hand, Chicago Cubs skipper Joe Maddon has his eyes on another thrilling run in Wrigleyville.
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Remember the Billy Goat? Bartman? The Black Cat in ’69? All the superstitions and talk of curses seem so silly now, because none of it matters: After 108 long, long, long years, our Chicago Cubs are the reigning World Series Champions. All credit to Theo and Bryzzo and Zobrist and Lester and the rest of the guys, but let’s be real: It was manager Joe Maddon, with his slogans and goofy team dress-up days and demeanor of (mostly) Zen-like calm, that allowed this young team to “embrace the target,” shake off the pressure, and take home the trophy. Now, in an exclusive Michigan Avenue conversation with his wife, Jaye, as the team kicks off a new season, Maddon reflects on the World Series win; contemplates a Cubs dynasty; and reveals what makes Chicago fans some of the finest in the world.
Jaye Maddon: So Joe, how has life changed since the World Series?
Joe Maddon: I don’t think it’s changed a lot for us, babe. There’s been more requests—there’s always been a lot of demands on time, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job [of managing it]. There’s more attention and I’m maybe more recognizable. But for the most part, I haven’t felt a whole lot different. How about you?
Jaye: Me neither. Like you said, we’ve struck a balance, so I agree with you.
Joe: Wow. Mark it up! [laughs].
Jaye: What’s your favorite memory from the whole World Series experience?
Joe: I gotta be careful there… My favorite memory of the whole World Series experience, I’d have to say, is the last out. Ground ball to third. You can talk ad nauseum about all the micro things that occurred: Being with [you] on the field after the game was outstanding; that little rain—as we were trying to get back into the dugout it started to rain, and it didn’t matter. It felt kinda cool based on what had happened earlier with the rain delay. Leaving at 3 o’clock in the morning on a 747, being extremely tired, getting to Chicago at 7 o’clock, and it did not matter. It was great. But for me, the favorite thing is that chopper to third, man. Because in that nanosecond you realize this play’s completed and you win the World Series for the first time in 108 years. God bless, that is a moment you can never really recapture.
Jaye: How does it feel to be known as the guy who broke the Cubs curse?
Joe: God, I don’t feel that way. I feel like I’m part of it. I’ve only been here [in Chicago] two years. I’ve never felt the curse. I’m appreciative of it, I understand it, I know folks have been concerned for many years, but heck, for two years we’ve been there—we’ve won an average of 100 games a season, we have this great young team. It’s wonderful to be considered part of it; I know in that black and white photo that’s hung up on somebody’s wall in the year 2050, you’re gonna look back and see the 2016 Cubs and it’s going to get even more glorious by then. To be a member of that is awesome, but I’m just part of it.
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Jaye: Looking back on last season, what are you proudest of?
Joe: I think the fact that we were picked from day one—even before day one, from spring training even, when I talked about embracing the target. I’m most proud of the fact that our guys were able to deal with the pressure and expectations as well as we did. And these guys are young—it’s not like you’re talking about this salty old group of veterans. Young guys, inexperienced guys, talented, but dealing with an enormous level of expectations and pressure, and going wire-to-wire… To me, that’s incredible. It doesn’t happen. How do you feel about that, babe?
Jaye: I think it’s a great accomplishment because only being there for two years, there’s a certain feeling of getting all the chemistry and everybody working together and pulling on the same end of the rope. And sometimes that takes a while. But you talk about how great everybody was, and you could actually see it. The team really supports each other, all the teammates, no matter who. It really is a family. Which leads me into this question: Is this club capable of becoming a dynasty?
Joe: That’s a big word. I know we won the World Series last year and did not the year before, but I like that two years’ body of work: [Championship Series] the year before, coming within four games of going to the World Series, to winning the World Series. I don’t know what people consider a dynasty: Do you have to win the World Series on an annual basis, or do you have to get deep into the playoffs annually? I think the last one was the Yankees in the mid-’90s or early 2000s, and they had this great core group of wonderful young players, and we have that. So I think we’re capable of doing this for a long period of time; I think we have to do it for that word to be attached to us.
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Jaye: What are you most excited about for the team in 2017?
Joe: Most excited about the fact that we could do it again. I’ve been focusing on the phrase “D-Peat.” I’m really eager to see if we can play the same level of defense. Our offense is naturally going to get better because these guys are so young and so skillful and with greater experience, they’re just naturally going to get better. So I’m just eager to see the defense and see if we can play on the level we did last year, and if we can, we could replicate a lot of what we did last year.
Jaye: Last year it was “Try not to suck.” This season, mottos like “Be uncomfortable” and “Authenticity” have been mentioned… How do you think the slogans have helped the team?
Joe: I like an esoteric message that starts out as an esoteric message just among see—that’s why I like T-shirts; I like for them to see the message daily, and be reminded about it daily. That’s where I’m coming from with all this stuff; just simple reminders of simple messages daily that I think can impact us in a really grand way.
Jaye: Let’s talk about Respect 90. You’ve been very active in Chicago with your Respect 90…
Jaye: [laughs] With our Respect 90 foundation. Why is it important to you that we give back?
Joe: Because it’s all about that. I mean, what is the good of really gaining any kind of personal wealth or prestige, or however you want to label what happens to us as we move this further along, without being able to share it? If you can’t share it then it really is no fun pushing yourself to achieve more. I think achievement needs to be shared.
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Jaye: What is your vision or goals for the foundation?
Joe: We’re still trying to define all that. The vision and the goals are to stay after it hard in an attempt to raise funds and awareness for different groups, whether it’s the homeless that we work with, the immigration project, Misericordia, the Crushers Club—whatever groups we want to work with, raise awareness and then of course hopefully be able to help them financially. The goal is really just spreading the tentacles, trying to reach as many folks as we can. I don’t want to put restrictions on the foundation by saying we’re limited to certain areas. I like unlimited growth potential mentally, and I think that’s what we should be about.
Jaye: You’re famous for keeping your cool and your sense of humor on the field. What keeps you so relaxed?
Joe: My wife.
Joe: I just wanted to hear you giggle. I do believe my dad does [keep me relaxed]. My mom was a bit more excitable, but my dad was the most patient man I’ve ever met, so I think part of it is genetics—the Italian side of my family, believe it or not. They took life as it came. More specifically, I do like to meditate as often as I can in the mornings. I think that matters, and I think rest matters. I’m all about rest, I’m about meditation and exercise—if you’re able to exercise and clear your body and mind, that also [gives you] the ability to transcend the moment in a situation where you can’t control yourself.
Jaye: What are some of your favorite things about Chicago?
Joe: Probably the most important thing is the people. I’ve said it before: I think my hometown, Hazelton, Pennsylvania, is like a microcosm of Chicago. A lot of European settlements in Hazelton, the way the city was set up with different blocks of ethnicities from different countries, and the same thing occurs in Chicago. So when I speak with the folks in Chicago it’s really familiar, man; it’s crazy. I feel really, really comfortable.
Jaye: How are fans different here than in Florida or Southern California?
Joe: There are more of them—more of them everywhere—and in some ways [they are] probably the most understanding [fans] in the history of the game. Even though the burden’s been lifted, for a long time, man, the support was magnificent absent of a world championship. To have as many people follow the Cubs as do and have had to go so long without an actual title and still be as vehemently loyal as they are, [that’s] unique. No other group can do that. I’m not degrading Angels fans or Rays fans—they’re wonderful—but the Cubs fan is unique, man, and I didn’t know that until I got there.
Jaye: That’s one of the first things I noticed going to Cubs games. That there could be so many people there in the afternoon on a [weekday] and they’re all very engaged in what’s going on in the game. It’s not a whole lot of fanfare going on with other things. There’s just the game that’s keeping people busy and engaged.
Joe: Sounds like I need to put you in the bleachers one game, babe. You might get a different perspective.
Jaye: I do sit in the bleachers; I can point out my seat!
Joe: In the outfield. The bleachers.
Jaye: Oh my gosh, yeah—that would be amazing. I need to do that. [laughs] What are some specific places around town that you enjoy?
Joe: We enjoy Oak Street, walking up and down there, shopping a little bit. Rush Street, Michigan Avenue… I would say we just enjoy downtown and everything it has to offer. We have our own ocean, we’ve got a great bike trail—I love riding all the way to the turnaround at Hollywood Beach. So I don’t know, it’s hard to pinpoint: the art, the culture of the city, everything. You’ve got to embrace and imbibe in all of Chicago because it’s all there. I’m enamored with living in a big city for the first time, and then you magnify that because I do believe Chicago is probably the most magnificent city in our country.
“FAVORITE WORLD SERIES MEMORY? THAT LAST CHOPPER
TO THIRD, MAN. BECAUSE IN THAT NANOSECOND YOU REALIZE
YOU’VE WON THE WORLD SERIES FOR THE FIRST TIME
IN 108 YEARS.”
Jaye: I want to explore [more]. I want to go to the museums, maybe go see a play. I really do want to hit all those places.
Joe: We haven’t explored all of that yet.
Jaye: I do like walking around in different neighborhoods. I’m going to have to arrange something.
Joe: She’s going to Mary Tyler Moore around Chicago. Throw her hat in the air.
Jaye: [laughs] Definitely. What keeps you driven after all your success?
Joe: Today, tomorrow… I don’t really dwell on past successes in a [manner] that by having had them you lack motivation for the next day. I’m really into the word “growth,” as you know really well. I am uncomfortable—I’m using that word from personal experience. It’s not about being driven by wanting more—I’m driven by accomplishment in the field that I’ve chosen in a sense that you always want to be recognized as among the best, and you love to do it. Listen, I haven’t really wrapped my head around last year yet; I probably won’t for several years. So it’s about today. It’s about this group. It’s about now.
Jaye: OK. And lastly, what’s your message to Cubs fans as we kick off the season?
Joe: Be uncomfortable. Be uncomfortable with us. Don’t be satisfied with what just happened. Of course, we’re all pleased, and it’s great that the burden’s been lifted, but I want us all to continually want to do that on an annual basis. So I want the Cubs fans to be as uncomfortable as we are.
JOE MADDON CELEBRITY GOLF CLASSIC
In its debut last year, this fundraiser for Joe Maddon’s Respect 90 foundation—which “provides opportunities for Chicago’s inner-city children and young adults to develop championship attitudes through sports while encouraging fitness, academic, and community engagement”—instantly became one of the most anticipated in the city. No wonder: It’s a dream come true for Cubs fans, with each foursome including a former or current Cubs player, and Maddon himself playing the first hole and taking pics with all participants.
Says tournament chairman Jerry Lasky, “We blew it out last year—it was beyond Joe’s wildest expectations—and we expect to sell it out quickly again this year.” With an all-star slate of scheduled participants ranging from Cubs legends Kerry Wood, Ryne Sandberg, and Rick Sutcliffe to World Series stars Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero—and even superfans John Cusack and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder—that’s the safest bet you can make all summer. July 31; for sponsorship opportunities contact firstname.lastname@example.org.