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Tipsheet: Epstein's meddling led to Maddon-Cubs divorce

Tipsheet: Epstein's meddling led to Maddon-Cubs divorce

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Maddon intrigued by Ohtani, focused on future with Angels

Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon speaks during a news conference at the spring training baseball facility, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) revisited the rift between highly successful Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and his boss, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

Yes, Epstein admitted, he interjected himself into clubhouse matters when he grew weary of his team’s listless play. This escalated the tension between the two and led to Maddon's departure.

"In 18 years, there have only been two instances where those organizational standards for work, preparation and behavior were not getting met and I had to get involved and give feedback and remind about expectations," Epstein told the website. "But it doesn't work best that way."

So did he get involved last season? He believed Maddon, the ultimate players’ manager, wasn’t being proactive enough with his troops.

"Joe and I aren't exactly the same," Epstein said. "His approach was more 'Things will work themselves out. These are great players. Let them play. This will work out.' From my perspective, there was a little bit more cause for concern."

If there is one thing that most players will agree on, it’s that they are not eager to be lectured by guys wearing suits.

So, yeah, Maddon begged to differ with his boss. The strain between the two became palpable as the Cubs sputtered last season.

"It was plenty," Maddon said. "Philosophically, Theo needed to do what he needed to do separately. At some point, I began to interfere with his train of thought a little bit. And it's not that I'm hardheaded. I'm inclusive. But when I started there -- '15, '16, '17 -- it was pretty much my methods. And then all of a sudden, after '18 going into '19, they wanted to change everything."

By the end of the season Maddon and Epstein agreed to disagree. While Maddon had publicly expressed a desire to stay on Chicago’s North Side, he began warming up to the idea of a fresh start.

He is getting that reboot back in SoCal with the Los Angeles Angels, the organization he worked for during the bulk of his career. Maddon sounds happy these days and he harbors no hard feelings toward Epstein.

"There was just, you can say, philosophical differences," Maddon said. "But he and I are still good friends. And I like the man a lot. It was just time for him to get someone else and time for me to work somewhere else. That's all. A five-year shelf life in Chicago is almost equivalent to five to 10 somewhere else. At the end of the day, man, there's nothing to lament there. That was the most successful five years that the Cubs have ever had."


Here is what folks are writing about Our National Pastime:

Tim Brown, Yahoo! Sports: “Fame and fortune and personal satisfaction still not quite enough to save baseball’s six-month, 162-game regular season, it instead the victim of lingering competitive whims and disparity, the league’s latest plan proposes a more permissive postseason to incentivize all that comes before it. While this has always been the presumed objective — win games, go to the playoffs and win championships, more than a few franchises have been left behind. For some, it’s a run of bad luck or bad decisions or neglectful ownership, which happens. For others, it is self-inflicted. The very intention is to lose, lose big, sell sunshine and beer, and then hope nobody realizes tomorrow has already come and gone. So, what floats is 14-team postseason field — six division winners and eight wild cards. Also, first-round byes for two teams, a gimmicky pick-your-opponent element and six best-of-three series, followed by the normal postseason of division series, league championship series, World Series. This plan could be imposed by the 2022 season, or a few months into the next collective bargaining agreement.”

Buster Olney, “We've seen the emergence of the superteams in recent years, with the Dodgers, Yankees and Astros all winning more than 100 games annually -- and from the perspective of the small-market teams, there is little to no chance of competing with that. It's like a 250-pound boxer going up against flyweights, and this has contributed to the growing number of teams that have tanked, stopped spending and stopped trying to compete. Look at the Baltimore Orioles, who slashed their payroll, cut just about anybody making big dollars (other than the untradable Chris Davis) and lost 18 of 19 to the Yankees last year. With a larger pool of playoff teams, their path back to relevance could be shorter -- and they don't necessarily have to overcome the Yankees or the Red Sox over 162 games to make that happen. There will be more hope for more teams, more hope for more fans and more chances for players to participate in the postseason. Imagine you are a fan of the San Diego Padres, who haven't made the playoffs since 2006 and haven't been .500 in a decade. The Padres are getting better, more competitive -- and yet even if they make operating decisions with near perfection, they still might not catch the Dodgers, who've won seven straight division titles. The additional wild-card teams would give Padres fans and players more hope to share in October glory as the club ascends.”

Tom Verducci, “MLB realizes that with more teams competing for playoff spots the regular season must be addressed. Such thinking likely pushes it to a more balanced regular season. The current thinking is that every team will play all 29 other teams every year, as in an NBA model. And if and when that concept is embraced, it’s more likely that all teams would be playing by the same rules–including a DH adopted for NL teams . . . The expanded playoff format could be used as a vehicle toward an extension of the CBA. For instance, MLB and the union could agree on the format while announcing an extension of the current economic system with or without some minor tweaks. In that way, they could sell to interested television partners the value of labor peace through the opening years of the expanded postseason format.”

Evan Drellich, The Athletic: “An expanded postseason theoretically could bring a host of gains for the sport: an infusion of excitement for different markets that otherwise would be on the outside looking in, and better incentives for teams to compete in free agency and avoid tanking. That’s the rosy upside, at least. But the league and the union are not otherwise rolling full steam ahead toward major CBA changes at the moment. The playoff talk bubbled to the surface now because it would help MLB to be able to tell the TV networks what its playoff system will look like as rights deals are negotiated. The postseason is the most valuable piece the networks have. The league’s agreements with ESPN and Turner go through 2021, the same length as the CBA between the league and the players. But, unlike the CBA, TV negotiations are typically conducted with considerable lead-time. Some discussions are already underway. (The league’s deal with Fox, which carries the World Series and other playoff games, runs through 2028.) But a change in the playoffs requires the union’s approval, and the MLBPA does not have to agree to an expanded playoff system ahead of time. The question is whether it would consider agreeing to a deal that allowed for the postseason to change in time for 2021, rather than for 2022. A standard bargaining schedule would make this an issue to be addressed for the 2022 season.”


"I think somebody's got to stand up for our game and the way it is and it should be played, and what should be tinkered with and what should not. My conclusion is analytics and technology are slightly responsible for putting the game in a position where it's not as attractive to fans."

• Maddon, to ESPN, lamenting the robotic nature of Our National Pastime.

Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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