The 2016 World Series has shifted to Chicago for the weekend, with the Cleveland Indians hosting the Chicago Cubs in the best-of-seven series. We've covered myriad potential storylines over the past few days, but here's one that we haven't touched on yet: what this series could mean for Cubs manager (and former Tampa Bay Rays manager) Joe Maddon's legacy.
Most everyone knows about Maddon's backstory by now. For the stragglers, here's a brief recap: Maddon spent decades in the Los Angeles Angels system -- as a scout, roving instructor, minor-league manager and eventually a big-league coach and interim skipper. It seemed like he would never get an opportunity to run his own team. Then fall 2005 rolled around, and Maddon was installed as the new face of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
In the 11 years since, Maddon has ascended from the white-haired rookie skip who quoted Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and aped Gene Mauch's philosophies to the man who could be responsible for ending the Cubs' century-plus drought; from seeming goofball to one of the most successful, inventive managers of his generation.
There's just one thing missing from Maddon's managerial career: a championship.
Earlier in the month, Dayn Perry highlighted managers whose Hall of Fame cases could be most helped by a deep postseason run. Here's what Perry wrote about Maddon, and an excerpt:
"He's shy of 1,000 wins. The Hall of Fame manager -- meaning a Hall of Famer who's in primarily for or solely because of his managerial accomplishments -- with the fewest wins is Billy Southworth with 1,044. So consider that a baseline. Obviously, Maddon is on firm footing in Chicago, and the Cubs profile as contenders for years to come.
Barring the drastically unexpected, Maddon will get to 1,000 some time in 2017. In the meantime, he as the chance to tick off a major Hall-of-Fame manager criterion by winning the World Series. In some ways, that's the most difficult hurdle, and Maddon in 2016 is about as well positioned you can be in the era of three playoff rounds to get it done."
Maddon indeed has almost everything else needed for a Cooperstown case. His larger-than-life personality has gifted him an image that other, similarly quality managers -- like Joe Girardi -- lack. All the while, Maddon has hung his star as an innovator. He embraced the shift, went heavy with platoons and experimented a lot during his Tampa days. He would use five infielders or four outfielders; he would bat a struggling hitter leadoff so he could recommit to controlling the strike zone; he would use third baseman Evan Longoria on one side of the shift in bunt situations, and on the other in non-bunt situations; and he would even use a lineup loaded with same-sided hitters to foil a changeup-heavy pitcher's approach. Basically, anything and everything to gain an edge.
There are negatives, too. Maddon's antics have become stale or annoying to those who never warmed to him (he has re-used many of his Tampa Bay gimmicks in Chicago) and his defend-thy-players mindset has led to some embarrassing incidents (the Joel Peralta pine tar mess and, more recently and importantly, Aroldis Chapman's domestic assault history). It doesn't help that Maddon's Tampa Bay teams were loaded with questionable characters.
Yet, from a wide lens, Maddon is likely to be remembered as a creative, above-average tactician with a wont for memorable quotes and stunts. He established a heartbeat for a Tampa Bay franchise that had never had a pulse before, and is heartbeats of his own away from ending the Cubs' curse. Obviously Maddon's move to Chicago was well-timed -- and borne in part from money and politics in Tampa Bay -- but them's the breaks.
All Maddon needs to complete his career, then, is a World Series win. True, a loss wouldn't sink him -- heck, he might get another opportunity in 12 months, then another 12 months after that. But championships have and will continue to be one of the go-to metrics for most people when it comes to evaluating non-playing personnel.
And right now, Maddon doesn't have the ring to back up his rep -- no matter how well-deserved it is otherwise. The good news, for Maddon anyway, is that could change in four games' time.