Whew, you’re actually here. I was worried the title might be so click-baity that you’d just choose to leave a comment instead of reading. Thing is, I didn’t even have to twist the words Joe Maddon delivered prior to Tuesday’s loss in Pittsburgh. What you really need to understand, though, is that Maddon admitted more than once that he was mystified by the Cubs’ woeful road performance and had no actual answers.
So you’ll have to forgive him for unleashing a take so hot that neither beat writer nor blogger had to do so much as pop it in the microwave. But when you really break it down to the crux of his explanation, it may even have some merit.
“If you want to look into it any more deeply, it may have to do with behavior before the game, what you do,” Maddon told the press. “I’m not accusing them of going out at night, because I wish they would. That’s the one part of this game we’re missing is that guys don’t go out and have a beer and talk about stuff.
“That’s not old school or anything. That’s just social. Everybody is more (comfortable) wanting to stay in their room and play video games… And I’d just love (if) our guys interacted a little bit more away from the hotel at night.”
It’s easy to look at this and see an old man shaking his fist at a cloud or telling the kids to get their noses out of their video games and get off his lawn, but I don’t think that’s what Maddon is doing. While people can certainly build camaraderie through online gaming, the point here is more about interacting with one another in a more social atmosphere and forming the bonds that really make a team.
The idea of chemistry doesn’t always fit with an increasingly analytical game, but the Cubs recognize the role relationships play in winning and they value those little unquantifiable advantages. There’s a reason so many people look back fondly on the respective tenures of Dexter Fowler and David Ross, and it’s not just their huge home runs in Game 7 of the World Series. More than their stats, those players exuded a certain je ne sais quoi that the Cubs have been missing the last few seasons.
Heck, you could even throw John Lackey into that mix, though I’m not sure how many teammates actually took him up on the offer to head out and grab a bite. A beer or five, though? Yeah, Lack was good for that a few nights a week.
Maddon isn’t saying definitively that a lack of partying led to this increasingly disappointing campaign, but he’s not just making stuff up out of thin air. The Cubs simply haven’t been fun to watch this season and the players themselves have admitted that it’s become much more of a grind since 2016. Maybe some of that is because they’re not enjoying themselves as much off the field.
Asked a while back to offer my own explanation for the Cubs’ struggles on the road, I suggested that maybe they’d gotten too comfortable at home. It’s hard to really define what I mean, but maybe it’s a matter of everyone just being so familiar with one another that there really isn’t that abrasive force keeping everyone on their toes.
Ross wasn’t just the butt of old-man jokes, he was a red-assed veteran who’d get in your face if you screwed up. Lackey was not a man to be trifled with and I actually suggested when he was signed that he’d be the grit that caused the oyster to make pearl. Fowler was more of that big brother or older cousin who’d come in and soothe things by shipping in crates of Air Jordans. The dynamic was different because, well, it was dynamic.
Now the Cubs have gone from victory toasts to milquetoast in a matter of three seasons, and that may be the issue.
So what, they start boozing through each road city’s entertainment district like Mark Grace and everything is better? Well, no, but it wouldn’t hurt to shake things up a little. Theo Epstein wasn’t wrong about the Cubs having to recapture their edge, he just delivered the edict like a dad issuing hollow threats to turn the car around if the kids didn’t knock it off.
Not even bringing Lackey back around is enough to put teeth in all the big talk from the front office, so now it’s time for some change. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to what form(s) that change should take, so have at it below or on social media. As I look at this organization, I see a need for them to find 25 guys to play as one team rather than putting together a roster with 25 individuals.
That may sound a little too trite or like something Clint Hurdle would say, but how many times did you watch the Cubs this year and get the sense that they were all rowing in the same direction? They’re like a line of cars in the turn lane. Every once in a while, the blinkers will all tick in unison, but then their disparate timing will have them falling back out of sync. That’s the 2019 Cubs.
I couldn’t care less how much time anyone spends playing video games, so that’s not something I’m ever going to take issue with. However, I do see the value in having a team that’s truly aligned and playing off of one another to maximize all those little intrinsic advantages that might not be there absent chemistry. Finding a way to create that again should be in this winter’s plans.
But even if the Cubs don’t end up having more beers together, Maddon can rest comfortably in the knowledge that they drove me to drink more than once.