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Book report: The Book of Joe
The Cubs only living World Series manager has some grievances to air
For five years we heard Joe Maddon espouse his opinions on most things, and he told lots of stories about growing up in Hazelton, Pa., quitting football at Lafayette for baseball, every car or truck or RV or anything on wheels that he ever owned, and on and on.
The Book of Joe is a lot like that. Written with Tom Verducci1 it’s part autobiography, part attempt to get a lifetime of motivational speaking gigs2, part history of baseball managers, and it has just enough intel on the breakup of Joe and the Cubs to make the whole thing worth it.
The book came out in October, and I just finished reading it, not because it took me so long, but because it took the local library a couple of months to get it. I mean, I wasn’t paying full price for it. What’s worse, that, or Jon Greenberg and Patrick Mooney both admitting on their recent episodes of the Pointless Exercise Podcast they had it but just “skimmed it.”
“Skimmed it” means, “There isn’t an index in it, so I couldn’t look to see if I’m in it.” They aren’t.
The book was written in an odd way. Joe and Tom started on it during the pandemic and Joe would record himself musing and remembering things while riding his bike or wandering around southern California, and then he’d send those to Tom. God, can you imagine transcribing that? I feel bad for whatever unpaid intern got that gig.
It’s not a true autobiography, though you can easily piece together the important parts of Joe’s life. And, as you’d expect he’s good at telling his stories. He plays a starring role in all of them, which means some of them are probably bullshit, but Joe’s one of those guys who is likable enough that you just roll with it.
The part of the book I didn’t expect was the many detours Verducci takes to stories or anecdotes with long retired (or dead) managers like Gene Mauch, Joe Torre and Earl Weaver. Or an interesting diversion into how making the right moves still managed to screw AJ Hinch and Dave Roberts in key moments in postseason history.
This is Verducci’s book every bit as much as it is Joe’s, and he uses Joe’s musings on baseball to set up other stories, and it works.
But there is a lot of Joe in here. There’s even a chapter where talks about every vehicle he’s ever owned. Every one.
Cubs fans are going to want to know two specific things from Joe. First, why did he do all that stuff he did in game seven of the World Series. He explains himself, and as you expect he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Honestly, the only thing I had a huge issue with was having Javy squeeze with a full count in the top of the ninth. Joe talks about that. He’s convinced it was right. You still won’t be.
And, what the hell happened at the end? Why were the Cubs so hell bent on letting a Hall of Fame manager leave at the end of the most successful run their franchise has had since the turn of the last century?
Joe blames it on the Cubs being among the forefront of organizations that feel like the front office nerds should have more and more say in what happens in games.
But that’s not all. After the frustrating wild card loss to the Rockies (which followed the frustrating loss in game 163 to the Brewers), Theo Epstein seemed to be obsessed with what the players told him in their season exit interviews. The players, not surprisingly, blamed it all on everybody else. They said Joe didn’t have enough rules (what?), that he wasn’t around enough to meet with them (huh?), that they needed more pregame work (uh, OK) and that Joe didn’t communicate enough with them. Yes, Joe Maddon, famous recluse. I buy that.
Theo didn’t wait for the winter meetings to talk to Joe about this stuff, and that would normally have been the next time the manager and front office would be hanging out in the offseason. He summed Joe back to Chicago to tell him how things were going to be and to give him a three page single spaced summary of what the players had said.
Single-spaced? Is Theo the Unibomber?
I get that Theo was frustrated, but how much value is there in having players critique their manager, and taking it all as gospel? Especially since most of the key members of that team, especially the position players, had never played for any other big league manager. What the hell did they even have to compare it to?
Theo’s smarter than that. He just let the players confirm his own biases.
Joe acquiesced to most of the demands. He started going to the park earlier and sitting in his windowless office waiting to see if a player ever wandered in for some pearls of wisdom. The Cubs started taking more batting practice. The Cubs fired another hitting coach (a tradition unlike any other).
They even asked him to treat the last 7-10 days of spring training like the first 7-10 days of the season so the players would be used to playing regular season games when the regular season started. What the fuck is that?
I tried to put myself in Theo’s shoes during this part, knowing that we were only getting Joe’s side of it. But it’s hard to see how any of this had any real value and that Theo would actually think it did.
The truth is, Theo had a foot out the door after the 2018 season. The Garbage Family That Owns The Cubs™ were cutting his payroll, his farm system had dried up and NONE of the pitchers he had drafted were worth a shit, his shortstop turned out to be a degenerate, abusive scumbag, and while we may love Joe, I can concede that he’s probably a pain in the ass to manage.
Joe even singles out a specific moment when he thinks it went bad between him and Theo. Remember the time the Cubs flew in to Washington DC during a hurricane to make up one game? You remember it for two things. Anthony Rizzo wore his uniform to and from the game on the plane, and Pedro Strop pulled his hamstring.
Theo was livid that Joe left Strop in to hit for himself in the top of the tenth after the Cubs had taken a 4-3 lead. Pedro came up with the bases loaded and one out and hit a screamer to Anthony Rendon at third, Rendon threw home for a force and Matt Wieters missed the plate initially and then finally stepped on it before throwing to first. Pedro wasn’t running hard but as he got closer to first he realized the ball hadn’t arrived, so he lunged at the bag when he saw Ryan Zimmerman start to stretch, and he pulled the hammy.
Pedro was pitching really well, and was the closer down the stretch because Theo though replacing Wade Davis with Brandon Morrow was a good idea and Morrow thought taking his pants off in his closet was a good idea.
Theo blamed it on Joe. Joe said the team talked about not even bothering to send a full team to DC to get some guys rest, but then decided to go for it.
All of it was dumb, and none of it explains why the Cubs scored two or fewer runs NINE times in September (and then in game 163 and the wild card game.) Looks like all that extra BP really paid off, eh Teddy?
Joe says when it was all over in Chicago, Theo gave him a handwritten letter that Joe treasures to this day. For us they’re the two guys most responsible for running a team that actually won something, so how can we ever stay mad at either of them?
Joe also says that he told the players he was done on the final Friday of the season and that he did it at the team hotel because he didn’t want to give the Cardinals visitor’s clubhouse the satisfaction of being where he shared that news. I appreciated that. A lot. And, everybody got drunk that night and into the next morning, which is funny, because even hung over they beat the Cardinals 8-6 on Saturday.
Joe says almost nothing in the book about any of the Ricketts, another thing I enjoyed. I’m sure their tussles over his now shuttered Gallagher Way restaurant have nothing to do with that.
So, is the book worth the read? Yeah, it is. It’s pretty good. I was hoping for a chapter on what a shitass David Ross is, but that’s not in there. There is a weird anecdote in there about how Joe proved the analytics guys wrong when they told him Nick Castellanos was an awful defender and he knew it only looked that way because Nick had tried to play right field in the huge outfield in Detroit. Uhh…Joe, I don’t think Nick’s two months at Wrigley disproved that.
Oh, and when Joe tells you about the shit that went down at the end in Anaheim, you’ll see how a team with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani can’t win shit.
And, surprisingly—for me anyway—is that you’ll come around to agree with Joe that there are too many analytics in the game right now. Actually, no. His point is that they are being misapplied and over applied. Front offices don’t want managers anymore. They want a proxy to just play out the game that they had fun simulating in their hipster, faux brick walled office earlier that day. Joe just wants the info and he’ll apply it during games, which seems reasonable since he’s “the manager.” But teams don’t want to do it that way. The nerds have taken over.
Will Joe ever manage again? I’m sure he will. Because the tide will turn again, and in a few years The Athletic will be writing 5,000 word think pieces on how The Manager Is Back In Baseball.
At least until the next set of Ivy League dorks convinces the next set of trust fund/hedge fund billionaires to go back the other way.
Who wrote a book about the 2016 Cubs World Series team and all anybody remembers from it is that Hector Rondon sprayed Tinactin on Anthony Rizzo’s sack when Rizzo was doing his naked Rocky dance in the clubhouse.
Joe, you won the World Series with the Cubs. You’re going to get paid for speeches for life no matter what.