Magic touch? Maddon keeps things light

Magic touch? Maddon keeps things light

NEW YORK -- Turns out baseball magic is more than just a cliché. On Monday when the Cubs arrived in New York, manager Joe Maddon turned myth into reality by bringing in an actual magician to perform for his struggling club.

"We were talking about how we needed some magic around here, so why not bring in a magician?" said Maddon, whose team has lost five straight.

Simon Winthrop, a Las Vegas-based magician, wowed the Cubs with a performance that included dice tricks, illusions and plenty of how-did-he-do-that moments.

"It was just a good little treat," second baseman Addison Russell said. "I was nice and surprised to come into the locker room and see that. It was cool."

This isn't the first trick Maddon has pulled from his sleeve. Maddon long ago established a reputation for utilizing out-of-the-box methods of morale building. When he was the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, Maddon's hijinks included bringing in a merengue band, wearing short shorts and scheduling various animals to make visits to the clubhouse. Once, an animal trainer arrived with a penguin. Another time, a 20-foot python.

In April 2013, Maddon tried out this magician thing. The Rays won their next two games.

The manager felt the Cubs needed some sort of mental break after losing five straight, including three to the Cardinals over the weekend. So he made sure that even visiting instructor Manny Ramirez -- who made the trip to New York -- wasn't the most interesting man in the clubhouse.

"Team meeting!" Ramirez announced, falling onto a couch and signaling for the media to leave the room. For some clubs, that would signal a loud, stern gathering was about to take place. And few would blame Maddon for trying to fire up a lineup that had scored just four runs over its last four games entering Tuesday, and hadn't homered in 11 of 13 contests.

But to reach his players, Maddon often opts for fun over frustration.

"It's something new. It's not the daily routine," Russell said. "He impresses us."

At one point, Simon asked slugger Anthony Rizzo to write down the name of a celebrity on a piece of paper. Rizzo revealed to the audience that he wrote down the name John Travolta. Simon then took to the clubhouse computer and typed into Google: "What is Anthony Rizzo thinking about?"

On cue, images of Travolta appeared on the screen.

For another trick, Simon crinkled up a soda can and demonstrated that it was empty. Then he held out the can and put his finger underneath it.

Suddenly, the crinkles started coming out.

"Then he went around the top and sealed it up, gave it to me to open and I heard the 'psst,'" Maddon said. "Then he poured the soda out into a cup. That was one of the coolest things ever!"

Still, a larger question looms. Does this mean the python is coming back anytime soon?

"It's hard to get zoo animals at the last minute on the road," Maddon quipped. "A magician is always easier to get on the road than a 20-foot python. I've always felt that way."

Joe Trezza is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.