MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Maddon's success due to unique philosophy

Maddon's success due to unique philosophy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Joe Maddon packed his wife, dogs and the mega bucks the Cubs had given him in his luxury RV and headed for Chicago a year ago, I wondered, "Will success spoil Joe Maddon?"

After all, a lot more separates St. Petersburg from Chicago than 1,200 miles. What worked for the small-town Tampa Bay Rays might not play well in one of the USA's greatest cities.

Wrong.

I was foolish to think for a moment that Maddon and his managerial wizardry wouldn't prosper at Wrigley Field, and I'm not talking about the five-year, $25 million contract.

In his first year, Maddon steered the Cubs to 97 victories, took them to the postseason for the first time in seven years and stunned the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series.

Oh, yes, the Cubs were swept by the Mets in the NL Championship Series, but truthfully, they weren't supposed to be there in the first place.

And that's what Maddon is all about -- taking teams to heights far above expectations. He's one of baseball's best managers -- at this moment, maybe the best. Last month, Maddon won the NL Manager of the Year Award to go with the two from the American League that he received with the Rays.

And on Tuesday, Maddon was named Best Manager as the final 2015 Esurance MLB Awards were unveiled at the Winter Meetings.

Best Manager: Joe Maddon

Earlier in the afternoon, Maddon had a session with the media as he looked back over his first season with the Cubs and the prospects for going even further in 2016.

Yes, Maddon said, when he arrived in Chicago last spring, there was some concern. He didn't ride in on a white horse, but the long-starved fans regarded him as their savior.

"Everybody was anticipating a bigger market and all this -- bigger city, a different kind of scrutiny and all this kind of stuff," Maddon said. "I'd never lived in a big city like Chicago. So, just driving to the ballpark, getting your laundry done -- things like that are a little bit different.

"But once you walk through the door, everything turns out to be the same. And when the game begins and you stand in the corner of the dugout and look up in the ballpark and the last seat is filled -- well, that's kind of nice."

As a contrast to Tropicana Field, which seldom had large crowds, Maddon added, "To report to work there [Wrigley Field] every day and have it filled up like that, it's pretty special, man. It's very special."

Turning perennial losers into winners made it even more special. Maddon blended a group of veteran pitchers and the Cubs' highly vaunted crop of young hitters -- third baseman Kris Bryant won the NL Rookie of the Year Award -- into a winning juggernaut.

Maddon continued with his wacky motivational tactics and threw in some of the gimmicks he used at Tropicana Field, but nothing replaced his philosophy about winning a baseball game.

The prize was a Wild Card berth and a win over Pittsburgh, as well as the upset of St. Louis, the NL Central winner that led the Major Leagues with 100 victories. Making it even more special is the fact Maddon grew up a die-hard Cardinals fan. "A fierce Cardinal fan," he added.

Must C: Cubs advance to NLCS

Even though the Cubs were swept by the Mets in the NLCS, the season was a rousing success.

With the maturity of the young players, Tuesday's addition of starting pitcher John Lackey, the Cubs should be even better in 2016.

As Maddon said, the target will be even larger as opponents will be coming after the Cubs. Now the fans have been teased and will be expecting much more.

And then there's the sophomore jinx.

"I think the sophomore jinx is all about the other team adjusting to you, and then you don't adjust back," Maddon reasoned. "So, the point would be that we need to be prepared to adjust back."

There's also the problem of one year's success affecting the next season. Players sometimes forget what it took to achieve what they did previously, and learn the hard way that they cannot turn it on and off.

"Sometimes you will get a group that takes things for granted and believes or concedes that it's just going to happen again," Maddon said. "They're [the Cubs] coming off a wonderful season …You want to talk to them and praise them, but the target's going to be bigger, and I want us to embrace the target."

Pressure?

"Yes, the pressure is going to be possibly greater, and I want us to also embrace the pressure," Maddon said. "Those are two good things -- the bigger target, the greater pressure. They equal a grander chance for success.

"I'm all about that, and I definitely will bring that to our guys' attention. The combination of accountability of our young players combined with our veterans -- I really believe we can avoid those kinds of pitfalls."

In 2014, when Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa were elected to the Hall of Fame, I cornered Maddon at the Winter Meetings and suggested their type of managing is a thing of the past.

Maddon, a huge advocate of analytics and information, somewhat agreed an evolution is taking place.

Tuesday, Maddon said, "Primarily for me, I like information, and I like the fact that the information is accurate.

"People want to treat it like fantasy baseball a lot, but it's actually really baseball with real people."

That's what makes Joe Maddon so real -- and successful.

Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.