MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Maddon's optimism just right for Cubs

Maddon's optimism just right for Cubs

This is the story of how Joe Maddon vanquished the forces of superstition and despair and made possible a new era of hope for the Chicago Cubs.

It is the story of ignoring the goat and embracing optimism. Maybe it is also the story of the Cubs breaking a 108-year championship drought. But we don't know that yet.

For generations the Cubs have had the weight of history upon them. Contemporary Cubs players aren't responsible for all the past losses, but they inherit the history, as though it was so much bad debt.

And, for more than seven decades, there has been the Curse of the Billy Goat. This has been part of the weight. It's part myth, part flimsy excuse. It has no truth, it has no place, no part to play, no useful function for a baseball team managed by Joe Maddon.

The whole Cubs tone has changed since Maddon took over. There were the 97 victories and an advance to the National League Championship Series last season. There is the sky-is-the-limit optimism of this Spring Training. And there is all the talent on the roster, with no negative legend to drag it down.

How did this change, this transformation, occur?

"First of all, what stands out to me from last year, nobody talked about a goat," Maddon said in a recent conversation with MLB.com. "I don't buy into all that stuff. I respect tradition, I respect history, I respect, I respect. But that to me had nothing to do with anything. I don't think there was a lot of rhetoric about that last year."

When Maddon was asked about the goat curse last year, he replied: "I don't vibrate on that frequency." What a perfect, splendid, get-outta-here-with-that-stuff answer.

"I don't understand why you would live your life worrying about things like that," Maddon says. "I really try to focus on the present tense and I really want my players to do that to the point where we lose hard for 30 minutes, we win hard for 30 minutes and then you move on.

"I think, and I don't know this, but I would think that's at the root of it, where people kind of grab that the intent is to be just about today. If you're about today, if things go bad for a couple of days, they know it can turn around. If things are going well, let's keep it rolling."

The other thing with Maddon is that his pervasive, relentless optimism is not a pose. It is who he is. He is not a phony. That worked for him with a previously downtrodden Tampa Bay franchise. So far, it has also worked with the Cubs.

"I don't think you could ever have a bad vibe with Joe," pitcher Jon Lester said. "It's always a positive day. One thing I've always respected about Joe is that no matter where we're at in the season or where we're at in the standings, no matter how we're playing or how bad we're playing, he always brings a positive vibe to the clubhouse. That makes our job a lot easier. We don't have to make that up."

"It's much more of a positive, optimistic outlook," Maddon said. "I think that's what it comes down to, that you're not going to get anything else from me, because I'm incapable of going to Negative Town. I just can't do it.

"I'll give you history on that. In the early '80s, I'm working for the Angels in the instructional league. And Marcel Lachemann [longtime Major League pitching coach, later a manager and front-office executive] pointed out to me one day how optimistic I was. To that moment, I never even had any clue that I was optimistic.

"So whenever somebody says that now, I immediately think about Marcel. That's exactly the truth.

"I believe it's authentic, because I don't know how else to live. It's not just here; it's with my kids, it's with my wife, it's with my friends, all my friends. I'm in contact with a lot of friends from college, from pro ball, back in my hometown, [and] it's the same conversation.

"How could you be anyone else? Listen, I'm very pragmatic, I understand the crap that's going on, too. I understand that, but then move forward and try to turn that into something good, I think."

So, out with the goat and in with the hope. That's the Cubs Way with Joe Maddon at the helm.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist at MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.