CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he was sitting in bed on Friday night when he heard the news that Muhammad Ali, the three-time heavyweight champion who transcended boxing, had died at 74.
Maddon never met Ali. But like many, he almost felt as if he knew him. The death of any cultural icon can create the urge to turn introspective -- and it's no different for Maddon, who grew up in Hazleton, Pa., about 30 miles from the Deer Lake camp where Ali trained for many of his biggest fights.
"If you're of [a certain] age, a part of your childhood is gone, actually," Maddon said. "It's a marker for all of us."
Maddon said he saw Ali in action once, when Ali sparred in an exhibition at Hazleton's Harman-Geist Memorial Field. While managing the Tampa Bay Rays, Maddon also got to know the late Angelo Dundee, Ali's trainer who lived in Tampa.
Even back in Hazleton, Maddon has friends such as restaurant owner Louis Beltrami who knew Ali or his entourage.
"I feel fortunate in some sort of a bizarre way to have bumped elbows through common friends," Maddon said.
Maddon is boxing fan, owns an Ali jacket and has even hosted a charity event called "Joe Maddon's Main Event." He remembers well listening to the radio as Ali (then Cassius Clay) defeated Sonny Liston in 1964, and he said no one could possibly be greater.
"Really, it's a segment of our history that I don't think will ever be repeated," Maddon said. "I don't think there's ever going to be that group of boxers that come back and provide that kind of entertainment and interest, that kind of charisma and everything else that he had going on. It was a very unique time. I was very fortunate to have experienced it."
Cody Stavenhagen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.