LITTLE FALLS, NJ -- There's never a dull moment with Cubs manager Joe Maddon, and Friday night's program at my grandfather's museum -- the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Little Falls, N.J. -- was certainly no exception.
The event began with a cocktail hour, during which 100 lucky guests got to chat and mingle with Maddon and his wife Jaye. A lively and revealing Q&A with the World Series champ followed, moderated by Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network and Fox Sports. The interview was Maddon's first since winning the World Series on Nov. 2.
Maddon and my Grampa became very close in the last 10 years of Grampa's life after meeting in 2006 at a dinner organized by their mutual buddy, Don Zimmer. They hit it off immediately. Though Grampa was 30 years Joe's senior, the two were kindred spirits. With regard to baseball, they were both simultaneously old-school and progressive, sticking to baseball fundamentals while also pushing the on-field envelope. The two would sit on the couch in Maddon's office and talk about everything from family and friends to the pros and cons of using heavy bats.
The pair worked similarly off the field, too. Both were raised in Italian immigrant families and learned the importance of hard work and family early on. Both grew up to value teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship, respect and dignity, and later in life, both established foundations -- Grampa's Museum and Learning Center and Maddon's Hazleton Integration Project in his home state of Pennsylvania -- to pass those values on to future generations.
Grampa was a chop-buster to the end, and he would have welcomed Maddon to his Museum with a few hearty jabs. I can hear him now: "OK, Joe, you won one World Series, now go win nine more." But he would have been thrilled to introduce his friend to the full house that heard Maddon wax poetic on the Cubs' 2016 season. Here are some highlights from the program.
On managing the pressure and expectations of the 2016 season:
"You talk about it. I made that T-shirt, 'Embrace the Target.' I was an avid reader, I loved Tom Clancy. In 'Clear and Present Danger,' the President's friend is involved in a drug deal gone bad in the Caribbean. Right away, the spin doctors want to say the President hardly knew him, hadn't seen him in years. But no, Jack Ryan steps in and says, 'No, Mr. President, not only should you say he's your friend, you should say he's one of your best friends.' He ran towards the issue to diffuse the issue. I really have my Jack Ryan moments as a manager.
"You have to give the full explanation. We needed to embrace the target, embrace the expectations and embrace the word 'pressure' and use them all in a positive way. These are good words. These are good moments to be in. That's the rhetoric. For me, pressure and expectations should never be a problem, because why would you want to participate in anything that did not have expectations or pressure attached to it? And I wanted my guys to get that. I made a T-shirt with a target on the back. That was the message from Day One. I thought it was important to really throw it out there and be Jack Ryan from Day One."
On using Aroldis Chapman with a 7-2 lead in the 7th inning of World Series Game 6:
"[The Indians] had two guys on, and I did not like who was coming up to hit. I wanted to get through that with that type of lead. If you don't, if I had brought someone else in and it diminished at all, I thought the number of pitches Chapman would have had to throw later would be even more impactful. And there was no Game 8. There was no Game 7 yet at that point. We could not afford to lose any more games. Some of the other guys in the bullpen who had been really good in the season had been hurt at the end of the year. [Pedro] Strop had the bad knee and [Hector] Rondon had the bad tricep. We had CJ [Carl Edwards Jr.] and [Mike] Montgomery to utilize also, but we could not lose any more games. So I wanted to keep the game in tow right there. It was the meaty part of the order, and I did not want to entrust it to anyone else. I think everyone who is a Cub fan should be really happy I brought Aroldis in in that moment and did not save him."
On his Game 7 pitching plan:
"[Kyle] Hendricks, Jonny [Lester], Aroldis. I didn't want to use anyone other than those three guys. Because Hendricks had a tough start, Jon Lester's clock started in the 3rd and I didn't want to get him going that early. Then Kyle had a nice 4th, but I can't keep Lester on the shelf too much longer without utilizing him or we'll lose his ability to pitch that night. You can't keep warming him up and warming him up and expect him to be good out there. I talked to David Ross and he said Jon was really sharp. Kyle had [Carlos] Santana up with two strikes and all of a sudden it was ball four and here comes [Jason] Kipnis, which I did not like at all, and I wanted Lester on Kipnis and I wanted [Francisco] Lindor hitting right-handed. So why wait? Jon was ready. It was all about timing. For me, it all worked out really well up until [Rajai] Davis hit that home run."
On Davis' game-tying home run in the 8th inning of Game 7:
"It was like, 'Did that just happen?' When you work a game as a manager, you have preconceived thoughts about how it's going to work, and when it doesn't, it kind of blows you up for a minute. But I had to focus on the next inning immediately. But it's a shot to the chin. It staggers you. Anyone who says otherwise is not telling the truth. It was awkward and unusual, but you have to re-gather yourself."
On why Chapman was throwing fastballs to Davis:
"The game started with Willson Contreras catching. I knew once I brought David Ross in, Willie was out, and I like catching Willson with Aroldis. David is fabulous, but a lot of it was because David had not caught Aroldis as much as Willson had. You saw when Aroldis went out to pitch the 9th inning with [Miguel] Montero catching, he threw a lot more sliders in that inning, and it wasn't because he wasn't feeling his fastball. It's just a different philosophy with the catcher. It's just the way it works. When it's hot like that, when stuff is going on and everything is spinning very quickly, sometimes the pitcher will just go solely with what the catcher says and not shake him off to do something else.
My concern at the beginning was going from Willson to David, knowing I wanted to finish with Aroldis. If Willson was catching, you would have seen more sliders to Davis. I think Aroldis threw 14 or 15 straight fastballs to David, and you saw Davis was choked up and Aroldis threw the fastball in the only spot he could have done what he did with it. So yeah, a slider might have been a better pitch there, but when you switch catchers up, that could be part of the issue."
"I hate team meetings. I think it's a regurgitation of the same [stuff]. Guys sit on the floor and listen to the manager go on and on about the same old stuff you've heard a thousand times before. There might be a few rookies in the room that take it to heart, but the rest of the guys cannot wait to get out of that room and start making fun of you. Meetings are devastating. So I only have three all season: before the season, after the All-Star break and before the first playoff game.
"Before the playoffs, I wanted them to understand that something bad was going to happen, and when it does, we have to keep our wits about us. You have to know and expect something bad will happen, and how you react to that is what will set you apart. And then Jason Heyward calls a team meeting after the home run. I was not involved, which I loved. Jason gets them together after that moment, during the most fortuitous 15-minute rain delay in the history of Major League Baseball. It allowed us to regroup, and no one has ever had that opportunity before. It really was the perfect storm.
"It also allowed me to grab my dad's hat. He passed away in 2002, and he had an Angels hat with a big wing on it. I had that hat with me everywhere I go, so I took it out of my backpack and stuck it in the back of my pants under my hoodie. The rain delay permitted us to have a meeting, for me to check out the weather map, talk to Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer], and get my dad's hat. And during the rest of the game, it was such a comforting feeling knowing he was back there."
On the Javier Baez bunt, on a 3-2 pitch with one out and Heyward on 3rd in the 9th inning in Game 7:
"Javy strikes out over 80 percent of the time on a full count. And he's going to chase. You can throw him anything. And Jason Heyward is one of our best baserunners. There are two things I thought Javy had a better chance of doing: making contact on the bunt, and if it was a ball, he might actually take it. Because if it's a ball, he's just going to swing, that's just his M.O. The ball has to practically almost hit him for him to not swing. He did hit that home run off of [Johnny] Cueto [in Game 1 of the National League Division Series], but for the most part, when he gets to full count, it's not normally good, and Cleveland is great at scouting and they know all this stuff. And Javy is our best bunter in that situation. I thought there was a better chance for him to move the baseball as opposed to swinging away."
"I knew only days before. I had been encouraging him all year, that Spring Training is around the corner and he's young and everything will be fine. Then we're in L.A., and Theo tells me the doctor has cleared Schwarbs. I thought, 'Really?' I had no clue. So we had to put together a program to get him ready. He flies from L.A. to Arizona. He stood alongside the batter's box while that pitching machine threw over 1,000 pitches, just so he could read location, velocity, movement. Nobody does that, veteran or kid. Nobody. You saw him in those first games back, and his timing was right on. He was not chasing. He was on time against guys who had been pitching all year. It was unbelievable."
On the Cubs' victory parade:
"We pulled out of Wrigley and made that turn from Clark onto Addison, and I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' I have never seen so many people in my life. We went down Addison to Lakeshore to go downtown and ended up in Grant Park. I was up on stage talking, and the horizon is actually all people. I called it Cubstock 2016. I really thought before I got up there, this must be what Richie Havens saw at Woodstock back in the day. All it was was wall-to-wall people. This was when it really hit me that these people were what they said they were -- they were thirsty for this moment, and they all showed up. Even the perpendicular streets off Michigan had people lined up just to catch a glimpse."
On why the Cubs will only get better:
"One thing about the young Cubs, we can play defense. We run the bases extremely well. But the area you can see us getting much better in is offense. Everyone talked about how great we were offensively, and some of our guys had some great years, but I'll tell you, as they continue to learn what they're doing at the plate, we are going to be a really, really good offensive club, and that's the next level I see us achieving over the next couple years. I'd like us to be how the Yankees were in the mid-90s with Derek [Jeter] and Mariano [Rivera]. I think we have that kind of potential. The core youth, the dynamic personalities, the skill level, the finances, the city, the ballpark, the tradition, the background. And now we have the experience. Our kids are young and inexperienced, but they've been to the NLCS and the World Series the last two years. It's a level of excellence we are trying to achieve over a period of time, rather then getting caught up in one moment and just saying, 'OK, that's cool.' How do you become excellent for a period of time? That's the next step."
For more information on the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, please visit www.yogiberramuseum.org.
Lindsay Berra is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.