By Laurence W. Holmes--
(CBS) When the Cubs hired Joe Maddon, it sparked debate on my show about the value of a manager. At the professional level, there are a lot of people who believe a manager's impact is negligible. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how many wins a manager is worth -- a manager WAR, if you will.
The smartest people who cover the game have the number somewhere between zero and five games, but in watching Maddon work, trying to simplify the impact to a number misses the point. Maddon's impact is real, even if you can't quantify it.
Maddon's unorthodox. Or maybe it's better to say, he seems unorthodox. In a game steeped in tradition and convention, he stands out. That's not to say he doesn't believe in numbers. He does. In fact, he'll go into great detail with you, if prompted, in explaining how he looks at matchups. The unorthodoxy comes in his people skills, and that's what sets him apart from most managers. (I believe Bruce Bochy and Mike Scioscia have these skills, too.)
Go back to the situation with Starlin Castro, a three-time All-Star. He has close to 1,000 hits (949) in his Cubs career, but he was hurting the team. The Cubs and Maddon gave him chance after chance to work his way out of it, but once it was clear that wasn't going to happen, Maddon benched him. He made room for the better player, Addison Russell.
Benching a player isn't remarkable, but it seems to be really difficult for some managers to do (looking at you Robin Ventura, regarding Adam LaRoche). The remarkable part about what Maddon did is that he was able to bench an emotional player and not lose him. Castro has completely bought in. He's been the good teammate and is trying to earn his way back by being the best second baseman/utilityman he can be. That takes people skills on Maddon's part.
After getting shut down by Chris Sale, the Cubs got bombed in two games by the Tigers. So what does Maddon do? He declares "American Legion Week." He locks the clubhouse doors, tells the players to not come in early and to not worry about batting practice.
On Sunday, I was in the Cubs clubhouse and saw guys strolling in at 11 a.m. for a 1:20 p.m. game. Usually, players are in there by 8:30 a.m. or shortly after. Manny Ramirez made it into the clubhouse before most of the players. Yes, that Manny Ramirez. Maddon claims that batting practice is overrated. The Cubs reinforced his position. Since Maddon declared "American Legion Week," the Cubs have scored 30 runs in four games.
You would think Maddon is the "cool dad" or the substitute teacher playing videos to the delight of his class, but he's not. Think about former Cubs outfielder Junior Lake trying to clown the Marlins back in June. Down four runs, Lake styled the homer and then shushed the Florida bench. After the game, Maddon laid down the law on how the Cubs were going to comport themselves. I'm not sure if Lake got the message then, but I imagine he got it when he was traded to the Orioles five weeks later.
There's a couple of concessions that I have to make: One, Ricky Renteria did a good job last year. And two, the Cubs roster is appreciably better.
But what does it say about Maddon that a management team that's often accused with being obsessed with numbers would make the change? To me, it says that they think there's value in the human element. That's what Maddon adds. Managing a game is one thing, but his strength is managing people.
Those of us who love to use numbers to explain the game should remember that the game isn't played by bots. Knowing how to push buttons on human beings is a very valuable skill.
Laurence Holmes hosts the Laurence Holmes Show on 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @LaurenceWHolmes.
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