(670 The Score) Whatever happens regarding Cubs manager Joe Maddon's future with the organization in the next week, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein believes he should only be remembered in one manner.
"Without saying anything about what does or doesn't lie ahead ... he should be revered as a legend," Epstein said on the McNeil & Parkins Show on Thursday afternoon. "He should be celebrated."
The Cubs were officially eliminated from playoff contention Wednesday evening, marking the first time in Maddon's five-year tenure in Chicago that they don't reach the postseason. Epstein and Maddon plan to meet in the coming days to discuss Maddon's future as his contract expires at season's end.
The expectation across the MLB landscape is that Maddon will leave the organization, though Epstein declined to discuss that topic or anything that lies ahead.
He did reflect a bit on how much Maddon has meant to the Cubs while emphasizing his comments weren't suggestive of whether Maddon stays or goes.
"Joe doesn't get enough credit for, if you look back at 2015 and 2016, we had a bunch of 22-year-old, 23-year-old players performing in the postseason with the calm and composure that you typically see in a spring training game or an American Legion game even, to use Joe's terms," Epstein said. "That's remarkable. That doesn't happen without Joe creating an creating an environment where young players can relax and be themselves and thrive like that. It's just really unusual. If you talk to players who have played in World Series, played a lot of postseason games, there's a pressure unlike any other. In that period of time, the atmosphere here was remarkable, and Joe was the single biggest force in creating that culture that allowed our players to thrive that way. I think a lot of people, when they think back on the World Series (in 2016), they're overly critical of some pitching changes here and there and lose the big picture, which was that our players were able to go out there and perform because of the environment he created in the first place."
The Cubs are mired amid a September collapse, losing eight straight games to squander any chance at an NL Central crown and then losing a grip on a wild-card berth. Whether Maddon is back or not, Epstein knows it will be a difficult climb for the organization to get back to the top, where they stood in winning the World Series in 2016.
Specifically, he believes his job may be more difficult now than ever as changes await and the Cubs transition to a new-look team, if not an entirely new era.
"We face a lot of challenges," Epstein said. "I think next year is going to be more challenging in a lot of ways than this year was, but I'm really optimistic about our ability to create something new that sustains a lot of success.
And why might the next year be more difficult for Epstein and his front office?
"We have less control of our best players going forward," Epstein said. "We have some players departing in free agency and the landscape of talent out there, there's going to be unique challenges. I think all possibilities are open to us too. We look forward to it."