(670 The Score) The man who managed the Cubs to the promised land is out.
The Cubs won’t retain manager Joe Maddon for the 2020 season, Maddon revealed Sunday before the team's regular-season finale against the Cardinals. Maddon’s contract expires at season’s end. It ends a highly successful five-year chapter for the 65-year-old Maddon in Chicago that delivered the long-awaited championship in 2016 before ending in disappointment here in 2019, with the Cubs collapsing down the stretch and missing the playoffs for the first time in his tenure.
With one game remaining in his five seasons in Chicago, Maddon has directed the Cubs to a 471-338 record (.582), four playoff appearances, two NL Central titles, three NL Championship Series berths and the World Series title in 2016. He leaves as the fifth-winningest manager in franchise history and with the third-best winning percentage — including the best of any Cubs skipper since 1912.
Amid much fanfare, Maddon left the Tampa Bay Rays and signed a five-year, $25-million contract with the Cubs in November 2014 after the organization fired manager Rick Renteria as it looked to accelerate its rebuild. At the time, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein called Maddon “as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us.”
"I’m going to be talking playoffs," Maddon said upon being introduced by a club that had missed the postseason for six straight seasons.
"You have to set your goals high."
Maddon’s impact was felt immediately, as he was instrumental in establishing a laidback-but-professional culture and connecting with a young core that had been fortified by the signing of veteran left-hander Jon Lester to a $155-million contract.
Quickly, that became a winning culture. As Maddon organized everything from pajama-themed road trips to a petting zoo at Wrigley Field on game day, the Cubs took off with a second-half push to earn a wild-card berth in 2015. They then announced their arrival on the contending scene by winning the wild-card game against the Pirates and defeating the rival Cardinals in the NL Division Series before falling to the Mets in the NLCS.
The 2016 season cemented Maddon’s spot in Cubs lore. A magical 103-win regular season was followed by the Cubs winning their first NL pennant since 1945. Against the Indians in the World Series, the Cubs rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win three straight games, including an epic Game 7 that went 10 innings.
In the aftermath, Maddon scoffed at the Cubs being cursed and called the experience "the best."
"It has nothing to do with curses, superstition," Maddon said after the Cubs won Game 7. "It has nothing to do with what’s happening today, nothing. If you want to believe in that kind of stuff, it’s going to hold you back for a long time.
"I love tradition. I think tradition is worth time mentally, and tradition is worth being upheld, but curses and superstitions are not."
Even as he oversaw the end of the most epic drought in all of sports, Maddon began to come under scrutiny late in the World Series and in its aftermath. His heavy use of then-closer Aroldis Chapman was questioned, and some criticized him for pulling right-hander Kyle Hendricks too early in Game 7.
It was a harbinger of what awaited in the ensuing seasons. After a slow first half, the Cubs won the NL Central again in 2017 but bowed out quickly to the Dodgers in the NLCS. They often cited a "Word Series hangover" in explaining their struggles in 2017.
The Cubs were humming along in 2018 before a hard charge by the Brewers in September left the NL Central deadlocked after 162 games. Plagued by a struggling offense late, the Cubs then lost the division crown in Game 163 and fell to the Rockies in the NL wild-card game, a shocking ending that no one saw coming after a 95-win regular season.
Epstein then proclaimed that 2019 would be "a reckoning," a last chance of sorts for the core to prove itself capable of competing an the highest level again. The Cubs made no moves of consequence in free agency in the offseason, and the campaign proved to be rocky. They never established consistency in the final four-plus months of the season, playing around .500 baseball after mid-May.
Through it all, Maddon’s decision-making, lineup choices and bullpen management would come under fire more often from outsiders, even as he was placed in a difficult position with a flawed roster that lacked depth.
Perhaps the low point was the Cubs being swept by the Cardinals in a four-game set at Wrigley from Sept. 19-22. Each loss was by one run and in agonizing fashion, ending not only any hopes of a NL Central crown but also relegating the Cubs to the outside of the wild-card race.
And so the reckoning came. The Cubs are 84-77 entering Sunday, and Maddon will now walk. On multiple occasions, he has expressed his desire to continue managing for at least several more years. That opportunity figures to come given Maddon’s glossy resume and the widespread respect that he has earned across the MLB landscape.
It just won’t be with the Cubs, a team he helped transform and lead to the pinnacle.
"He should be revered as a legend," Epstein said Thursday. "He should be celebrated."