By Grant Gierhahn ‘20
That word holds some weight in virtually every major league sports franchise. Heck, eight NFL head coaches were fired after the 2018 season alone.
But for the Chicago Cubs, “scapegoat” carries a particular significance. For instance, the Cubs’ historic World Series drought was caused not by decades worth of poor performance on the field, but rather by the infamous “Curse of the Billy Goat.” The 2003 Cubs’ postseason run was derailed solely by lifelong fan Steve Bartman’s mental gaffe in the left field stands; defensive errors and poor management made no detrimental impact.
Coming into a franchise renowned for abstract “curses” and instability, Joe Maddon took these challenges in stride, refusing to alter his coaching methods despite the Cubs’ doomed history and a pressing fanbase eager for success. Instilling a winning culture from the offset, Maddon’s swagger clearly resonated with his young locker room, leading the Cubs to unprecedented success- four playoff appearances, three consecutive NLCS appearances, and one precious World Series title- during his five years at the helm.
Abruptly on the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 30, however, Maddon’s magical tenure came to an end. But why?
After an inconsistent, yet competitive 2019 campaign, the Cubs’ choice to move on from the most successful manager in team history not only tags Maddon as the franchise’s newest scapegoat, but also underscores the failed 2018 offseason that addressed none of the team’s critical needs.
Coming off an utter collapse during the 2018 season’s final month that included surrendering the NL Central crown and being shutout in the ensuing Wild Card game, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein promised to tackle the Cubs’ roster flaws. Epstein’s apparently major plans, however, were hindered by owner Tom Ricketts’ reluctance to write the checks; he was unwilling to provide the necessary budget to win.
As far as Ricketts is concerned, he has absolutely no excuses in terms of financing. Cubs’ ticket prices have been rising substantially ever since the team regained their competitiveness. The Cubs have essentially bought out every building in proximity to Wrigley Field, creating even more ostentatious streams of revenue. Now, the Cubs have severed ties with WGN, their central broadcast partner for the last 72 seasons, to institute Marquee Sports Network, owned by none other than the Ricketts family.
Enough is enough.
In spite of these blatant measures to extract every last dollar out of loyal fans, the support from the Cubs’ faithful has been unwavering. The least they expect in return is a robust baseball budget to sustain success.
How is it Joe Maddon’s fault that the Cubs couldn’t assemble an adept bullpen to preserve late inning leads? How is it Joe Maddon’s fault that the Cubs couldn’t find a stable leadoff hitter? How is it Joe Maddon’s fault that the team was riddled by injuries over the last month of the season?
The answer: it’s not his fault. It cannot possibly be.
In the end, Joe Maddon was a victim of his own effectiveness. He established a unique formula to success that the front office expected him to repeat year in and year out, despite diminished talent.
Joe will undoubtedly get the last laugh. He will swiftly latch onto a new team, and extend his Hall of Fame caliber legacy.
Looking back, the Cubs will reflect with profound regret on their move to prematurely axe the manager who brought them out of the MLB’s laughing-stock and broke their infamous 108 year long championship curse.
Nevertheless, Joe Maddon, from the bottom of every Cubs fan’s heart, thank you. Thank you for everything.