“I love him,” Epstein told reporters, describing how the two men met in his hotel room, splitting “a really nice bottle of wine.” “Several,” Maddon interjected with a smile.
“We spent probably 30, 40 minutes together really celebrating an unbelievable five-year run,” Epstein said. “We thought back to when we first got together down at the beach in Pensacola. We never could have imagined this working out as well as it did. I never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner, someone so loyal and supportive, someone from whom I learned so much about baseball and life and someone who I consider a lifelong friend. And our friendship continues. We just talked about it.”
So what gives? What went wrong?
The disappointment of this year’s team comes after last year’s team didn’t live up to expectations, failing to advance to the National League Championship Series for the first time since Maddon arrived from the Tampa Bay Rays. Disappointed, Epstein chose to set aside talks of a contract extension until after the 2019 season, and the Cubs did not produce.
“It’s just time, and it happens,” Maddon said. “I was talking about a book I recently read; never deny the truth of bad news. In a way, it’s bad news but also good news at the same time. We’re both going to move on. The Cubs are going to flourish, and hopefully I get a chance to do this somewhere else. But there’s no tears shed. It’s a good moment for everybody, and we’re both excited about our futures.”
Maddon never had a losing season with the Cubs, with this year’s team the only one of his five to fail to win at least 90 games, and his 2016 team won the World Series for the franchise’s first title since 1908. The Cubs finished behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and finished behind the Washington Nationals, Brewers and New York Mets in the battle for the league’s two wild cards.
Addressing reporters Sunday, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo spoke at length about how much Maddon meant to him. He said he would be “forever grateful” for his former manager, who was “connected more than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
“I love Joe, love everything he’s done. I love what he’s done for Chicago, what he’s done for the city,” Rizzo said, according to NBC Sports Chicago. “From losing 100 games to winning 100-plus, Joe has changed my life, changed my career. I love him like a dad. I talk to Joe all the time. I’m very grateful for him.”
The Cubs were in first place in the division as late as August, but the lead switched to St. Louis for good on Aug. 23 after Chicago endured four straight losses in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Cubs were eliminated from playoff contention last week and, at one point in September, lost five straight one-run games. It just wasn’t good enough.
“It’s hard to put your finger on it or place blame on any one group,” utility player Daniel Descalso told ESPN. “As a collective whole, we just didn’t do enough. We never got into that gear to push past that barrier and get on a roll.”
Hired on Halloween in 2014 after he exercised an escape clause in his contract with Tampa Bay, Maddon had gone 754-705 in nine seasons with the Rays, taking them to their first appearance in the World Series in 2008.
“Joe won’t talk about this right now, but I will,” Epstein said. “There will be a bidding war for his services, and there should be. It’s going to be good for the Cubs, too. It’s the natural way of change if you embrace it in the right way.”
The San Diego Padres recently fired Andy Green, and the Los Angeles Angels, underachievers in the Mike Trout era, could be interested, although Brad Ausmus is under contract through the next two seasons. And USA Today pointed to the East Coast, too; specifically to the Mets and Phillies.
“I think I still have a good three to five [years] in me,” Maddon, 65, said. “I just saw Mick Jagger rock it at 75.”
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