In a Zen-like move that baffled many in the sports world, Joe Maddon, then the new manager of the Chicago Cubs, enacted a “less is more” philosophy by almost completely eliminating batting practice. What went against a long time baseball tradition as well as causing intense angst among the Cub fans and head scratching from pundits, now is credited with being one of factors helping the wonderful losers win their first World Series in 108 years.
“For over a century of baseball, the belief was if you’re struggling then the answer was to work harder,” says Jesse Rogers, who with Bill Chastain, authored Try Not to Suck: The Exceptional, Extraordinary Baseball Life of Joe Maddon (Triumph Books, March 2018) with a foreword by Ben Zobrist.
Maddon’s beginnings in baseball weren’t promising. A Minor League catcher for Los Angeles, after four seasons, with only 180 times at bat and three home runs, he hadn’t advanced further than Class A. Obviously it was time for a change and so he segued into management, working in a variety of positions for the Angels including minor league manager, scout and roving minor league hitting instructor, bench coach and interim manager.
“His 31 years in Anaheim were an apprenticeship,” says Rogers, a television, internet and radio reporter for ESPN since 2009 who was an insider covering the Cubs in 2016 (Chastain, who covers the Tampa Bay Rays for MLB.com and knew Maddon from his days there). “He saw a lot of things there that he thought should be done differently, but he couldn’t challenge it. But he was able to take what he learned to Tampa Bay where he could put some of that in place. He very much believes in less. If you’re struggling, don’t work more instead cut back. ”
One of the positives from that strategy is players retain more energy as the long season progresses—an advantage over other teams who hew to conventional wisdom.
“Joe’s surprised that more people aren’t doing this after seeing how successful he’s been,” says Rogers.
But though he upended some traditions, Maddon has his superstitions just like most of those in the business.
When rain called a temporary halt during Game 7 of the Series with Chicago and Cleveland tied at 7-7, Maddon headed to his office and, spotting his bag, recalled thinking “it was time for my dad.” Grabbing his dad’s hat which he kept in the bag, he stuffed it down the back of his pants.
“I said to myself ‘Let’s go’,” he is quoted saying in the book. “I took him back there with me and during the course of the next inning I kept touching it back there.”
The title of Chastain and Rogers’s book s from one of Maddon’s oft-quoted maxims. Others include “don’t let the pressure exceed the pressure” or “do simple better.”
“Probably my favorite one in general is ‘Embrace the target,’” says Rogers. “Joe says he’s really a big believer of running towards the fire as opposed to running away. I think that’s a good lesson for all of us.”