ST. LOUIS – Beware the wines of September.
In fall 2014, when Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were courting Joe Maddon to be their manager, they scrounged through the shelves of a Publix store in Florida and picked up a cheap bottle of wine as a gift.
Epstein fired Maddon this weekend, but at least he sprung for a nice bottle Saturday night to “celebrate” Maddon’s five-year run of mostly success.
“Joe and I got together last night back in my hotel room, split a really nice bottle of wine,” Epstein said Sunday at Busch Stadium.
“Several,” said Maddon, a wine connoisseur, who added that the fruit of the vine was a Caymus.
The 65-year-old Maddon’s dismissal hardly was unexpected, but Epstein did not use the word “fired,” and the Cubs did not issue a formal statement or a news release.
Instead, Epstein and Maddon talked about it “being time” to make a change and that the parting of the ways was mutual.
“We spent probably 30 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 (Florida). We never could have imagined this working out as well as it did. I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner, one so loyal and supportive and 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 going through transition. We both agreed that this type of change, that it’s time, and this type of change is a win-win.”
That’s all nice talk, but the fact remains that Maddon, despite a five-year record of 471-339, took the fall for a front office that failed to provide him with enough players and an ownership that failed to provide the baseball people with enough resources.
Epstein and Hoyer were in St. Louis all weekend, as was Jason McLeod, the former scouting and player-development chief who has been moved to the major league side of the operation.
Although Epstein has said that the Cubs’ slide from world-championship form of 2016 is on him, he, Hoyer and McLeod should have brought full-length mirrors with them to look at the failures at the major and minor league levels.
For example, the Cubs have not had bona fide leadoff man since Dexter Fowler left for the St. Louis Cardinals after 2016. They didn’t sign reliever Craig Kimbrel (because of budgetary reasons) until June of this year, meaning they didn’t have a true closer on the roster for about 70 percent of the season, taking Kimbrel’s injuries into consideration.
And McLeod’s drafts have failed to produce an impact pitcher from the system.
Maddon, as usual, took the high road.
“It’s a really good day,” he said. “It’s a great day, actually, because like Theo said, change is good. Change could be very good for everybody involved. Eternally grateful, the Maddon family, to Theo, Jed and the Ricketts family (team owners) and the Cubs.
“Anybody that wants to denigrate anything we’ve done over the last five years, come see me at some point. There’s nothing to denigrate. There’s nothing to bemoan. There’s nothing to lament. It’s been fabulous. Anybody would take that five-year run, including a World Series championship for the first time in 108 years.
“Come on. It’s a wonderful day. I’m really excited about the future. I’m excited for the Cubs’ future. We were talking about this yesterday. I said I will remain a Cubs fan, absolutely.”
Epstein will address the media again Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field, at which time he will talk more about what the Cubs will be looking for in a new manager.
Names such as former catcher David Ross, bench coach Mark Loretta and former Cubs player and Yankees manager Joe Girardi will be floated by the media.
Epstein also said he will talk with Maddon’s coaches Tuesday about the team’s plans and their job status. The Cubs are on their third hitting coach and third pitching coach in three years.
Under Maddon, the Cubs won the National League wild-card game in 2015, his first year. They won 103 regular-season games and the World Series in 2016. The Cubs made their third straight NL Championship Series in 2017, winning 92 games. They won 95 last year but lost in the wild-card game.
Maddon was put on notice last fall when Epstein said the Cubs would not entertain a contract extension until after this season, the final year of Maddon’s contract.
The Cubs never did get over the hump in this season of fits and starts. They crashed out of the playoff race with a recent nine-game losing streak, but Epstein said the split with Maddon was the result of a gradual process.
Maddon repeated his wish to manage again, and he may have his choice of jobs with teams such as the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants.
Although some fans may have questioned some of Maddon’s in-game moves, he had one message for the Cubs’ fan base.
“I love ’em,” he said. “Thanks for letting me in.”
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I was kind of an outsider walking in. You guys have been suffering for a long time. I don’t feel the suffering, man. You got one championship in five years. That’s not so bad. When I meet them on the street, they’ve been awesome.
“I walk downtown a lot, and folks come up and they’ll just stop and have a conversation. They don’t want autographs. They don’t want pictures. They just want to talk. They shake your hand, and they say, ‘Thank you.’ And then they move on with their day.
“That’s like the essence or the pure Cub fan. That’s who they are. They’re aware of their history, their tradition. And they’re very complimentary and kind.”