Embrace the Suck: Joe Maddon, Cubs have a new, perfectly-timed rallying cry

Embrace the Suck: Joe Maddon, Cubs have a new, perfectly-timed rallying cry

You might've heard, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon moonlights as a T-shirt salesman.

The team that leads Major League Baseball in T-shirts just added a new one to the batch Friday afternoon, though the mid-May 44-degree day did not make for great T-shirt weather:

Embrace the Suck is a blend of two phrases Maddon used as rallying cries during the championship 2016 season: "Embrace the Target" and "Try Not to Suck."

It's also a military term that the Cubs have been hoping to employ since spring training ever since Joshua Lifrak — the organization's director of mental skills program in the minor leagues — brought it to the manager's attention.

"[It means] exactly what it says," Maddon said. "... It's been a military phrase for probably the last 20 years. I had never heard about it before. It also includes Embrace the Target, Try Not to Suck — it's a morphing of those two phrases and we've been working with the military in order to be able to utilize it where we can sell it and use it for our team phrase."

Maddon and the Cubs are teaming up with KorkedBaseball.com again to sell the shirt and will split the proceeds with the military as well as Maddon's Respect 90 charitable foundation.

"Embrace the Suck" originated from the U.S. Army and is linked to the Navy Seals. It's also being used as a rallying cry for the Atlanta Falcons as of this week after head coach Dan Quinn used it to refocus his team this offseason following a collapse in the Super Bowl.

For the reigning world-champion Cubs, the phrase is remarkably applicable during the first 40 games of a season that has not lived up to expectations set forth by a team that won 200 games across the last two years.

"The message could not be more appropriate than it is right now regarding the start of the season," Maddon said. "We're embracing the suck, we're trying to continue to move forward. 

"Militarily speaking, I would imagine if you're fighting or in a difficult situation, it's never any good. But nevertheless, you have to embrace the moment somehow."

The Cubs spent last year embracing the target on their backs as the preseason favorite to win it all. They're still getting everybody's best shot as they were in 2016, but the 2017 team has yet to click on all cylinders and is still trying to settle into a groove.

So how, exactly, do the Cubs Embrace the Suck?

"It's never going to be the same path," Maddon said. "To this point, it's not run exactly the way we've liked it to. But again, to really expect utopia on an annual basis in the baseball industry is difficult and not really a good method.

"I want our guys to understand: Maybe we haven't done our best work to this point, but that's a good thing. To really stay focused and understand that the better days are coming.

"More recently, we've had three good days, but it's gonna take a lot more than that to get back to where we want to be. So the concept of embracing the target, try not to suck and then embracing the suck, to me makes all the sense in the world."

Of course, the Cubs are coming off a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, their first sweep since Sept. 19-21 of last season (also against the Reds at Wrigley Field).

The panic is gone — for now, at least — surrounding a Cubs team that is now 21-19 and has a chance to knock the first-place Brewers out of the top spot in the NL Central this weekend.

"We're over .500," Kris Bryant deadpanned, "so everybody can stop freaking out now."

With mysterious injury behind him, Kyle Hendricks has returned to the Cubs and brought jokes

With mysterious injury behind him, Kyle Hendricks has returned to the Cubs and brought jokes

Kyle Hendricks has returned at the turn of the tide for the Cubs and he brought his sense of humor.

Hendricks hasn't pitched since June 4 and is slated to return to the Cubs rotation Monday against the White Sox after missing the last seven weeks with inflammation in his pitching hand.

Basically, his middle finger hurt every time he threw certain pitches.

"That's probably the problem — flipping the bird to people," he joked. "Maybe it's too much driving in Chicago, I don't know."

Joe Maddon cracked up when he found out his stoic pitcher delivered a joke.

"He didn't say that. He did? That's very tongue-in-cheek, Dartmouth-in-cheek, right?" Maddon said. "He's like the most mild-mannered, wonderful fellow. It's just such an awkward injury to get and come back from.

"Right now, he's feeling great. [Cubs trainer PJ Mainville] feels really good about it, also. I think his velocity was up a bit also in the minor leagues in a couple starts. All that are good indicators. An unusual injury, but we're happy to have him back."

Kris Bryant injured his finger diving into third base Wednesday, but only missed one full game, using his freakish healing powers to do what Hendricks struggled to do in a month.

"100 percent [wish I could heal like Bryant]," Hendricks said with a smile. "I wish it wasn't the middle finger. If it was another finger, maybe it would've been easier. But a lot of things you wish, I guess, at the outset.

"But you just have to look at it — it was what it was and I'm done with it now. Now just go play."

The finger/hand injury is still largely a mystery to both Hendricks and the Cubs. They don't know how it popped up, beyond just excessive throwing (including pitching into November last season). 

He said he felt the issue pop up right before he went to the disabled list and it affected him every time he threw his curveball or sinker, because he used his middle finger more on those pitches. But with his changeup and four-seamer, there was next to no pain.

Moving forward, Hendricks will still throw the curve and sinker just as much in bullpens, but he will cut back on how much he throws overall in between starts, etc. It's too early to address the offseason, but Hendricks — who likes to throw a lot during the winter — will likely have to fine-tune that as well.

Hendricks returns right as the Cubs have appeared to turn their season around. They won the first six games coming out of the All-Star Break and after a rough loss against the Cardinals Friday, pulled off an epic, 2016-esque comeback Saturday vs. St. Louis.

The Cubs trotted out Jose Quintana Sunday and will do the same with Hendricks Monday, making it back-to-back starts from guys who weren't a factor in the Cubs rotation for most of June and July.

"I understand the cliche, but it's actually true this time [that players coming off the DL gives a team a boost]," Maddon said. "To get these two guys coming on board at this time in the season. 

"Getting Kyle back with this particular group is really interesting to watch right now. I think that's also gonna be a shot in the arm with the group, just like Jose in Baltimore. You definitely could feel the difference in attitude and I think when Kyle takes the mound, you're gonna feel the same thing, too."

Immediately after hitting the DL, Hendricks had to endure weeks of doing nothing and waiting around until the inflammation subsided. Then he spent the next few weeks building his arm strength back up after going so long without throwing. 

"It's just an obstacle and you have to look at it as positive in a way," he said. "I used it to get my body in shape, get my cardio going, get my shoulder work and my arm strong. Just try to take every positive out of it that I could. 

"Take a little breather in a way, too. Get away from it. But now, I'm ready to go. Mentally, definitely need this, need to be back and need to have baseball back in my life."

Hendricks and the Cubs are also optimistic his time off could mean he's strong for the stretch run.

Maddon and Co. had been looking for ways to bring the starting pitchers along slowly this season after pitching so many innings so deep into last fall.

The starters were held back in spring training, have been held under 100 pitches in most outings this season and get an extra day off whenever possible.

"The guys are all grinding it out while I'm sitting here getting healthy," Hendricks said. "They're wearing down a little bit, so the guys that are healthy by the end of the year, they can provide a little extra for us."

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