Joe Maddon gives Cubs space during national anthem: ‘Everybody’s got the right to express themselves’

Joe Maddon gives Cubs space during national anthem: ‘Everybody’s got the right to express themselves’

MILWAUKEE – As protests formed at NFL stadiums across the country, sending an anti-Trump message after the president’s inflammatory rhetoric, a group of about 11 Cubs players and coaches stood off the third-base line while a men’s a cappella group sung the national anthem before Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

The night before, Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first Major League Baseball player to follow in Colin Kaepernick’s footsteps and kneel during the national anthem at the Oakland Coliseum, sending a jolt through a conservative industry.  

“Like I’ve always talked about, everybody’s got the right to express themselves in the manner in which they feel,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I’ve always felt that way.”

That’s easer said than done in a team sport that doesn’t have the same outspoken culture as NBA or NFL locker rooms. It will be fascinating to see if this starts a similar movement across baseball. The Cubs are a marquee team that has already visited the White House twice since January and will likely return to Washington in October for a must-watch playoff series against the Nationals.

“I have no idea,” Maddon said. “We’re going to wait and see. And, again, if it does, that’s fine. I have no issues. I’m all into self-expression. And if a player feels that he needs to express himself in that manner, then so be it.”

[RELATED — Joe Maddon feels the heat from White House comments and rethinks Trump vs. sports world]

Maxwell, the son of a U.S. Army veteran who made his big-league debut last year, told Bay Area reporters this decision had been building and rooted in his own childhood in Alabama, where Trump appeared on Friday at a rally for Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange and told the crowd that NFL owners should fire any “son of a b----” kneeling during the national anthem.      

“The point of my kneeling was not to disrespect our military or our constitution or our country,” Maxwell said. “My hand was over my heart because I love this country and I have family members, including my father, who bled for this country, and who continue to serve.

“At the end of the day, this is the best country on the planet. I am and forever will be an American citizen and grateful to be here. But my kneeling is what’s getting the attention, and I’m kneeling for the people who don’t have a voice.

“This goes beyond the black and Hispanic communities because right now we have a racial divide that’s being practiced from the highest power we have in this country saying it’s basically OK to treat people differently. I’m kneeling for a cause, but I’m in no way disrespecting my country or my flag.”

Maddon’s anti-rules philosophy gives the Cubs the space to do whatever they think’s necessary to get ready for the next game. It’s freedom from: dress codes on road trips, guidelines on facial hair and overloaded mandatory batting-practice sessions.

That hands-off approach has worked to the point where the defending World Series champs could clinch a second straight National League Central title as soon as Tuesday at Busch Stadium and celebrate in front of the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s not unusual to see only a small group of players, coaches and staffers standing on the field during the national anthem.

“That’s up to them,” Maddon said. “I’ve never really had a policy regarding being out for the anthem or not. A lot of times guys like to do different things right before the game begins. Sometimes, you’re on the road, you hit later and you get in later and then your time is at a premium. So I’ve never really had a specific theory about coming out for your anthem at all.”

Joe Maddon feels the heat from White House comments and rethinks Trump vs. sports world

Joe Maddon feels the heat from White House comments and rethinks Trump vs. sports world

MILWAUKEE – Sticking to sports becomes impossible when Donald Trump calls protesting NFL players sons of b------ and feuds with NBA superstars Stephen Curry and LeBron James on Twitter while the University of North Carolina’s national championship men’s basketball team declines a White House invitation (scheduling conflict) and Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell takes a knee during the national anthem.

All that happened within 24-plus hours, a head-spinning news cycle that will not stop. It’s impossible to escape for a high-profile organization with political connections like the Cubs.

That’s how manager Joe Maddon wound up feeling the heat in Miller Park’s visiting dugout before Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, clarifying his comments to the Chicago Sun-Times that went viral: “It’s dangerous when folks in our country stop respecting the White House and the seat of the president.”

“What would you like me to say?” Maddon said. “I’ve read it all and I’m saying it’s understandable why these people – why the players – jumped back at him the way they did. It’s very understandable, absolutely. I had no idea.”

The Sun-Times asked Maddon for a reaction minutes after Saturday afternoon’s 10-inning, playoff-intensity loss to the Brewers as the media session was breaking up in the manager’s office inside the visiting clubhouse. That quote appeared deep within a longer story headlined: “Sports world revolts: LeBron James, Roger Goodell fire back at Trump.”    

“I had no idea what the president had said prior to being asked that question,” Maddon said, “so I wasn’t commenting on what the president had said. When (the reporter) asked me that question, I had no idea it was in that context whatsoever.”

The Cubs angle: The World Series champs starred in the final official White House event for President Barack Obama on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A group of players, staffers and executives returned for an Oval Office photo op with Trump on June 28, a side trip in the middle of a likely playoff preview against the Washington Nationals.        

Curry already made it clear that he would vote against the Golden State Warriors making a ceremonial visit to Trump’s White House. After Trump tweeted that he withdrew Curry’s championship invitation, Maddon told the Sun-Times: “With all due respect to everybody, I just believe that we need to get our acts together collectively, all of us.”

“I had no idea what he said,” Maddon said during Sunday’s pregame briefing. “I had no idea what was said. How would I? I had no idea what was said prior to (getting asked) that question.

“My response is typical: I always respect the office and the White House and the seat of the president, like I said before we had attended. That was what my response was about. It had nothing to do with the situation yesterday.”

Maddon backtracked and said he has no issues with LeBron using his @KingJames account to support Curry, call Trump “a bum” and tell his 38.5 million Twitter followers: “Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

“I’ve always spoken what’s on my mind,” Maddon said, “and I’ve always respected other people doing the same. It’s that simple. I just did not know the context of the question yesterday at all.

“And then I read about it last night when I got back to my room. And I could understand what all the uproar was about, easily. But I had no idea after the game that’s what had been said.”

Maddon wore a black turtleneck and an olive coat to the White House in January and enjoyed seeing Obama, who gave him a shout-out during the East Room ceremony: “Let’s face it, there are not a lot of coaches or managers who are as cool as this guy. Look how he looks right now.”

Maddon also eagerly posed with Trump, a meeting set up through Cubs ownership and the Ricketts family’s influence within Republican politics. Maddon also aligned himself that week with a childhood friend from Pennsylvania, Congressman Lou Barletta, an early Trump supporter who recently announced a Senate campaign.

“Again, I have respect for the government of the United States,” Maddon said. “I have respect for the office. I have respect for the seat of the presidency. When it comes down to individual battles, I have nothing to do with that.

“All I’m saying is that I understand why the players responded the way they did. After I read the comments, it was very clear why they would respond the way they did.

“It’s just unfortunate we’ve arrived at this point where it’s so easy to have this dialogue between the highest office in the country and everybody else in such a negative way. That’s the part that’s really disappointing.”          

After playoff run, Shohei Otani could be the next big thing on Cubs’ radar

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AP

After playoff run, Shohei Otani could be the next big thing on Cubs’ radar

MILWAUKEE – Shohei Otani is supposed to be Japan’s Babe Ruth, a potential top-of-the-rotation starter with a 100-mph fastball and a left-handed slugger who hit 22 homers last year for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Imagine what kind of mad-scientist moves Cubs manager Joe Maddon could make with a talent like that.

“If he’s that freakin’ good, there’s a lot of things you could do,” Maddon said. “If he’s that good, it presents a lot of unique situations.”

Yes, the Cubs will be in on Otani, because any team that can afford the $20 million posting fee would be foolish not to make the recruiting pitch to a two-way player who’s only 23 years old and apparently willing to work for around the major-league minimum ($545,000) next season.

The Cubs want to be known for playing in October on an annual basis and won’t stop after the second straight National League Central title that feels inevitable after this playoff-atmosphere weekend against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

Otani will be the big name on MLB Trade Rumors this offseason. The Cubs are capped under this collective bargaining agreement and could only offer a maximum $300,000 signing bonus. But if money had been the No. 1 priority, Otani would presumably just wait out Major League Baseball’s system for two more years and cash in with a $200 million megadeal.

“He’s not available right now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “There was a story that came out that said that he would request a post. I’m not going to talk about any player that’s not available.”

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was among the group of officials who recently traveled to Sapporo to scout Otani in person. San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy watched Otani highlights on a laptop and told Bay Area reporters: “I absolutely would play him every day.”

“There’s always the exception to the rule,” Maddon said. “I think the day after, the two days after you pitch, maybe not. You’d have to give your arm some kind of breather.

“He’s a perfect fit for an American League team then. When he’s not starting, he DHs. For an American League team to find a player like that — where you don’t have to go spend all that dough on a good DH and get this starting pitcher and a guy that can actually hit — kind of intriguing.

“If he’s that good, you can go National League (rules) when he pitches. If he’s that good, for one day, you would have an extra player on the bench. You could do whatever you want.”

There are a lot of ifs and unknowns with Otani, a low-cost, high-upside option that would fit with just about any team’s vision, from the defending World Series champs, to San Francisco’s rebuild, to the bright lights at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park or Dodger Stadium.

“On the surface, I would say American League, easy, National League, get creative,” Maddon said. “But if he’s not pitching, you don’t want him like moving his arm that much, even throwing the ball in from the outfield.

“If he’s used to doing it, that might be something different entirely, too.”

The Cubs are loaded with position players and already have a good idea of what their Opening Day lineup could look like through 2021. But next year’s rotation should be dramatically reshaped with Jake Arrieta and John Lackey about to become free agents.

“It’s interesting,” said Maddon, thinking back to his years in player development. “But I think that can be done more in the minor leagues. If you have the DH and you have a young guy with a good arm — but you’re not sure and you see he runs well or he has exceptional pop, something that’s a really exciting offensive tool — let him DH a couple days a week in between his starts.”

Who knows? That pretty much sums up the Otani sweepstakes. The Cubs can sell their built-to-win foundation, iconic Wrigley Field, a world-class city and an international brand that will guarantee off-the-field endorsement money — and wait to see if that would be enough for baseball’s next big thing.