NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — At least 10 cameras lined up in a cramped corner of a huge hotel ballroom to capture Joe Maddon’s media session late Tuesday afternoon. For almost six minutes, reporters fired off Game 7 questions as the Cubs manager explained his thinking during the World Series.
And then a beat writer abruptly switched topics and asked who would hit leadoff once Dexter Fowler is gone.
“I don’t know, that’s a really good question,” Maddon said. “We’ve talked. There are some brilliant people standing around me right now.”
For a moment, Maddon sounded a little annoyed and defensive during Day 2 of the winter meetings. But the guy who designed “The Process is Fearless” T-shirts will point to the results from that instant classic against the Cleveland Indians.
“It’s fascinating to me regarding the second-guessing, because the only reality I know is that we won,” Maddon said at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C.
“We have oftentimes in the past talked about ‘outcome bias.’ Or if people would anticipate, had you done something differently, would it have turned out better?
“But better than winning — I don’t know what that is.”
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There won’t be enough space on Maddon’s Hall of Fame plaque to bullet-point all the twists and turns during those 10 innings in Cleveland, how he pulled Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks in the fifth and brought $155 million reliever Jon Lester into the game with a runner on base, a situation the Cubs wanted to avoid, in case that triggered the yips.
Maddon wrote off Aroldis Chapman giving up a game-tying, two-run homer to Rajai Davis in the eighth inning as a matter of location — not velocity — even though the closer wound up throwing 97 pitches in Games 5, 6 and 7 combined.
If anything, Maddon might have to do more of the convincing within his own clubhouse. Jason Heyward watched from third base as the manager ordered Javier Baez to bunt on a 3-2 count in the ninth inning and felt compelled to call a players-only meeting inside a Progressive Field weight room during the 17-minute rain delay.
“You can’t control the narrative when the game is in progress,” Maddon said. “I’ve talked about the barroom banter. And I definitely know that I was able to fill up — based on my decision-making in that game — a lot of barroom banter throughout the Chicago area, or nationally, internationally.
“But the point is, when you work a game like that, there’s not an eighth game. There’s only a seventh game. Everything that you saw us do that night, I planned out before the game ever began and felt really strongly about it — and still do.
“Just take away one hit by Davis, it worked out pretty darn well. But then you have to give our guys credit for the way we withstood the onslaught and eventually won the game.”
Ultimately, an 8-7 victory ended the 108-year drought, meaning Maddon should someday have his own spot in Cooperstown.
Instead of taking a public victory lap — the way his players have celebrated on “Saturday Night Live” and the talk-show circuit — Maddon went into decompression mode. Maddon bought a Dodge Challenger Hellcat muscle car, saw “Hamilton” on Broadway and partied at the Zeta Psi fraternity house for the Lafayette-Lehigh football game at his old stomping grounds in Pennsylvania.
Without Maddon, the Cubs don’t win 97 games and two playoff rounds last year, which opened the floodgates for nearly $290 million to spend on free agents. But after “Embrace The Target,” Maddon will have to come up with a new message for the 2017 Cubs, a group that might find some of his tactics a little old.
“You still want to ‘Try Not To Suck,’ but you can’t wear that out,” Maddon said. “I really feel confident. I like our group a lot. If you look at our core group and what we did last year — the youth, the inexperience turning into experience, the authenticity of our players — I want to believe (in) the humility of our players.
“All those things (are) what I’m going to rely on. That’s going to permit us — beyond our skill abilities — (to) be good for a period of time.”