Cubs manager Joe Maddon

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Bernstein: Will Joe Maddon Really Change?

Maddon has vowed to be more "hands-on" -- a real departure from the norm.

Dan Bernstein
November 29, 2018 - 2:26 pm
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(670 The Score) I'll believe it when I see it, despite best intentions all the way around.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times that he's changing up his routine this season, one that happens to be the final year of his five-year contract, with no extension in the offing.

"I actually want to do less before the game, talking to the media and whatever, and trying to get on the field more often," Maddon told the newspaper. "This year I'm going to get a little more hands-on involved in actually coaching."

This is no small adjustment, after Maddon has spent a career delegating to his assistants.

It's his response to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein's clear and stated call for greater urgency at the conclusion of a disappointing 2018, with sources telling 670 The Score that Epstein has had it in mind for some time that more direct involvement from the manager on a regular basis had been needed.

It has to be real, however, and players will be able to intuit in an instant if Maddon is trying to be something he's not.

And that's why it's notable here, as we watch a 64-year old World Series winner so suddenly declaring an adaptation in managerial style. This kind of thing rarely, if ever, happens at the highest level of professional sports.

College coaches do it in large part due to pure survival instinct and the necessity of relating to much younger people and recruiting children. They have to be aware and open to the next popular trend both on the field and off for their programs to stay relevant and resonant. Think Mike Krzyzewski embracing zone defense, one-and-dones and something other than his beloved motion offense or any number of football coaches chasing rapidly evolving offensive concepts and having to accept that uniform styles matter for brand perception.

Tactical change itself is in itself separate, too. "Old" NFLers like Andy Reid and Sean Payton are more willing than ever to incorporate new plays and schemes that prove effective, just like Gregg Popovich gave up on dumping the ball down into the post every time to start shooting more threes. The game can dictate those ebbs and flows.

But Maddon getting serious and more active in coaching baseball in a way that he hasn't for many highly successful seasons is a different animal. This is like Bill Belichick smiling and back-slapping all of a sudden, showing up to a film session with a Bozo wig just for the hell of it. Whatever NHL team that hires Joel Quenneville is going to do so knowing exactly how he's going to run a practice and isn't planning to insist it be done differently.

It's a clear concession by Maddon to Epstein, but it's a questionable ask on the part of the latter. Such a change might not come naturally from a veteran set in his ways, and it's far from certain that it would be perceived positively by players of all ages who have now been around him for some time.

What's more is that Maddon can also be thinking about his future beyond the Cubs gig, wondering how other potential employers could interpret a decision to act differently at this stage of his career. He might be better served doubling down on being the same guy that got this far and has a ring to show for it. His value has long been his laid-back confidence and rhetorical charm far beyond his strategic chops, his steady leadership and presence mattering more than husbanding bullpen resources or calling for a pinch-hitter.

Old dogs and new tricks and all that, and at the very least a new prism through which to examine the Cubs' dynamics the moment spring training convenes.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.