Joe Maddon showed up for his first day of work in Chicago on Monday looking and sounding much the same as during his nine years in Tampa Bay. • He sported the same casual style, jeans and a funky shirt. Spouted many of the familiar catchphrases, even breaking out the classic 9 = 8 equation. And served up ample amounts of his usual optimism, promptly taking on the century of cursed history by mentioning "this year" and "World Series" in the same sentence. • Sporting his new blue cap and white striped No. 70 jersey, Maddon made it immediately clear how obviously excited he was about his new gig as manager of the Cubs. • And how quickly he had moved on from his old one with the Rays. • After making only passing references to his former team while talking for much of the previous 30-plus minutes, Maddon leaned back in to the microphone as the introductory news conference was ending to acknowledge where he'd come from: • "One more thing. Can I say, one more thing, please? I want to recognize my guys back in Tampa Bay. Very grateful for all the years that I spent there. Stu (Sternberg) and Matt (Silverman) and Andrew (Friedman) and the staff and the players, outstanding people, and thank you for everything."
The awkwardness could be understandable, given the terms of the separation, as Maddon left the Rays with one year remaining for a massive payday — $25 million over five years, plus incentives reportedly tied to postseason appearances — with the higher profile Cubs. (He did say in a later q-and-a that Rays officials were "great" to him and he will miss them.)
With an opt-out clause (activated by Friedman's departure) in play, Maddon at first continued to profess no desire to leave the Rays. But after exchanging proposals on an extension, he decided he could do better elsewhere and headed off into free agency, not wanting to manage a "lame duck" season. He said he had nothing set up, but within days he was meeting with the Cubs (at an RV park near Pensacola) then had an agreement, raising suspicions and now allegations from the Rays of tampering, denied by his agent.
Maddon didn't offer much detail about the "really uncomfortable" decisions. He recalled how he first got a call from Friedman in advance of the Oct. 14 news he was leaving, then another reminding him of the opt-out clause he had forgotten his agent had included in his previous extension.
"I researched and I looked at everything and finally I'm saying, even though 60 is the new 40, you still are (60), and moving forward you've got a family to consider, and I had to look at the whole thing," Maddon said.
"So from my perspective, all I did was exercise my right within my contract. That's all I did. And then after that, just sit back and see what may happen. I hope that doesn't sound cold. I don't think it is."
He did say that things happened quickly with the Cubs. Maddon and his wife, Jaye, headed northwest from Tampa in their 43-foot RV the day of his Oct. 24 departure announcement, and Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer met him at a Navarre Beach campground for sunset beers and conversation to make sure they were aligned philosophically.
Convinced that they were, and they could work out finalizing a coaching staff and improving the roster (perhaps by Maddon luring some big-name free agents), he agreed to sign on, leading the Cubs to fire the manager they had, Rick Renteria. (Maddon dodged a question about that Monday.)
Maddon raved about realizing during the Rays' August visit that Wrigley Field was a "magical" place, and about the young core of talent the Cubs have, the vibe of the city (with plans to live downtown) and the allure of National League-style play.
And of taking on the massive 100-plus year history of losing that surrounds the Cubs franchise.
"Beautiful," Maddon said. "I love it. The challenge is so outstanding. How could you not want to be in this seat?"
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.