The influence of manager Joe Maddon has spread well beyond Wrigley Field now that he has pulled off what many Cubs fans thought they’d never see and led the team to the World Series.
In a city where Jordan is still revered, the mantra of wanna be like Mike might soon be replaced by Joe Knows.
At Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business, where an MBA will cost you well over $100,000, they’re teaching Maddon. Harry Kraemer is a professor of strategy, the former CEO of pharmaceutical firm Baxter International Inc., and a Cubs fan. He can fill an hour with animated talk about Maddon.
“My whole lecture the other night was literally on how Joe Maddon is a perfect example of a value-based leader,” Kraemer said. “I’ve got 80 students who are into this in a big way.”
Going back to his Tampa Bay Ray days, Maddon’s reputation as an off-beat leader has gotten a lot of headlines. He’s a no worries kind of guy who shrugs off any trips to “negative town.”
During last season’s pennant race, when the Cubs ultimately fell short, he was a leader trying to keep a very young team loose. There was Maddon on the field petting a flamingo named Warren , one of the zoo animals he had brought to Wrigley in August 2015 for the Cubs and their families. A few weeks later, the Cubs wore onesie pajamas home on an overnight flight from Los Angeles. Every player was part of it and, if the team photo of the odd moment is proof, most if not all had fun.
There are also the Maddon-coined slogans, like “Try not to suck,” that have found their way to T-shirts seen around town.
“‘Control the controllable,’ that has been my mantra ever since he said it a few weeks ago,” said Elaine Maimon, Cubs fan and Governors State University president who wrote an article in early October on Maddon’s managerial gifts.
It’s not just the sloganeering and the funny stuff that Maddon gets right, admirers say. He trusts his players and assistants to do their job, understands how they fit into the team and finds a way to get value out of a guy like light-hitting, 39-year-old catcher David Ross.
Maddon himself couldn’t play it straight when asked about his management style and who he has learned from.
“Michael Scott, probably the biggest influence,” Maddon said Friday before Game 3 against the Indians, referring to the less-than-gifted manager from “The Office” portrayed by actor Steve Carell.
Tom Gimbel, the CEO of the recruiting firm LaSalle Network and a Cubs fan, said the Series is a showcase for good management — Maddon, well-respected Indians boss Terry Francona and the man who at different times has hired both. Cubs executive Theo Epstein hired Maddon, and he hired Francona in Boston when he was with the Red Sox.
It’s in the off-beat gestures where a lot of managers and business leaders hope they’re a little like Maddon. During one bad stretch of business at LaSalle, Gimbel said, he decided on a particularly miserable day that everyone needed a milk shake.
“It was crappy weather in Chicago and things were terrible,” he said. “You’ve got to get people out of their own heads.”
Kraemer knows the value of such gestures. He said he spent hours sitting above dunk tanks at carnivals for Baxter employees so their kids could drop him in the water again and again. Nothing like dunking the boss.
“You end up finding ways to relate to people so you can influence them,” Kraemer said. “‘Hey, he’s kind of crazy, too.’ You’re human like everybody else.”
Maddon worked in the shadows for years, first as a minor league player who never made the majors, then as a scout, coach and in other roles for 31 years before he became the Tampa Bay Rays manager in 2006.
“They don’t see the amount of work (he) put in,” Gimbel said. “He wasn’t a good professional player, he was a good student of the game.”
And without wins, the managerial tricks would soon look a whole lot less fun to the people he works for.
“If you’ve got a boss, and you’re not delivering and your people are running around in pajamas, you’ve got a bigger problem,” Kraemer said. “You’re going to be fired.”
Not this year, and Maddon is quick to credit his former coaches for imparting “common sense” wisdom over the years
“And then beyond that, I think you take bits and pieces away from all the guys that you had, but there’s a lot of guys you had that you thought did poorly, and you take a lot from them, also, because you never want to be that way,” Maddon said. “You gain experience, and you gain your ability or your ways in regards to doing things from those that are good, but you can really learn from the guys that you think do it poorly, too.”
AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman contributed to this report.
Follow David Mercer on Twitter: @davidmercerAP
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