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Joe Maddon's journey to Chicago

Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 22 Interview Issue. Subscribe today!

If Joe Maddon were to drive his 42-foot Winnebago RV from his birthplace of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, to his new home in Chicago, it would take him about 11 hours: a straight shot west on I-80, then bear right on I-90 in Indiana. But the journey from plumber's son to Cubs manager wasn't quite that easy. As he readies himself to lead the long-suffering team to the promised land, Maddon reflected on a few stops along the way.

1 HAZLETON: BORN 1954
It starts with a broken window. One of my uncles -- they worked with my father in C. Maddon & Sons Plumbing and Heating -- got mad at me when I threw a baseball that broke the window. Well, my father came along, looked at the scene and said, "Nice arm, Joey."

That's the way Joe Sr. was. He worked his ass off every day, but every evening he'd play catch with me, or throw a football with me through this tire he hung in the basement, or shoot hoops with me. He taught me that you could work hard and have a good time, and he was always there for me. He died on April 15, 2002, but not before he saw me manage the Angels in Camden Yards when I was the interim. I think he told every stranger he met in Baltimore that day that he was the father of the Angels' manager. Best agent ever.

2 LAFAYETTE COLLEGE: 1972-76
Lafayette was only 50 miles from Hazleton, but it seemed a world away for a small-town kid who always slept in his own bed. After a couple of days, I called my mother, Albina -- Beanie to everyone in Hazleton -- and said, "Mom, I want to come home. I want to be a plumber like Dad." And she says, "You're not coming home. Don't even think about it."

Well, freshman football started, and then classes, and I did stop thinking about it. Lafayette gave me so much -- socially, academically, athletically. I went there for football, but it was in baseball that I found myself. Our coach, Norm Gigon, had a cup of coffee as a utility player for the Cubs -- yeah, the Cubs -- and he taught me how to play and convinced me I could be a catcher.

A few years (and minor league clubs) later, an Angels scout named Nick Kamzic saw me play summer ball for the Boulder Collegians, and that's how I came to Idaho Falls.

3 DAVENPORT, IOWA: CATCHER, QUAD CITIES ANGELS, 1976

4 SALINAS, CALIF.: CATCHER, SALINAS ANGELS, 1977-78

5 SANTA CLARA, CALIF.: CATCHER, SANTA CLARA PADRES, 1979

6 IDAHO FALLS: MANAGER, IDAHO FALLS ANGELS, 1981
I wasn't a bad player, per se. I did hit .294 for Class-A Quad Cities my first year, 1976. But I also broke my hand, and I didn't have much power, so one day Loyd Christopher, a scout who also had been a Cub, says to me, "Joe, you might have a better future as a coach than you do as a catcher." Now, no player wants to hear that, but it was kind of the writing on the wall.

So there I am, 27 years old, managing a Rookie League team in Idaho Falls. I was also the pitching coach, hitting coach, third-base coach and English instructor for a bunch of kids from Venezuela.

I learned a lot, but this was the most important lesson: Back your players. We returned from a long July road trip, and the field was in horrible shape. I tell the GM he has to get it fixed, but he didn't want to take orders from a mouthy kid. He says, "You can't talk to me like that. I'm going to call your boss." So he calls Angels VP Mike Port and tells him what I said. All of a sudden, the every member of the recreation department is scurrying around to get that field in shape. I backed the players, and Mike backed me.

7 SALEM, ORE.: MANAGER, SALEM ANGELS, 1982-83

8 PEORIA, ILL.: MANAGER, PEORIA CHIEFS, 1984

9 MIDLAND, TEXAS: MANAGER, MIDLAND ANGELS, 1985-86

10 ANAHEIM: INTERIM MANAGER, ANAHEIM ANGELS, 1996, 1999
The Angels were a fantastic organization. Loyd Christopher, Mike Port, Larry Himes, Billy Bavasi, Preston Gomez, Terry Collins, Bob Clear, Marcel Lachemann, Mike Scioscia -- all great mentors. But the god was Gene Mauch. One day he wandered by while I was throwing BP in the cages and said, "You've created a great atmosphere around here." I thanked him and resumed BP -- but I had no idea what he was talking about.

The call finally came in 1994: Lachemann wanted me as his bullpen coach. I called Beanie to tell her the news, but I could barely get the words out: "Mom, I made it to the majors." It was a cryfest on both ends of the line.

Two years later, Marcel quits, then John McNamara gets sick, and I find myself as the interim manager. My first game? Yankee Stadium. Aug. 21, 1996. A rookie shortstop named Derek Jeter homers in the first inning, but we win 7-1, and now I have to face the New York media. Peter Bavasi, Billy's brother, pours me a shot of Jack Daniels and says, "Drink this." Talking to the press has become a little easier for me.

11 TAMPA BAY: MANAGER, TAMPA BAY RAYS, 2006-14
One of my favorite Rays memories is my first one. When Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman interviewed me in 2005, I made a special request. "If I get the job, can I have 
two days off next May to attend my girlfriend's law school graduation?" Jaye and I weren't married yet.

I know, it was pretty ballsy of me. But they smiled and assured me it would not be a problem. So when I did get the job, I knew I was going to the right place.

And it has been. I am so grateful, to the organization, to the fans, to the players, to the media. We put down deep roots in Tampa, and we'll still winter there. I am truly sorry we didn't win a World Series -- not a day goes by that I don't think about the three one-run losses to the Phillies in 2008.

It was an agonizing decision to leave, it really was. But I felt I had at least one more journey to make. I was a little worried when I called Beanie to tell her. I thought she might tell me, like she did at Lafayette, to stay where I was. After all, she's 81 and still in Hazleton. But she was really happy for me. Yeah, another cryfest.

12 CHICAGO: MANAGER, CHICAGO CUBS, 2015