The Chicago Cubs are moving on from Joe Maddon, the manager who led them to their first World Series title in 108 years, team president Theo Epstein and Maddon announced Sunday.
Maddon, 65, is officially a free agent after the Cubs missed the postseason for the first time in five years. A nine-game losing streak in late September sealed the fate of the Cubs, and possibly Maddon, as well.
Maddon and Epstein made the announcement in St. Louis, where the Cubs are trying to play the rare recent role of spoiler in keeping the Cardinals from clinching the NL Central.
"We're both going to move on," Maddon said. "Hopefully, the Cubs are going to flourish. Hopefully, I get a chance to do this someplace else. But there's no tears shed. It's a good moment for everybody. And we're both excited about our futures."
The Cubs finished above .500 in each of Maddon's five seasons. His .582 winning percentage ranks second all time in franchise history, behind only Frank Chance (768-389, .664, from 1905 to '12).
"We both agreed that, this type of change, that it's time and that this type of change is a win-win." Epstein said, adding that the Cubs were at a point where they needed a change.
"We never could have imagined this working out as well as it did," he added. "I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner, someone so loyal and supportive and someone from whom I learned so much about baseball and life."
Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo said that Maddon told the team of his decision a few days ago.
"It was a great night, kind of a bittersweet night," Rizzo said. "Just talking to Joe. He's in a good place."
Rizzo said that Maddon't going out on his own terms.
"He's a living legend in this game, a bridge to the old and the new," he added, saying that he's like a father to him.
Maddon came to Chicago after nearly a decade with the Tampa Bay Rays, whom he took to the 2008 World Series.
He did one better with the Cubs, guiding them to 103 regular-season wins in 2016 and then a long-awaited World Series title that postseason. He was credited with changing the culture and creating a loose atmosphere for his players during a pressure-filled time. His "Embrace the Target" slogan was the right touch in a year when many picked the Cubs to win it all, even before spring training began.
The World Series win was not without controversy, as Maddon's pitching maneuvers were scrutinized during and after the victory. Still, he'll go down as the manager who broke the longest championship drought in professional sports history.
"It's hard to express kind of how (it) feels. You kind of feel like it could be an end of an era," said veteran utility man Ben Zobrist, who played for Maddon in Tampa Bay and Chicago. "When I look at my career, he's at the top. ... Joe's a special person. Those kind of people, let alone managers, don't come along very often."
Maddon's last two years in Chicago, however, were plagued by underachievement on several levels. Although the Cubs won 95 games in 2018, they lost in the NL wild-card game to the Colorado Rockies, and upper management decided to hold off talks of a contract extension, challenging Maddon to be the "best version" of himself heading into 2019. After a 2-7 start to the season, the team went 23-7 over the next month, vaulting into the NL Central lead.
But the Cubs played .500 baseball over the next four months, treading water but hanging around in the playoff race. The wheels came off on their final homestand in September as the Cubs lost two of three to the under-.500 Cincinnati Reds before being swept by the first-place Cardinals, losing each of the four games by one run.
Maddon signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Cubs before the 2015 season and received a $1 million annual salary bump after winning the World Series. He ranks fifth in franchise history in wins and managed the team to four straight playoff appearances, a franchise record.
"I can't say enough positives about what Joe has done, flat-out, for this organization," Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said last week. "Up until this year we led MLB in wins [over the past four years]. That's a testament to him. We broke a 108-year curse. ... He should be revered as a legend in this town for a long, long time."