Los Angeles Angels: manager Joe Maddon’s homecoming

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 24: Joe Madden speaks to the media as he was introduced today as the new manager of the Los Angeles Angels during a press conference at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on October 24, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 24: Joe Madden speaks to the media as he was introduced today as the new manager of the Los Angeles Angels during a press conference at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on October 24, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

Los Angeles Angels: manager Joe Maddon’s homecoming

The announcement came forth before the Cubs’ final game, a 9-0 drubbing by the St. Louis Cardinals, in which the Cardinals jumped the Cubs early enough and often enough that Cardinal starter Jack Flaherty could have pitched from repose in a deep sectional sofa and still beaten them.

Maddon now tells ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez he was thinking about moving onward well enough before the fork could be stuck into the Cubs’ 2019. The apparent motivation was a philosophical parting of the ways with Cubs president Theo Epstein, the man who did in Chicago with Maddon what he’d done previously in Boston with Terry Francona, ending a generations-old, actual or alleged curse.

"“Philosophically, Theo needed to do what he needed to do separately,” Maddon says. “At some point, I began to interfere with his train of thought a little bit. And it’s not that I’m hardheaded. I’m inclusive. But when I started there—’15, ’16, ’17—it was pretty much my methods. And then all of a sudden, after ’18 going into ’19, they wanted to change everything.”"

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What Maddon no longer liked was the prospect of analytics and the human game falling out of balance with analytics carrying the greater weight. He’s always been analytical, but he doesn’t like to divorce it from the men who play and the people who watch.

“My conclusion is analytics and technology are slightly responsible for putting the game in a position where it’s not as attractive to fans,” he says. He may or may not be right about that.

Statistics and analytics tell you the deep truths about the games you couldn’t get to see and the players you couldn’t get to watch. The deeper you go statistically and analytically, the truer the portrait you get, whether you did see this game or that or whether you only know particular games and players through the histories.

But while analytics tell you what was and might become, technology helps you get particular things right, and too many stubbornly standing thoughts and practices need to go post-haste, subjugating the human game entirely to either or both turns baseball into a brave new world to fear, not the game that holds the romantic, the philosophical, and the poetic. That’s something Maddon has no wish to see.

His Angels come off a season in which they were one of baseball’s best at putting balls into play at the plate, which makes his itch for just a few more sacrifices bunts a little puzzling, considering the value of unsurrendered outs. But the Angels’ most blaring need is pitching that isn’t as prone as the Angels’ has been to injuries the past few seasons.

They landed third baseman Anthony Rendon as a free agent to fortify their lineup and secure the hot corner, and they’ll have Shohei Ohtani back at full power both ways. So far, so good. But they couldn’t land Gerrit Cole or Zack Wheeler among the winter’s free-agent pitchers. Not even with Maddon himself joining the sales force.

Once again, seemingly, the Los Angeles Angels are trying to patch a pitching staff from the backstreets. And, once again, it remains an open question as to whether the Angels will yet have a team their own and baseball’s best all-around player can be proud of. A man as composed as Maddon needs every degree of his composure to guide this ship.

He’ll remind you, though, as he does Gonzalez, that sacrificing the full journey for the sake of a net result is just as liable to portend disaster. “Another phrase that I’ve been telling myself is, ‘Don’t miss it’,” Maddon says. “We speed through everything. You miss the sights, you miss that look . . . See it with first-time eyes, do it with first-time passion, and don’t miss it.”

He spoke specifically about the view down Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach, a view that puts your eyes right upon the fabled Huntington Beach pier in direct sight while you take in the sand and the palms lining it. (I know the view and its beauty well from the years I lived in Huntington Beach.) But Maddon’s point is only too well taken as a metaphor for what Angel baseball needs most.

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The Angels can only hope to play from that vantage, one game at a time, the desired net result in view, the miles and stops to get there appreciated and availed equally. It might get even get them back to the postseason years before Mike Trout‘s shelf life expire