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Chicago Cubs

Miles: Maddon deserves contract extension

Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer did a nice job of fortifying the team in the weeks leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.

Now they have one more piece of business: extending the contract of manager Joe Maddon.

Now.

By rights, Epstein and Hoyer should have extended Maddon during the middle of last season as a show of confidence, but Epstein decided to hold off, saying that an extension for Maddon would not come, if it comes at all, until late in 2019.

With the Cubs in position to make their unprecedented fifth straight postseason appearance – all under Maddon – what better way to show confidence in the entire group than to extend Maddon and sync up his deal with Epstein’s, which has two more years to run?

Here are several good reasons to give Maddon two more years after this one:

The record

Entering Saturday night’s game at Cincinnati, Maddon had a regular-season record of 450-314 with the Cubs for a winning percentage of .589.

Only two managers have better winning percentage with the Cubs: Albert Spalding and Frank Chance, and both are in the Hall of Fame.

Maddon recently passed Joe McCarthy, another Hall of Famer, for victories as Cubs manager, putting him fifth all time among franchise managers.

Managing through adversity

No doubt it was a rough start of the season, with the Cubs going 2-7 on the opening road trip. But Maddon held firm even as the Cubs operated until late June without a bona fide closer, when Craig Kimbrel showed up. They’re without a bona fide closer again, as Kimbrel is on the injured list.

Three of the Cubs’ starting pitchers spent time on the injured list: Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Cole Hamels.

For the third year in a row, Epstein and Hoyer have failed to provide their manager with a true leadoff man. And let’s face it, Epstein and Hoyer got lucky when Dexter Fowler parachuted into spring training in 2016 after a deal with the Orioles fell through.

Maddon has gone with nine different batters in the No. 1 spot this season, including the Kyle Schwarber Redux Project, before finally settling on Jason Heyward.

Schwarber has moved back down in the order, and he’s having a nice year, as he nears 30 home runs for the season and 100 for his career. Heyward has embraced the leadoff role while moving between right field and center field.

Remaining contemporary

Years ago, legendary manager Casey Stengel wondered aloud if Mickey Mantle thought Stengel was “born old.”

Nobody will ever say that about Maddon, even with Maddon being 65. Despite the white hair, which he no longer colors, Maddon is remarkably contemporary, and he relates to his players well.

Even during some rough patches the past couple of years, Maddon never “lost” the clubhouse, something I witnessed more than once with previous managers.

Cubs players continue to enjoy playing for Maddon. From the beginning, his sayings, such as “never let the pressure exceed the pleasure” and “a mind once stretched has a difficult time going back to its original form,” have taken the pressure off his players and allowed them to stretch their minds and their games.

On the next homestand, Maddon will again have his “American Legion Week,” where players show up later and work a little less hard before games.

If you look at the Cubs’ records under Maddon from the dog days of August through September, you’ll see that the approach pays off. Maddon likes to say that “September creates its own energy,” but the Cubs usually have energy in September because Maddon has them well rested.

Maddon has his faults and his detractors. What manager doesn’t? Take a look around at the other 29 major league clubs and read their media and, if you dare, their social media.

But careful what you wish for if you want a tough-guy manager or a personality-lacking tool of the front office on the top step of the dugout.

Maddon enjoys being a celebrity in Chicago, but he’s earned it. Just check the résumé and see the stops he made and the dues he paid in places such as Idaho Falls, Salem, Peoria and Midland.

Speaking of celebrity, there’s a neat little restaurant on one corner of the Cubs office complex. It’s called Maddon’s Post. If Joe goes, maybe they’ll have to rename Maddon’s Post to something like Theo’s Toast.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. In fact, let’s have another round of red wine and another plate of those pierogi.

• Bruce Miles covers the Cubs for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at bmiles@dailyherald.com.

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