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He’s hip. He’s cool. He’s 65.

Joe Maddon knows how to speak to the kids. He also really, really needs to stay relevant... again, with the kids.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

McCovey Chronicles will be covering news from around the league all season long with our new daily MLB Chronicles column.

On Saturday, Sean Doolittle of the Washington Nationals picked up his eighth save of the season in the Nationals’ 5-2 win over the Cubs. He did so under protest by Cubs manager, Joe Maddon, who felt that Doolittle’s pitching motion was a violation of the rules.

You can see for yourself (and, if you’re viewing this through Apple News, you can see it for yourself right here). Do you think Doolittle’s toe tap violated the rules?

The umpires didn’t think this violated the rules and Joe Maddon eventually withdrew his protest, but not before Sean Doolittle was able to fire off one last fastball up and in:

“In that moment, he’s not trying to do anything other than rattle me and it was kind of tired,” Doolittle said. “I don’t know. Sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game and stuff like that. He put his stamp on it, for sure.”

Here’s the crux of it: is that what Joe Maddon was trying to do here? This is definitely a feel-good quote coming from a player who’s actually in the trenches, because from the bird’s eye view as a baseball blogger, Maddon has always come off as an older guy trying to stay relevant with the youths.

I know you’re tempted to invoke the How do you do, fellow kids? .gif, but to my mind, Maddon’s persona is much more like this classic recurring Kids in the Hall character:

If Joe Maddon didn’t invent the turn the chair around to sit and “rap” with young people, then he sure as heck knows the move’s inventor personally.

Chicago is no stranger to sweaty character routines — it’s the birthplace of The Second City, after all. Joe Maddon’s “Old Manager Trying To Fit In With His Young Players” character would be right at home in the comedy troupe’s heyday.

But that wasn’t quite what was going on here. Something far more innocent but almost just as annoying was. If you go back to the SI article from where I got that Doolittle quote, you’ll see the entire matter laid bare: Maddon was trying to stick up for one of his players.

In the very first weekend of the season, reliever Carl Edwards Jr. had been ruled to have violated the rules for his unorthodox new delivery. See it here (Apple News: see it here):

Very clearly not the same thing as Doolittle’s motion. And it was the player — in this case, Asdrubal Cabrera — who was melting down over it right there in the batter’s box. Joe Maddon watched Sean Doolittle on Saturday and... had his memory rattled back to the first weekend of the season?

The umpiring crew for that Carl Edwards Jr. infraction was:

HP - Brian O’Nora, 1B - James Hoye, 2B - Mark Ripperger, 3B - Jeff Kellogg.

The umpiring crew for Saturday’s game:

HP - Jim Wolf, 1B - Nic Lentz, 2B - Dan Iassogna, 3B - Sam Holbrook.

So, Maddon wasn’t calling out the hypocrisy of a specific crew. He was, seemingly, a month and a half into the season, calling out the entire league.

Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. was informed at the end of spring training that his delivery, which featured a similar toe-tap, was illegal. That ruling miffed Maddon and the Cubs.

“The whole thing I really wanted to get done was to protect Carl,” Maddon said Sunday. “I really didn’t anticipate a whole lot to be done with (the protest) even though I still don’t agree with the conclusion because I think it’s exactly what Carl did, only a different version of it.

Joe Maddon was looking for an opportunity to protest another player’s pitching toe tap to defend one of his players. He’s been on the lookout since the end of spring training. On the one hand, that’s actually not a bad thing for a manager to do. If he’s that loyal to his players, then there’s a decent chance they’ll be loyal to him. If they’re loyal to him, then maybe they play with max effort every time, and if all goes well, then he’ll get a contract extension.

That’s one straightforward way of looking at it. On the other hand, Maddon’s inability to take the L here and make a bigger issue out of things feels unwarranted and unwise. On the other hand, it’s befitting someone who just might think of himself as the smartest guy in the room. The stereotype didn’t come out of nowhere.

But his limitations really do seem to step on the persona he’s been trying to put out there. I mean, let’s examine this statement:

I still don’t agree with the conclusion because I think it’s exactly what Carl did, only a different version of it.

Computer, magnify...

I think it’s exactly what Carl did,

... and enhance.


Joe Maddon didn’t draw a line in the sand regarding a pitcher’s toe tap. He said, “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

Sean Doolittle’s statement, then, actually does hold a lot of truth in it. Somehow, Joe Maddon made defending his player all about himself. Somehow, he tends to do that a lot. There’s just as much to be lost by trying to stay relevant and be cool with your players as there is to be gained. It’s not a big leap for players in his own clubhouse to start feeling and thinking about him the same way as probably most players in every other clubhouse already do, and that way lies danger for a man desperate to hold onto his relevance.