Letting go of Rick Renteria was bittersweet for the Cubs front office. The architects of the first Cubs World Series championship in over a century had to fire their rookie manager in order to bring in Joe Maddon, one of the most revered leaders in the game and a man whom they believed could best execute their collective vision.
Maddon spoke highly of his predecessor during the first action of spring training, saying he believes he and Renteria share one common trait most managers can’t claim: being a true coach.
“[Renteria] and I both came up the same way,” Maddon told FanGraphs. “He understands how to run a game, and he could also go out there and conduct the whole practice if you asked him to. He can teach every facet of the game. I (also) had a really broad background in coaching before I became a manager.”
Maddon’s career arc is unorthodox, and not just because he failed to play in the big leagues. Jim Leyland, Joe McCarthy, Buck Showalter, and Earl Weaver achieved a great deal of success without having played in the majors. But unlike these famous managers, Maddon was never even a career minor leaguer. The Cubs manager failed to play above A-ball in four professional seasons and immediately became a scout for the California Angels in his mid-20’s.
Soon thereafter, he embarked on a trek that saw him bounce between roles and organizations before eventually scoring his first managerial gig with the Rays almost 30 years after calling it quits as a player.
“There’s a total difference between managing and coaching, and not everybody can do both. (Renteria) can coach it, and he can manage it.”
Renteria certainly can “coach it.” Just like Maddon, the White Sox skipper worked his way up the ranks. He toiled in the minors for 10 years as hitting coach and manager before his promotion to a big-league staff. And then five years later — 15 years after starting out in the business — Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer went to Renteria’s house to conduct an interview for a rebuilding franchise on the cusp of what they hoped would be an unprecedented run.
It took Renteria 15 years to finally get his chance to manage for the Cubs. And then, less than a year later, he was relieved of his duties after Maddon opted out of his Rays deal. Renteria wasn’t out of work for long, though, as Chicago’s other baseball team (no one tell Wheel of Fortune, okay?) came calling.
For as different as they are in most areas, Maddon and Renteria are still similar. Each took over a team in a rebuilding period and players gravitate toward them. Both are longtime minor league coaches, which is something of a throwback in today’s game.
Baseball is in an era where franchises are hiring younger managers barely removed from their playing days. Craig Counsell had no sooner finished scrapping his way through the Cubs pitching staff as a player than he took over as manager, or so it seemed. Joe Girardi, Robin Ventura, Brad Ausmus, AJ Hinch, and Aaron Boone all share similar backgrounds of having little to no coaching experience prior to their hiring to lead big-time clubs.
But despite having never played at the highest level, there’s something relatable and admirable about Maddon and Renteria. One didn’t land his dream job until his 50’s after three decades of scouting and coaching and the other had to put in a decade of his own as a minor league coach. It’s evident in both of their managing styles; each moment for them is a teachable one for their young, developing teams.
And who knows, maybe one of these days we’ll get to see them square off with something slightly more noteworthy than the BP Crosstown Cup on the line.