Our View: Joe Maddon should apologize to Hazleton residents

August 7th, 2017 11:50 pm - updated: 6:35 pm.

“He’s full of himself,” said one senior citizen and lifelong Hazleton resident.

Another noted: “That was terrible. I hate him. I hope he doesn’t win one game.”

Hardly what you would expect to overhear in conversations about hometown Hazleton hero and Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon. (He did just win the World Series, you know.)

But Joe recently sparked outrage among Mountain City natives by some poorly chosen words during an interview with NBC News that aired two weekends ago.

It was actually a positive piece by correspondent Harry Smith for Megyn Kelly’s new Sunday night show. The theme was how Joe’s work through his Hazleton Integration Project, or HIP, has helped the city’s sizable immigrant population — specifically Hispanics — assimilate into the community and change perceptions.

But then Joe slipped up big time.

“They’re going to save our town,” Maddon said of the newcomers to Hazleton. “You have two options right here. Either you get on board and help us as we’re moving this thing along or you’re going to die. And when you die and go away, then you’re going to get out of the way. You’re not going to be part of the problem anymore. So, it’s either help or die.”

Really, Joe?

“Help or die?” “Die and go away.”

For a guy who speaks to the media every day as part of his job leading the Cubs, he should be more savvy than to say such a thing about his Hazleton brethren. It was the equivalent of Joe the manager calling his own players a bunch of no-good bums.

Not surprisingly — and somewhat justifiably — some residents have reacted angrily through a steady stream of letters and online posts.

One common refrain heard in Hazleton showed up in the public comment section of a Times Leader story about the interview. “Must be nice to have a $25 million contract and tell everyone what they should think,” someone wrote.

Fair point.

But before we criticize Joe, let’s make one thing clear.

No one could argue Hazleton is a better place because of HIP and the organization’s community center that offers education, athletics and a whole lot more for children and others.

We also know Maddon’s heart is squarely in the right place. He’s helping improve people’s lives, and that’s a great thing.

All that said, we believe he’s sounding more and more like a preacher in these national interviews that seem to be aired about his Hazleton work every few months or so.

Joe, you are not a social engineer.

You are a baseball manager.

Yes, he deserves applause for his community work, and he’s been on the receiving end of many. But enough is enough with the publicity.

When the firestorm erupted over his recent remarks, cousin-in-law and HIP president Bob Curry tried to explain it away. Curry acknowledged Joe might not have used the right words, but noted Maddon had to endure eight hours followed by a camera and microphone when he really needed a day off.

Well, how about this novel idea: Don’t do the interview.

Another point we want to make here — Hazleton One Community Center, as it’s known, is not Maddon’s center. It belongs to taxpayers. The building it calls home was purchased with a state grant of nearly $195,000, or more than half of what it cost to buy the former church school and some adjacent parcels.

What we need now is to hear from Maddon.

He needs to apologize for insulting the hardworking and fair-minded people of Hazleton — they are many in number, contrary to what the national reports seem to imply. And we want to hear an apology straight from Maddon, not through a spokesperson or a family member. If he has the time to talk to NBC and other outlets, surely he can interrupt this baseball season for a mea culpa to his hometown.

We’re waiting, Joe.

— Times Leader