Contributing writer Ben Seal offered this profile of Joe Maddon, showing us how the Rays were able to keep in check because of the brilliant man leading the charge:
Tampa Bay is an incredibly talented team that can win with hitting or pitching, with several stars ready to carry the workload and will the team toward victory. But they are young. Very young. And for a Baby Rays team full of skilled but inexperienced players, there has been one constant from start to finish: Joe Maddon.
The Rays manager has been just what the team needed to keep the wins coming after a hot start. He is a player’s manager, just like Charlie Manuel, whose best characteristic is his ability to keep his team loose and having fun on the field. The 54-year-old Maddon is a kid at heart, and his energy translates well to the 20-something Rays.
He is an eccentric man, a wine-lover and a bicycle enthusiast. Maddon used to break down his bike and take it with him on the road so he could bike from the hotel to the stadium every day.
Against The Grain
From Hazleton, Pa., Maddon is one of the most intelligent minds in baseball, always testing “by the book” practices with surprising effectiveness and inspiring his players with quotes from classic authors and philosophical minds.
Back in August against the Rangers, Maddon raised eyebrows by telling Grant Balfour to intentionally walk Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded in a 7-3 game, putting the tying run on first base. It was a call that would terrify most managers because it flies in the face of baseball logic. But a strikeout to the next batter won that game for the Rays, reminding baseball there is still room for ingenuity.
And in a game against the Marlins, Maddon employed the infield shift against Florida righty Dan Uggla, because he wanted the slugger to try to hit the ball in the infield rather than out of the park. His style is unlike any other in baseball, and it has helped lead the Rays to the doorstep of a championship.
“I get so annoyed when you get around a lot of baseball people and basically all they can do is regurgitate previous thoughts,” Maddon said. “They don’t think of anything original. Tell me a better way.”
Took A While
Though he grew up playing football and had a chance to play quarterback for Lafayette College, Maddon quit to join the Angels as a minor league free agent, beginning a 30-year relationship with the team. He worked as a scout, a bullpen coach and an interim manager for the Angels before taking the job with Tampa in 2006.
The wins didn’t come in the first two seasons in Tampa, but Maddon and his Buddy Holly-esque thick-framed glasses made an impact on the culture of Florida baseball. He made an effort to lighten up the clubhouse and keep attitudes in check, as he showed when he benched BJ Upton this season for lack of hustle.
The Rays’ regular- and post-season successes have made it clear all of Maddon’s intricacies on and off the field combine to make him just the right man for the job. It could end up being a series of head-scratching managerial moves for the Rays, most of which will probably work.