Inside Joe Maddon
Since even before the Tampa Bay Rays began their improbable trip towards a high flying destiny in 2008, most of the old school baseball world outside of Tampa Bay, or even within the Anaheim,California community, some people have never really gotten to know Rays Manager Joe Maddon from stem to stern. Most Rays fans in Tampa Bay know of Maddon’s long time devotion to road cycling treks that he does both along the scenic corridors of Bayshore Blvd in Tampa, or even when the Rays take their show on the road.
Maddon also takes along his personal bike to Rays away games to explore some of the historic and scenic venues in those cities. Just imagine taking a trek around the Inner Harbor area in Baltimore, or even traversing the trail that Paul Revere took so long ago when in Boston to play the Red Sox. But it is also a relaxation technique used by the manager when decision have to be made, and problems solved for his team. And it is a unique and spectacular thing to exercise the body and the mind at the same time, while problem-solving. Guess you can call it a multi-tasking event with a healthy outcome.And within it all, Maddon has been able to become his own type of manager. He was the guy who started to read and print out match-ups and odd Sabermetric numbers way before it became fashionable by other managers. And even if some of his game day wisdom are questioned by some,Maddon truly has his own logical sense and game situation realities that translate well with his job as a major league manager.
He even has a “fine” bowl in his office where Rays players, who are found guilty by the either Maddon and his Coaching staff or the team Kangaroo Court have to purchase a bottle of wine for the skipper with each slip of paper divulging their fine amount. He is one of the only managers in the major leagues that I know of who has his own wine rack and subsequent wine cooler in his office for post game tastings and special occasions. And you know that cooler got plenty of good use with champagne and fine spirits during the 2008 Postseason celebrations.
Some of Maddon’s out-of-season activities might surprise some baseball fans outside of Tampa Bay. But outside of the bay area, most fans do not get to know Maddon, the Tampa Bay area humanitarian. Maddon is entering his 35th season in professional baseball, and 16 of those years has been at the major league level. But few people know of the unpublicized community efforts and the great compassion Maddon has for his new adopted community.
One of the most visual and celebrated efforts of his generosity for giving back to Tampa Bay is his annual “Thanks-mas” celebration he has held the last three seasons while he has been with the Rays.Always held between the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, Maddon along with his Rays Coaches and front office staff have personally shopped, cooked and even served special dinners of spaghetti, sausage, pierogies, pasta and salad for over 1,000 people in the Salvation Army shelters in Bradenton, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Port Charlotte areas.
One of the biggest food hits in this event is the special meatballs Maddon was taught how to make by his mother Beanie back in his home town of Hazelton, Pennsylvania. But it is the smiles on the people that this event serves that is the most special part of this event for Maddon. And the the entire Rays family from field staff to front office folks also coming out and contributing in the event, it has become a highly anticipated event for both the community and the entire Rays staff from top to bottom.
Another humanitarian/charitable effort held close to Maddon’s heart is the John Challis Courage for Life Foundation. Maddon could even be seen wearing a special bracelet during the 2008 postseason commemorating this Callis’s courage while battling cancer. If anyone has ever taken a step into Maddon’s office, they will see a jersey case with one of the jerseys signed by Challis before he passed away at the age of 18 last August. Challis, a native of Beaver County in Pennsylvania met Maddon during the 2008 InterLeague series when the team went to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates.
The two immediately fostered a great friendship that emerged during between Maddon and Challis. Maddon has since been actively involved in fund raising for the foundation and in November 2008 when he was named winner of the Chuck Tanner Award as Major League Manager of the Year, it was John’s father Scott, who was present to accept the award for him in Pittsburgh.
Another element of Maddon that most people in Tampa Bay do not even want to think about is the fact that he was up for the job in Boston at the same time as Terry Francona, and if things had gone differently, the Rays never would have gained his services, but would have had to plot against the magic that is Maddon, instead of with him. When Maddon won the 2008 BBWAA American League Manager of the Year award, he was only one second place vote shy of becoming only the first AL or NL manager to ever get a unanimous selection for the award.
He get to share that honor with four other managers’ who have come one vote shy of perfection. He even gets to share the honor with a personal member of his staff, Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer, who in 1989 while managing the Chicago Cubs came up short while winning the award. But more than ever now people around the country are beginning to remember the charismatic manager for other things besides his vocabulary and situational quotes.
On August 17, 2008, while playing the Texas Rangers in Arlington, he became the first AL manager in 107 years to order an intentional walk with the bases loaded. Maddon had reliever Grant Balfour walk former Rays prospect Josh Hamilton with 2-outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with the Rays winning 7-3 at the time. After that walk, Maddon replaced Balfour with reliever Dan Wheeler who got the last out to preserve the win for the Rays.
The only other time it has happened in baseball history was on May 23, 1901 when Clark Griffin, then a player/manager for the Chicago White Sox intentionally walked future Hall of Fame member Nap Lajoie with no outs in the ninth inning with a 11-7 lead. But that just goes to show you how he values the past of baseball and brings it alive today in 2009.
Some of Maddons current outside-the-box methods come from a meshing of old baseball thought and current cerebral instincts to bring new ideas and rehash old lost tactics for the Rays. And because some of his ideas go against baseball logic, they are original in their intent and is one of the things that makes Maddon refreshing to some people in baseball. His fond admiration for past things that have worked, like the shift for left-handed batters, or the five-player infield have made some other people within baseball begin to question some of his actions.
Some people forget Maddon is only starting his fourth season with the club in 2009, and already has the more victories than any other manager in Rays history. He passed Rays Inaugural manager Larry Rothchild on August 23,2008 with his 206th win in a game against the Chicago White Sox.
And some people forget he has had a “taste” of being a Major League manager before he got his first full-time stint in the dugout in Tampa Bay. He got his first taste of the job in 1998, when Los Angeles Angels Manager Terry Collins got an 8-game suspension following a bench clearing brawl during an away series in Kansas City. Maddon got an additional turn at the skipper post when Collins resigned on September 3, 1999 and he led the Angels the rest of the season to a 19-10 record.
But the most unique moment might have been when Maddon was called upon to replace John McNamara in 1996, who was replacing Rene Lachmann who resigned that August as skipper. McNamara had developed a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot) in his right calf. Maddon took the helm for 22 games, finishing with a 8-14 record. Maddon did get another set of circumstances during his tenure as a Angels Bench Coach when current Angels Manager Mike Scioscia had to leave the team for a short period of time. Maddon lead the Angels to a 33-26 record during his stint with the squad.
But on the personal side of the Rays skipper, Maddon has many fantastic hobbies and interests that generally fall outside the realm of most of his fellow managers. He has been a guest at a White House dinner in January 2009 held by former President George W. Bush. And following his marriage after the 2008 season, Maddon took a small adventure throughout Europe with his new bride and at one point during the honeymoon he even found a Rays fan in a train station Italy.
As for his biking hobby, he is a very dedicated biker who puts in 60-100 miles every week. An unknown fact about Maddon in his youth is that he was recruited as a shortstop and pitcher for Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. He switched positions voluntarily to catcher midway through his freshman year. At Lafayette, he majored in economics and he will also receive an honorary degree this summer from his old Alma Mater.
But one of the biggest thrills of his life might have been becoming the winning American League Manager in the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis ,Missouri. As the American League skipper in the World Series, he got to take the helm in this years All-Star game coaching the current superstars of the American League. Maddon was only the second Rays coaching staff member to ever appear in an All-Star game with Rothchild being the first when he was selected in 2002 by Joe Torre. It was Maddon’s second All-Star game. He previously got to attend when Sciocsia was the 2003 AL Manager.
Maddon has only been in Tampa Bay for a short time, but his Rays teams and the Rays fans have united around him to show support for his new ways of thinking about the sport of baseball. Along with the fan base uniting to support the manager with the formulation of the “Maddon’s Maniacs” group three seasons ago. From speaking engagements with the group,to small snippets of chats with fans and media members, the Tampa Bay community has gotten to know Maddon deeper and closer than he ever imagined.
With the Rays 2008 success and the recent Rays club fall from grace during an 11-game losing streak Maddon is again trying to formulate the right combination to again get his Rays back into the winner’s circle and try and preserve the team’s second best record ever for the franchise. With the team currently sporting a 72-71 record in 2009, the task is daunting, and the rest of the season might hang in the balance in the next few series. But knowing Maddon and his quick mind and analytical thought process, he will again get the Rays on the right path and finish out the year in style.
Recently, for the first time in his tenure with the Rays Maddon has been questioned and second guessed in the media and by blogs throughout the country. But his general sense of this team is that this is the cog in the pipes they were fearing the entire season, and it is coming at the most critical part of the year. But with his positive re-enforcement and faith in his roster, the future looks bright for the Rays skipper.