Joe Maddon’s mind doesn’t work like yours and mine.
There is high intelligence. There is wit. There is humor. There is flexibility. There is nuance. There also is a stubborn streak that served him well with the Tampa Bay Rays.
I don’t believe I’ve ever been around someone who so deftly combines those traits with an uncanny ability to recall memories, down to the slightest detail, and have them at his disposal whenever he needed to make a point or reinforce a seemingly outlandish statement.
He’s through with the Rays after nine years, which is a little hard to believe right now.
It was one of the great pleasures of my career to be able to know Maddon for a while.
I was there, in my role as a baseball writer for the Tampa Tribune, during the early years. In 2006 and 2007, when the Rays were still be-Deviled, Maddon said all the right things. Even as Tampa Bay stumbled to awful seasons, and even though it looked much the same as it had under previous managers, Maddon never wavered.
Things were getting better, he said. There was an organizational plan, he insisted. The Rays Way of playing the game would one day take hold, was already taking hold, and soon we all would witness a real transformation on the field.
He said these things so often, and with such conviction, that I sometimes wondered about his grasp on reality. To that, I’m sure he would respond: “So do I sometimes.”
It’s all coming back to me now: the crazy road trip dress-up days, the wild defensive shifts based on statistical probability, the unwillingness to publicly criticize his players individually, the occasionally myopic-seeming optimism.
Maddon was right, of course. The Rays did turn into contenders, becoming a model franchise under the guidance of vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and Maddon.
Now? Friedman is gone, lured away by the Dodgers. Maddon is gone, choosing to leave when he was unable to reach an equitable agreement on a contract extension. I wonder if what they built will endure.
I guess we’ll find out. I sincerely hope that things don’t go back to the way they were before. The Tampa Bay area doesn’t deserve that. I believe owner Stu Sternberg and president of baseball operations Matt Silverman know what they’re doing. They’ve earned a lot of trust, just as Friedman and Maddon did.
Yet, it’s going to take some time to get used to the Rays without Andrew and Joe. It’ll be weird for a while.
Meanwhile, I’ll share a personal anecdote that gives you a small glimpse into Joe Maddon’s decency.
In 2006, on a visit to Fenway Park, my father-in-law was with a group of his clients on the field next to the visitors dugout during batting practice. He had leased the Legends Suite, and this was one of the perks.
After the writers were done with Maddon’s daily briefing in the dugout, I took the liberty of asking Joe if he had a second to say hello to my father-in-law. He said sure, and we walked up the steps to the roped-off area where they kept the fans on the field during pregame activities.
I introduced my father-in-law to the Tampa Bay manager, who proceeded to shake hands and pose for photos with every member of my father-in-law’s party. Joe spent 10 minutes with the group, and I scored major points with my wife’s dad.
That is only one, small, personal example of Joe’s kindness. His philanthropic efforts in the Tampa Bay area already are legendary. I hope he keeps Thanksmas going.
You’ll want to remember Maddon, Rays fans. Remember him, and appreciate him. His love of good wine, his unorthodox managing methods, the twinkle in his eye as he answered questions, his erudite approach to the game and life — we had it good with Joe Maddon.
We had it real good. Some team somewhere is about to get a Hall of Fame-caliber skipper.