After the honeymoon
Maddon puts Rays' magical '08 playoff run behind, focusing on '09
ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Maddon got married on Nov. 8 and says the honeymoon is winding down. This weekend, another honeymoon ends -- the 2008 Cinderella season of his Tampa Bay Rays.
Maddon cherishes them both, but refuses to linger. The fond memories will.
"It's time to turn the page," the manager says.
I wasn't sure whether he was talking about the wedding or the Rays' unbelievable American League championship summer. It's going to be difficult to put two of the biggest, most important events of his life behind.
Regardless, though, it's back to the business of the real world, everyday life.
When Maddon walked into the Rays' clubhouse at Tropicana Field the other day, he didn't have to utter a word about looking ahead.
The last time I was in this spacious room, on Oct. 23, Maddon and the giddy Rays were loudly celebrating a 4-2 victory over the Phillies in the second game of the World Series, preparing to jet off to the City of Brotherly Love.
Nothing better than the eerie quietness and emptiness of the clubhouse on this February morning symbolizes that 2008 is now history. This is a new season, a new beginning.
"Yes, it's so difficult to repeat," he says, sliding into a chair behind the desk in his office. "I like to think I've learned some lessons from my years with the Angels. The thing that really stood out for me after we won in 2002 was that a lot of guys who'd been injured were affected the next spring.
"Because of the World Series, the period to Spring Training was shorter. We pretty much ran the same type of camp, but might have pushed some of the guys too quickly who'd been injured."
Maddon says that because of the World Baseball Classic this March, Spring Training will be longer, "and I want to take it easier, in a sense. The guys who're the nucleus of our team, I don't want to push them early. I'm going to save them for later."
Maddon, who turned 55 on Sunday, spent 31 years in the Angels organization, the last 12 of which were on the Major League staff. He was manager Mike Scioscia's bench coach when they defeated San Francisco in the 2002 World Series.
In 2003, the Angels tumbled to third place in the AL West with a 77-85 record.
In Maddon's third season with Tampa Bay, he managed the club to a 97-65 record and the AL East title. Before that, the Rays had finished out of last place just once in 10 years since arriving as an expansion team and had never won more games than they'd lost in a season.
But in 2008, despite a payroll ($44 million) that was 29th among 30 teams, they finished ahead of the mighty New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, ousted the Chicago White Sox in the AL Division Series, then stunned the Red Sox to win the AL pennant and a trip to the World Series. The Phillies took the championship in five games.
No team has repeated since the Yankees won three World Series in a row beginning in 1998. No National League team has repeated since Cincinnati did it in 1975-76. So often teams forget what it took to achieve greatness.
Sparky Anderson, who managed those repeating Reds teams, once told me that by the time they wake up to that reality, it's too late and players are pressing.
"I agree," says Maddon, whose Rays open their new Spring Training camp at Port Charlotte, Fla., this weekend.
"It's up to us to channel all that we learned [from 2008] in the right direction. Zero-nine has to be better than zero-eight."
Maddon, staring through his trademark black-rimmed Hugo Boss glasses, bristles when I ask if 2008 was an aberration, a fantasy so to speak.
"Yes, it did happen quickly, but I think we worked at it. I don't think it was just happenstance," he says. "But it's a total situation where we earned it. I think we were good, and I think we're better this year. We made a lot of strides. We learned how to win on the road.
"There were some watershed moments last year. A couple of them were fights with the Yankees and Red Sox. We stood up and said, 'We're not going to take this anymore.' We not only fought them physically, we fought them on the field in regards to nine innings of baseball."
On paper, at least, the Rays should be improved in 2009. They signed free-agent outfielder Pat Burrell, who was with the Phillies last year and will give them much-needed right-handed power. They traded right-hander Edwin Jackson, who won 14 games, to Detroit for outfielder Matt Joyce.
"We have more balance," Maddon says. "Theoretically, we should be able to handle left-handed pitchers better."
Maddon is a baseball lifer, but it's totally wrong to define him as such. He's bright, intelligent and a deep thinker. To the right of his desk is a chess board with gold figures.
"I don't mind being identified as a baseball person, but I don't want it to be just that," he says. "When there's so much involved in life, why would you want to pigeonhole yourself to one arena?"
For all those years with the Angels and even his first two with the Rays, the best-kept secret in baseball might have been Joseph John Maddon, who never played in the Majors.
But no more. After marrying Jaye Sousoures, the newlyweds honeymooned in Europe.
"It's incredible the exposure the World Series gives you," says Maddon. "It's changed a lot of things in regards to my recognition. I was pulling bags out of a cab in front of our hotel in London. A guy walking down the street stopped and said, 'Nice going, coach.' It wasn't that far from Buckingham Palace.
"Everything was great. We had the wedding, two receptions -- one on the Queen Mary, the other in my hometown of Hazelton, Pa. I went to the White House, and it's been non-stop."
And there were accolades, including the coveted AL Manager of the Year Award. But now, he says, that's all behind. Build on the experiences, cherish the moments, but move ahead.
The honeymoon's over.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.