Maddon's unorthodox style a hit with Rays
Angels' Scioscia also sings praises of Tampa Bay skipper
ST. PETERSBURG -- Dancing to a different tune is Joe Maddon's thing.
From the first day he took over as the Rays manager, Maddon has had a different look than any other Major League manager. At the press conference announcing his hiring, he wore glasses that brought to mind those once worn by Buddy Holly. Since then he has gone through two dyed-hair phases, which have seen him go with black hair during a 2009 team bonding experiment, and blonde, long locks that continue to grow as this season advances.
One element of Maddon fashion that never changes is the rose-colored glasses he dons on a daily basis. He chooses to view the world in a positive, open light rather than a dark, negative view in which all the warts are examined. The end result is a vibe that stokes those around him with energy that drove his team to overcome impossible odds and make the 2011 playoffs.
"I don't think he cares about any opinion," reliever J.P. Howell said. "That's the beauty of him. He's in his own world at all times, which is a lot of people's goal and it's hard to do. I look up to that about him. He walks to his own beat."
Maddon's down-to-earth personality allows him to collect friends wherever he goes regardless of that person's status. He's equally as comfortable with the guy selling hot dogs along the third-base line as he is with the CEO sitting in a luxury box. More than anything, Maddon knows who he is, so he comes off as real to his players, and they believe in him and his methodology.
"He never really acts like he's pressing about anything," B.J. Upton said. "And I think that goes a long way with the players. I think guys follow his lead."
And despite an 8-6 loss to the Rangers in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Saturday, Maddon certainly doesn't seem like he's pressing going into Game 3 with the series tied at 1.
"As much as I love to prepare, I really believe an unencumbered mind is better right now," Maddon said at Tropicana Field on Sunday. "I would rather the players go out more based on their instincts as opposed to thinking 'What am I supposed to be doing here?'"
Maddon might come off as eccentric, but the foundation for Maddon, the baseball man, is a sound bank of knowledge about the game.
"I don't know if eccentric is the right word for Joe," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, for whom Maddon worked as a bench coach. "He's an extremely intelligent person; he's just really bright. He has a fine spirit that is really beautiful to be around. It's beautiful to talk baseball with him, life with him. He's got a really unique perspective on things.
"We're all independent thinkers. He has that classic fundamental background, but he mixes it with some thinking out of the box that makes sense with a lot of his decisions. He's like a classically trained pianist who finds himself as a rock star."
Scioscia noted that Maddon has a classic foundation for baseball fundamentals, "combined with the idea that maybe there's a better mousetrap out there -- whether it's developing a player or instilling in a player coming up in the Minor Leagues qualities that are going to help you win in the big leagues."
"Joe's a terrific evaluator," Scioscia said. "He can see what a player's talent is and understands how it fits into a team and makes it better. He'll take a guy with one tool and figure out how to make it work for his team. He's extremely creative in the way he uses his players and keeps them in tune with the game."
Maddon's creativity has never been tested more than this season, after the Rays' roster got depleted by free agency and trades -- including the losses of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, who were popular in the clubhouse and producers on the field.
Maddon never panicked. Instead, he looked at the players he had and started over, telling his group the first day of Spring Training that they needed to find another way to get it done.
"I can see the boys sitting in front of me at Port Charlotte [Fla.] on that very first day when you talk to the team," Maddon said. "And that was the message. It wasn't, 'Well we're rebuilding,' or, 'We're hoping to do something good this year.' We talked about doing it in another way.
"My point was we were missing a lot of good guys from the previous season. Maybe the style of game was going to be a little different because you're missing some speed, or some power, new guys having to take over."
Finding another way became the team's mantra.
"And that's exactly what we've done," Upton said. "Obviously we lost some key guys to our success from the last couple of years, but he never made a big stink about it. He just told us to move on and we'll find a different way to win than we have in the past, which I think we have done this year."
Maddon defers much of the praise lavished on him to those he works with, from the Rays organization to his coaching staff, a group that has worked together to create a different culture.
"I want to believe that our guys believe in how we do things and in the culture that we have created, meaning that we do expect to play these games this time of year, pointing toward the playoffs," Maddon said.
"I've talked about a mind once stretched has a difficult time going back to its original form. We've been in the playoffs three of the last four years. We've been the AL East champs two of the last four years. We want that every year."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.