ST. PETERSBURG -- Turns out Joe Maddon's Shangri-La is managing the Little Team that Could, which is why he wanted to remain the Rays' manager rather than chase some of Major League baseball's sexier posts that opened up during this past offseason.
And Maddon is one piece of the puzzle Tampa Bay wants to keep in place. The team's management is keeping him at the helm at least through 2015 by signing him to a three-year contract extension worth around $6 million.
"We're all motivated by different things," Maddon said at a Wednesday morning news conference at Tropicana Field. "My motivation isn't the dollar sign -- never has been, never will be. My motivation is to do something that I love, where I love to do it, with people that I enjoy doing it with. That matters.
"It matters that you can show up every day and really like walking in the door. I mean love walking in the door. ... You don't have to look somewhere else. It's right here. I mean, everybody wants to look somewhere else. It's right here."
Maddon took over the team prior to the 2006 season, and he endured two losing campaigns before finding unparalleled success. Over the past four seasons, the team has averaged 90-plus wins after averaging 90-plus losses the four previous seasons. Only four other teams in Major League history can make that claim: the 1987-94 Braves, the 1971-78 Phillies, the 1964-71 Athletics and the 1997-2004 Twins.
"We talked about the accountability factor when we first moved in. It wasn't there," Maddon said. "The wins definitely weren't there, and over the course of the last several years, we've got a bunch of self-starters who care, and self-starters who not only want to participate, but win.
"We've come up short the last two years in the playoffs, but we did get there. We've got to extend that a little bit further as we move further into our marriage here, which is exactly what it is. But our players do believe that. Nobody just shows up any more. ... And the fact we have a chance to be together for a while yet is really significant in regards to our success. So for me, there are so many different reasons to be thankful -- and I am. I'm grateful for this opportunity. I'm grateful that the Rays gave me this shot several years ago."
Prior to joining the Rays, Maddon spent all 31 years of his professional baseball career in the Angels' organization, including the last 12 on the Major League staff.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman first teased Maddon by calling him baseball's Benjamin Button for the way he has morphed from white hair to his current sandy-colored hirsute fashion statement. Later, Friedman recounted why Tampa Bay chose Maddon to succeed Lou Piniella as the team's manager.
"When we hired him, one of the biggest things for us was we were always going to have a younger roster, especially relative to the teams that we're competing against directly," Friedman said. "So with Joe's player development experience, his experience at the Major League level, with the type of person he is, we felt like it would be a really good fit for an evolving roster. But again, it was with the idea of him being our long-term manager -- not just in a turnaround situation."
The native of Hazleton, Pa., has twice won the Baseball Writers' Association of America's American League Manager of the Year Award, for guiding his team to the playoffs in 2008 and '11. Only three Major League managers -- the Phillies' Charlie Manuel, the Twins' Ron Gardenhire and the Angels' Mike Scioscia -- are longer tenured than Maddon.
"Joe has been a central component to our organization's development and success," said Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg. "As we all enter our seventh season together, I am proud for what we have accomplished and excited about what lies ahead."
In August, Sports Illustrated released a poll of 291 Major Leaguers who voted Maddon as the manager they would most like to play for, which is likely attributable to his penchant for taking a different road -- like the one he traveled on Aug. 17, 2008, against the Rangers in Arlington. That night, Maddon became the first AL manager in 107 years to order an intentional walk with the bases loaded, when he had Grant Balfour walk Josh Hamilton with two outs in the ninth and Tampa Bay leading, 7-3. The strategy worked, as Dan Wheeler came on to retire Marlon Byrd and preserve the win.
To keep the players loose, the fun-loving skipper instituted themed dress trips when the club goes on the road. The Rays have had 19 such trips in six years, and each of the trips has generated countless stories and laughs enjoyed by the club.
Perhaps Maddon's finest managing job took place in 2011, when Tampa Bay started the season with six consecutive losses, at which point he told his squad that it was the best 0-6 team in baseball. The Rays got back into the playoff race and found themselves nine games back in the AL Wild Card race on Sept. 2. Maddon led the team to wins in 17 of the team's final 25 games, including its final five, finishing with a 91-71 record and leapfrogging the Red Sox on the final day of the regular season to reach the playoffs.
Maddon is respected and loved by his players.
"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."
When asked what made Maddon a quality manager, Sam Fuld replied, "There's a lot."
"First and foremost, he's consistent with his demeanor and his approach," Fuld said. "And I think that's a huge asset as a manager. Whether we were 0-6 to start the year or we were on a roll in August and September, he was the same guy. And I think that's huge. It allows you to relax when you face adversity.
"His demeanor rubs off on us. He's an easy guy to play for. He just asks you to play hard. And otherwise, he just wants you to be yourself. There's just something to be said for being comfortable as a human, beyond being a baseball player. The second you meet him and the second you sort of realize what the whole team is about, you feel comfortable. And that definitely helps you as a ballplayer."
On top of his ability to manage, Maddon has proved time and again that he is just a good guy. He began "Thanksmas," which is his annual holiday feast he prepares for hundreds of needy citizens in the Tampa Bay area. This year, he introduced his Hazleton Integration Project (HIP), created to help develop and maintain an atmosphere that will serve to unify the varied cultures of his hometown.
Maddon looked most touched on Wednesday when team president Matt Silverman announced that the Rays would be donating $100,000 to support Maddon's charitable efforts in the Tampa Bay and Hazleton areas.
"For me, regarding this job -- listen, as long as they'll have me, I'm good," Maddon said. "There's no wanting to walk away from this. I really enjoy my job on a daily basis. I really do."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.