Maddon starstruck in meeting 'Broadway Joe'
As a kid, Rays manager idolized Hall of Fame QB Namath
JUPITER, Fla. -- Joe Maddon wears No. 70 in the present tense. But back in the day, it was a different story."Everything," Maddon said, "was '12.'" That would be the No. 12 worn by Joe Namath, the legendary football icon who appealed to Maddon as much for his style off the field as his success on it. "My Zeta Psi fraternity shirt was '12' with 'Joe Willie' written on the back," Maddon said. "I always wore the white shoes. I was influenced by his personal philosophies back then. I drank Scotch because he drank Scotch." So you can imagine Maddon's thrill when he stepped out of the visiting clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium on Tuesday morning and there, pulling up in an SUV, was none other than "Broadway Joe" Namath himself.
This was no happy accident, of course. Inspired by the recent HBO documentary "Namath: Beaver Falls to Broadway" that rekindled his enthusiasm over his boyhood hero, Maddon asked Rays vice president of communications Rick Vaughn to try to track down Namath and invite him to the club's camp in Port Charlotte. But because he lives just a few miles up the road from Roger Dean Stadium, Namath instead visited Maddon and Co. for their road game against the Marlins. Immediately upon arrival, he signed Maddon's No. 12 Jets jersey, then donned a Rays jersey bearing his name and familiar number. "Wow," outfielder Sam Fuld said when he spotted Namath in Maddon's office, "he really is here!" Maddon had Namath deliver the lineup card before the game, and he even called to mind his famous Super Bowl III proclamation by guaranteeing a Rays victory. Namath stayed the whole game, taking it in from the dugout. The Hazelton, Pa., native Maddon and the Beaver Falls, Pa., native Namath hit it off like two old Pennsylvania pals, with Maddon asking Namath football questions and Namath showing a genuine interest not only in Maddon's team, but also his Hazelton Integration Project, which seeks to unify the varied cultures in Maddon's hometown. "I like Joe's style and everything I've read about him," Namath said of Maddon. "I'm excited that he invited me to practice. I just wanted to be a part of it. I feed off the energy and the excitement. It's great to be here." Maddon admitted he was "starstruck" -- a rare occurrence, he said -- by the 68-year-old Namath. "You have no idea," he said. "I'm normally pretty cool about things, but this is different." True to his nature, Maddon got a little creative in his celebration of the event, wearing white sneakers for the day to replicate Namath's famous look. Then again, for Maddon, this was nothing new. "I grew up playing midget football for the State Trooper Eagles, and I'm wearing No. 12," Maddon said. "And then eventually I go to Hazelton High School, and I couldn't get the white shoes in the beginning, but then eventually Riddell came out with the white shoes. I got the white shoes at that particular time. So the influence of watching him and his style ... He had a great impact on me. He always said what he thought. That wasn't always popular, but that's what he did." Asked what he thought of these Rays, Namath was characteristically honest. "They're close, they're close," he said. "I don't like being the 25th-best hitting team in the league. I think that's something to work on." To this, Maddon immediately replied: "We play great defense, Joe!" Namath could not have been more gracious toward any Rays players or passersby who wanted to take a quick picture with him or talk football. Naturally, a lot of the conversation revolved around Peyton Manning's decision to sign with the Broncos ("Who would have ever thought Peyton Manning would not be with the Colts?" Namath said), though there was some baseball talk, as well. "I'm still pulling for the Pirates," Namath said of his hometown team. "And it's hard, boy. I get mixed up with the system, to a degree ... what's right and what isn't as far as the ability to get the players and the financial system. I'm not sure how that works." But Namath got an up-close look at how the Rays work. And for Maddon, this was no ordinary day in spring camp. "I've been wanting this moment to happen for many, many years," he said. "It's fantastic." Oh, and by the way, the Rays beat the Marlins, just as Namath said they would. "He's 2-0 on guarantees now," Maddon joked.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.