Maddon makes the unconventional conventional
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When it comes to managing the Tampa Bay Rays, it's not a stretch to say Joe Maddon is border-line eccentric. He does things in a different way, and it works more times than not.
So, it figures when the Rays lose a tough game he closes his office door at Tropicana Field -- literally and figuratively -- before he goes home.
"At the end of the day it's all about balance and perspective," he said during an interview with MLB.com. "I don't go back and watch Sports Center or MLB Network. I go home and read a book. I'm back into my reading jag; I've been reading some good books."
Ah, yes. Perspective. And they aren't baseball books.
"When I'm able to do that it permits me to understand, or not get so upset when we lose three out of four to the Tigers because back in 1914 when World War I was brewing there were a lot of people who had their families blown up," he said. "So, I try to keep things in perspective."
That doesn't stop the two-time Manager Of The Year from deep soul searching when it comes to the low-budget team he's taken to the postseason three of the past four years. The Rays lost to the Phillies in the 2008 World Series.
He'll climb aboard his bicycle on a typical morning, a special time when he allows his most inner thoughts to surface.
This particular day, he says he was pressed for time and rode the bike for only 45 minutes.
"I like to get out and sweat. I do my best thinking on the bicycle," he said. "I just sort of get lost -- whether I'm thinking about defense, the crazy lineups, what's the next road trip going to look like, what am I going to do when so-and-so gets healthy, how do you pump somebody up who's down a little bit.
"I can really analyze and focus on as I ride down Bayshore Drive. I look out at the water and see a couple of dolphins swimming. It's all those different thoughts."
Maddon is perfect for this team, a reason why in February he was given a contract extension through 2015.
His players are comfortable with him and believe in his sometimes bizarre methods.
Like the wacky themed wardrobes players wear for road trips. When they went to Miami recently the dress code was all white.
But, as Maddon says, he missed a great opportunity when the Rays traveled by Amtrak from Washington to Philadelphia in June.
Maddon says "I screwed up on this one. Considering the historical significance, it could have been dress up as your favorite president, your favorite Constitutional Convention character."
The players have input, but eagerly wait to see what the next travel wardrobe will be.
Yet, I questioned Joe as to whether these antics would work with every team. Can you imagine Joe Girardi asking the aristocratic Yankees to dress this way for their road trips?
"I think it could work anywhere," he argued. "Going back to my first days in the big leagues I was always humored and annoyed that there was a dress code on chartered flights where nobody would see you. The shortstop would dress up for the backup catcher, and maybe the starting pitcher would dress up for the center fielder [trying to outdo each other].
"I could never understand why that was so important. So, I wanted to poke fun at that by now having a dress code. A couple of years ago the Ed Hardy T-shirt was a very popular item, so I had the Ed Hardy T-Shirt Trip. Then, we went to express ourselves with the hat trip. Baseball players like to have fun."
Pausing, he added: "At the end of the day, my biggest thing is I'm attacking superficial concepts which I really don't believe matter. I want the discipline and the hard play on the field, and not so much how you dress."
I believe in the last 12 months Maddon has shown three hair colors. It's now his normal gray.
And, of course, there are the black horned-rimmed glasses.
"All the NBA guys are wearing them now, too, right?" he said with a laugh. "My wife got me into it. I used to buy glasses from the drugstores and kept losing them, plus my eyes kept getting worse."
When he visited an eye doctor, progressive lenses were prescribed and, "My wife Jaye chose the horned-rimmed stuff, and I kind of dig 'em now. Look at some old pictures. Casey Stengel used to wear these things, Spencer Tracy -- some really cool guys."
Regardless of what goes on with the 58-year-old Maddon and his Rays off the field, returning to the postseason this season is what it's all about.
Joe, as expected, is convinced it can happen.
When I asked him if the Rays have enough talent to beat the Yankees, there was no hesitation.
"Oh, yes. We absolutely do," he said. "Because we can pitch. Whenever you can pitch, you can compete against anybody. Our starters are still healthy, well and good. The bullpen? I'll put it up against any bullpen right now. Getting the defense back in order is a big part of that. Eventually the bad luck that you may be having has got to come back to you at some point."
Finally, ask Joe Maddon to describe himself and he backs off.
"That's a boring kind of thing," he said. "Let somebody else describe me. On a daily basis I try to follow my heart and try to follow what's in my gut. I'm not out to try and impress anybody. I've had a lot of failures, with some successes, so I think I know what works."
And to him he knows some people consider his methods non-conventional, "But to me it is so conventional, and how could you not do it this way?"
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.