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11/12/08 5:30 PM EST

Maddon honored as AL's top skipper

Positive influence in clubhouse guided Rays to World Series

ST. PETERSBURG -- Considering he was managing a team that plays in a division with the powerhouse Red Sox and Yankees while sporting the second-lowest payroll in the Major Leagues, it would've been very easy for Rays skipper Joe Maddon to accept mediocrity going into Spring Training 2008.

In fact, that's what the Rays had endured the previous 10 years of the franchise.

But, in his third season with Tampa Bay, mediocrity wasn't something Maddon was ready to accept.

It's because of that mentality that his Rays were able to make history in 2008 by reaching the playoffs and World Series for the first time in franchise history. On Wednesday, Maddon received his due diligence when he was named the American League Manager of the Year, as voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Maddon, 54, was the only manager listed on all 28 ballots cast by two writers in each AL city. He was first on 27 of them and fell just one first-place vote shy of being the first unanimous Manager of the Year Award winner in baseball history.

The other first-place vote went to the Twins' Ron Gardenhire, who was second on 15 ballots and third on eight for 58 points. The Angels' Mike Scioscia, who won in 2002, finished third with 45 total points. Cubs skipper Lou Piniella won the National League honor.

"When you go into Spring Training, you never want to walk into that door and just preach mediocrity to your group," Maddon said via conference call while on his honeymoon in Europe. "You always want to preach to be the best, so being that it was my third year and how we concluded the second year, that gave us a lot of hope going into next season."

As it turned out, it wasn't false hope, either.

Maddon led the Rays to their first winning season with an AL East-best record of 97-65 to break the previous club record by 27 wins. In doing so, the Rays improved their record by 31 games over 2007 -- which made for the third-best improvement in AL history -- earning a spot in the World Series. In addition, under his guidance, the 2008 Rays became the first AL team to go from the worst record in the Major Leagues to the postseason.

Maddon became the fourth manager in Rays history on Nov. 15, 2005. In three seasons, he has compiled a 224-262 record and, on Aug. 23, he became the Rays' all-time leader in managerial wins with 206.

"What I thought at the time we hired him was that he was the right guy for our team at that time," said Rays vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who was named Executive of the Year on Nov. 4. "We also had strong conviction that he can ultimately grow into one of the best managers in the game. He's got a great mind, he's a great communicator, and he's been remarkably consistent since the first day of Spring Training in 2006, and that's extremely difficult to do in an environment so full of emotion."

2008 AL Manager of the Year Award Voting
Manager, Club 1st 2nd 3rd Points
Joe Maddon, TB 27 1   138
Ron Gardenhire, MIN 1 15 8 58
Mike Scioscia, LAA   12 9 45
Terry Francona, BOS     6 6
Ozzie Guillen, CWS     3 3
Cito Gaston, TOR     2 2

Maddon's award arrives in a year of milestones for the Rays, as they enjoyed their first AL East crown, postseason berth and trip to the World Series, first Rookie of the Year -- Evan Longoria won that award on Monday -- and first Gold Glove Award winner -- with first baseman Carlos Pena being named Thursday.

"It was all there for us, it was just a matter of time -- we just expedited it a bit," Maddon said. "I thought we had a shot to get to the playoffs this year, and we did. To get to the World Series? Like I said, I'd be lying to you if I thought that was a situation that we could've realized at the beginning of the year, but we did.

"We knew we were better [than last year]. We just didn't know how much better. And then, as the season went on, we thought that we can do this, and people started to believe."

Prior to joining the Rays, Maddon spent all 31 years of his professional baseball career in the Angels' organization, including 12 on the Major League staff.

And he made a believer out of Scioscia.

"I thought all along he could be a good manager," said Scioscia recently, for whom Maddon served as a bench coach for six years prior to accepting the Rays' job in the fall of 2005. "No question. I could see how bright he was, how he saw the game, what he believed in. There certainly wasn't any doubt in my mind that if the guy got an opportunity, he'd do a great job."

In addition to his vast baseball knowledge, perhaps Maddon's biggest strength in 2008 was his calm demeanor and how he found the balance between dealing with the veterans and young players on the Rays' roster. According to starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, Maddon was able to succeed in that thanks to his upbeat attitude.

"He really did just put positive thoughts in everyone's heads," Kazmir said. "A game like this is more of a mental game. When you're thinking positive, you just have more confidence."

But it wasn't always accepted in those terms.

In 2006 and 2007 -- when his club lost 101 and 96 games, respectively -- Maddon was sometimes viewed as being a bit too nice to his players.

But, as Friedman said, the skipper never steered off course.

"There are times when it's difficult because you do get [criticized] a little bit, and people think that if you're not seeing immediate results, we're going to assume that it's the wrong way to do it," Maddon said. "But you look at our situation, where we've gotten to where we've gotten to in a short period of time, it needed a steady approach.

"It was good to see it work, I thought it would work, and now the interesting thing is seeing if it can work in the future."

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Bill Chastain contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.