02/15/12 11:00 AM EST
Rays ink Maddon to three-year extension
Tampa Bay skipper is two-time AL Manager of the Year
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
The Rays formally announced the agreement on Wednesday.
"As I have said before, I believe this is the best organization in Major League Baseball, and I feel fortunate knowing I will be a part of this for the next several years," Maddon said. "Our ownership group, front office staff and players make the Rays organization the place I want to be."
Maddon took over the team prior to the 2006 season and endured two losing campaigns before finding unparalleled success. Over the past four seasons (2008-11), 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.
The native of Hazleton, Pa., has twice won the Baseball Writers' Association of America American League Manager of the Year Award, for guiding his team to the playoffs in 2008 and '11. Only three Major League managers -- Charlie Manuel, Phillies; Ron Gardenhire, Twins; and Mike Scioscia, Angels -- are longer tenured than the Rays' manager.
"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 different roads -- 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 Maddon 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."
Looking at how Maddon managed a game, Fuld noted, "What struck me was his ability to use the bench and keep the bench fresh."
"Certainly, I know that from my own perspective, you always feel like you're going to get an opportunity to contribute and help the team win," said Fuld, who was used as a reserve for much of the season. "And that's huge, because the reality for us to win and be successful, we can't just rely on our starting nine guys every day. We have to use all of our position players."
James Shields pointed to Maddon's understanding of the talent and personalities on the team for a big part of his success.
"We have the talent on the team to make the playoffs -- it's just putting it together," Shields said. "I think one of the biggest attributes that Joe has is to put a team together and get the right chemistry together. He brings that loose attitude to the clubhouse. The way he works with each individual is pretty special. I think that chemistry is one of the most underrated things as far as an organization, and Joe definitely puts that together for us."
Shields summed up his feelings about Maddon and the job he has done.
"Over the last four or five years, he's done a phenomenal job with our team," Shields said. "I don't think there were a lot of people who thought we were going to make the playoffs at the beginning of the year, and Joe put it together once again. Three of the last four years, we've gone to the playoffs, and that's a tribute to Joe."
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. Scioscia got to know Maddon well during that period.
"He's an extremely intelligent person; he's just really bright," Scioscia said. "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."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.