PORT CHARLOTTE — There is so much they talk, text and e-mail about, be it favorite television shows Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office and Entourage, a new Pat Conroy book, old music, funny movies, their love of sushi and even, at times, a fine wine.
So when Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon have to get down to the business of baseball, the sharing of ideas and information tends to come easily.
And as they enter their sixth season together — somehow, stunningly, among the four-longest tenured tandems in the game — it seems clear that the depth of their relationship is a key reason the Rays have reached the heights they have.
"It's probably the similarities we share in terms of being open-minded and our strong belief in communicating," Friedman said. "It's certainly evolved over the years to a point where it's as good of a working relationship both on and off the field you could ask for."
That's not always the case in baseball, nor in other sports, where the marriage between a general manager and a manager/coach can — in good times and bad — become adversarial, controversial or worse as they battle over credit and control, currying favor and covering their own behinds.
"It's got to be straight up," Maddon said. "He trusts me and I trust him, and there's nothing withheld either way. If I have to say something crappy, I do, and if he has to, he does, too. And there's a lot of respect about that, too. …
"As he'll say often times, our priorities are perfectly aligned right here, and the thing I like to say is that our intentions are perfectly pure. There are no hidden agendas. There are not.
"It's not about him. It's not about me. It's about the Rays, period."
They have their moments, of course, where one or the other gets animated, even irritated, but like any loving couple they claim they don't stay mad. Maddon may want to keep or cut a different player than Friedman, or Friedman may ask why Maddon did something — good or bad — in a game, but they insist any discourse is for the good of the cause.
"We share a very common philosophy on how to achieve success in this division, and when we disagree, it's always a very productive debate," Friedman said. "Not once have we walked out of a room still (ticked off) because I think both of us appreciate that we both have the purest of intentions with how to sustain the success that we've built up, and that every suggestion, idea and thought has to do with that.''
And they have their fun, including an ongoing thread from the clubhouse that they look more like father/son, what with Maddon's gray hair and the 5-foot-9 Friedman's even more youthful looks, that they put their own twist on.
"I often make the joke that I'm the father figure in the relationship," Friedman said. "I would say, and I'm saying this as much of a compliment as I can, that he's by far the most immature 57-year-old I've every met."
"I take that as the highest praise anyone could give me," Maddon said. "It's always nice to have Dad around to keep you on the straight and narrow. He dresses older than I do, he has much older hair. He's got to be the oldest 34-year-old there is."
They certainly wouldn't seem like a match: Maddon the baseball lifer who coated his hard-scrabble Hazleton, Pa., background with California cool, and Friedman the Wall Street whiz kid who hadn't worked in the game until coming to the Rays two years ahead of Stuart Sternberg's takeover.
"They do seem like an odd couple," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "It's funny to see them interact sometimes."
"Like mixing two entirely different worlds together," starter James Shields said.
They impressed each other when they met for Maddon's first interview in late 2005, and Sternberg liked their differences as much as the similarities and how he thought they'd mesh. Enough that he was willing to risk pairing a first-time manager with a first-time GM under a new owner, a formula that hadn't worked before — see Larry Rothschild, Chuck LaMar and Vince Naimoli.
"They each bring to the table precisely what you'd want in both of the positions, and they complement each other very well," Sternberg said, admitting he watched closely the first year for signs of acrimony. "They probably didn't realize it at first, but they did afterward, how Joe is able to do things that are not Andrew's best skills necessarily, and how Andrew does many, many things that Joe is open to."
Team president Matt Silverman said it's obvious to him how they've grown — and grown together.
"One of the keys is intellectual curiosity and their openness to ideas," Silverman said. "They're both very good communicators with each other and with others, and they're aggregators of ideas — they don't impose their thinking first. And I think that's allowed them to work well together and with everyone in the organization."
That includes the players, as both Friedman and Maddon not only make themselves accessible but make an effort to fit in with them. Which is why J.P. Howell can poke fun at the color of Maddon's hair, and David Price can openly joke about Friedman wearing lifts in his shoes and being the most help if he needs something off the bottom shelf.
Maddon raves about Friedman's intellect, his ability to incorporate statistical analysis and break down the game, and his innate sense of knowing when to, and when not to, challenge him. Friedman, in turn, lauds Maddon's always-on optimism, empathetic nature and great motivational skills. Both have mutual respect, an acknowledgement of the other's strengths, broad interests and extensive vocabularies that they'll use to challenge each other.
"It couldn't be," Maddon said, "more perfect."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.