Was having two small penguins waddling around the Rays clubhouse Wednesday, with music blaring and the media gawking, really that odd? Well, it depends … In most other work environments? Yes. In any other major-league baseball clubhouse, absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt, yes. • But in Joe Maddon's world? • "Nothing's weird anymore," longtime 3B coach Tom Foley said. "He can't do anything weird. The shock value's gone. No matter what he does, he could do something totally off the wall, and you go, 'That's Joe.' " • That scale has grown, from odd to weird to crazy to what? to you've-got-to-be-kidding-me. But never, Maddon says, for his own interests, always to benefit the team. "From the critics' perspective, we mock what we don't understand," Maddon said. "You get too sane of a baseball club, I'm concerned that the success will not follow." • That said, here are some of the crazier things he has done:
Maddon mocks teams that have high-brow dress codes, his only guidance to the Rays being, "If you think you look hot, that's how you should dress." But there are occasions — 20-plus since '08 — when he encourages the Rays to dress up, a series of themed road trips that push the players out of their comfort zones and toward each other, brothers in oddly dressed arms, parading out of stadiums and into hotels, posing for pictures. Among those that stood out:
Pajama party, 2011: High on the wacky list, Maddon wanted the players, and a few accompanying wives, to be comfy on an overnight flight from SoCal to Baltimore.
Grunge/Beach Boys, 2011: Just the sight of David Price walking out of Seattle's Safeco Field in a swim ring made this one of the all-time best, along with Johnny Damon's biceps for the grunge segment.
Nerd, 2012: Homage to Fox broadcaster Ken Rosenthal's bow ties-for-charity, Maddon had the Rays go mighty nerdy for a flight to Boston.
He uses so many big words there is a Joe-cabulary being compiled, posts famous quotes around the clubhouse and on the lineup card and sports intriguing slogans on T-shirts. (Remember, 9=8?) But his most out-there speech may have been on the plane from Tampa Bay to Chicago after a rough start to the 2011 season when he got a bottle of Charbay whiskey and a sleeve of plastic cups and led a toast to "the best" winless team in baseball history. (The story has been told, incorrectly, that it occurred on the flight from Chicago to Boston, at 1-8.)
As much as Maddon tries to present a calm daily environment, he does get fired up at times, evidenced by his 28 ejections in seven-plus seasons. None more theatrical than the April 2011 game in Chicago when after being tossed, Maddon then charged up to each of umpire and "ejected" him.
On the field
Maddon learned during 20 years as a player, coach and instructor in the minors to be improvisational and rather creative. Thus, smaller-than-normal balls for batting practice (requiring increased focus), orange paint on corners of the bases (showing where to step), duct tape on bats (reinforcing using the fat part). Most creative? Trying to get an instructional-leaguer to loosen up as he was taught how to play first base, Maddon — in the pre-boom box days — pulled a team van onto the practice field, threw open the doors and cranked up the radio so the player could get into a rhythm.
Changing the look of the lineup is one thing. Another is changing his own look, upgrading from once-iconic black-framed glasses and sporting a variety of hairstyles and colors. The, um, highlight? When he died it black for the 2009 Johnny Cash "Ring of Fire" road trip. He also was the point man for the spring head-shaving that benefits charity. Other style points: His now-famous hoodie, and his "Elmer Fudd" Rays cap with ear flaps.
Maddon wants his players relaxed in the clubhouse, and he sets the tone, literally, usually strolling in wearing a T-shirt (with retro or pop-culture references) and jeans and blaring classic rock every afternoon. He keeps his office door open; puts random items on display; and prefers to talk books, food, wine, TV, movies or his daily bike ride (during which he formulates the lineup) as much as baseball. He'll get daring, sporting a Bucs helmet for one postgame media session, a fire chief's helmet for another. And he not only encourages the loud dance-party celebrations of each win but suggested adding the disco ball.
Maddon welcomes old players, new friends, entertainers and inspirational figures to join the team in the clubhouse, on the field, in uniform, even in the dugout during spring games. Which is how one day former Bucs coach Raheem Morris was walking to the mound to make a pitching change, and another day NFL great (and Maddon childhood idol) Joe Namath was wearing Rays blue discussing strategy.
Less work, more wins
As the unique boss who wants his employees to work less, Maddon rarely has batting practice before day games and allows (even encourages) players to report late afternoon, once ordering the clubhouse to stay locked until 3 p.m. Last year he instituted "American Legion Week," flashing back to youth league days when they just showed up and played. To make it official, they hung a banner from Safety Harbor Post 238, and in gratitude, Maddon had the team pick up the post members' tab for beer, pickled eggs and sausages.
Led by Price's now-famous Astro, dogs have roamed the Rays clubhouse. In last week's effort to get the players to relax, after appearances by a DJ and a magician, Maddon had a cockatoo brought in from Sunken Gardens before one game and the two penguins from the Florida Aquarium another. What's next? Well, the aquarium has a 14-foot snake.
Adding another Joe Maddon gnome giveaway night, which is being considered, is a good idea. So, given hefty eBay prices, might be auctioning some off for charity. … The original idea, by the way, came from a marketing department brainstorming session. … Principal owner Stuart Sternberg said on New York's WFAN radio he expects their next TV deal to be "big relative to the size of our attendance" but "mid-sized market" compared to other teams. Also, on whether they could afford to keep LHP David Price: "We can; I don't know if we'll have any team around him other than him and (Evan) Longoria." … The team launched an impressive online compilation of community initiatives; view at raysbaseball.com/communityreport.
Got a minute? Cesar Ramos
Best meal you can make?
Mexican-style rice, and carne asada (grilled meat)
Band you'd like to be on stage with?
The Red Hot Chili Peppers would be pretty fun.
I'm a big Boardwalk Empire guy.
Dream vacation spot?
The Turks and Caicos Islands.
Still the one from the Golf Channel, Holly Sonders. One of these days she'll call me.