Joe Maddon isn't one to use conventional methods.
The Rays manager ponders his lineup card on bike rides, dons a Mohawk hairstyle for team unity and quotes poets, authors and musicians.
So it was only fitting that on the day Maddon received the biggest individual honor of his 34-year baseball career, it came in a unique way.
Maddon was named American League manager of the year Wednesday, one first-place vote shy of becoming the first in baseball history to earn the honor in a unanimous selection by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. In receiving 27 first-place votes out of 28 ballots (the Twins' Ron Gardenhire got the other), Maddon is just the fourth manager to come up one vote short and the first since the Expos' Felipe Alou in 1994.
And Maddon, 54, was likely the first to handle the award's conference call with the media from a hotel room in Rome, where the newlywed — married on Saturday— is starting his European honeymoon.
On Wednesday, Maddon received some validation for staying the course in the Rays' rocky journey from the worst in the majors to the World Series. Today, he'll visit Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel.
"It's truly an honor," Maddon said. "To me it means that we did a pretty good job obviously, that things are definitely moving in the right direction. Getting to the playoffs, getting to the World Series; my goodness, nobody thought World Series. … For me, personally, (the award) caps it all off."
Terry Pluto of Cleveland's Plain Dealer, the only writer to not give Maddon a first-place vote, couldn't be reached for comment. Pluto voted for Gardenhire, the runnerup, and had Maddon second. Third place overall went to Angels manager Mike Scioscia, whom Maddon said he's "indebted" to for giving him a chance as a bench coach for six seasons before joining the Rays in November 2005.
Maddon said he never doubted himself or his team, even when he lost 197 games in his first two seasons and was dealt many "body blows" by critics who believed him to be too positive. He thought a steady and consistent approach was needed, and wouldn't waver.
The Rays backed Maddon, exercising his two-year option in September 2007. Maddon is entering the last year of his contract, and though executive vice president Andrew Friedman wouldn't discuss a potential extension publicly, he said, "I look forward to working with Joe for a very long time.
"What I thought at the time we hired him was that he was the right guy for our team at that time," Friedman said. "We also had a 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."
Maddon's honor, the first in the Rays' 11-year history, came two days after third baseman Evan Longoria was unanimously selected AL rookie of the year, giving Tampa Bay two of baseball's four major postseason awards.
Maddon's case was pretty much a slam dunk. He led the Rays to a 31-win improvement over the previous season as Tampa Bay went 97-65 and won arguably the toughest division (AL East) in baseball before clinching its first pennant and World Series berth. The Rays became the first AL team to go from the worst record in the major leagues to the postseason.
Maddon seemed to make all the right moves, starting by introducing the team to the inspiring phrase "9 equals 8" in spring training (nine players working hard for nine innings equals becoming one of the eight teams in the postseason). His bold decisions paid off, from walking Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded to pulling centerfielder B.J. Upton from a game for not hustling. Said veteran DH Cliff Floyd: "He had a plan. He stuck with it. He made us believe in it."
"He's someone who isn't afraid to exercise his mind, and he's open to new ideas," Rays president Matt Silverman said. "We can't do things conventionally and succeed; we're a low-revenue club, we're going up against hundreds of millions of dollars of payroll in the AL East. So that openness is key to our ability to succeed and overcome some of the odds against us."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.