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The Maddon way is the right way for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — You think you know a manager. You can anticipate his moves, and you can guess his reasoning. You have seen enough to assume this job isn't so tricky, after all.

And then he does something so bold, so nervy, so grab-your-boys wild, that you start to wonder if you really know him at all. And, 48 hours later, he does it again.

Let me introduce you to Joe Maddon, renegade. If he weren't already the presumptive manager of the year in the American League, he may have just wrapped up the nomination.

In a single weekend, Maddon made two moves you could go decades and never see in a major-league stadium. And, like so many of his moves this season, both appeared absolutely correct.

On Friday in Texas, Maddon publicly embarrassed one of his best players for failing to hustle after being repeatedly warned. Suddenly Mr. Happy Go Lucky was channeling Billy Martin at his most confrontational.

Two days later, Maddon became just the second manager in the past 60 years to order an intentional walk with the bases loaded. And, just like that, Tony La Russa was looking like some old school relic.

"This is what he does," said Brian Anderson, assistant to the pitching coach. "He's not afraid. He is not afraid, and that's the thing I love about watching him manage."

Understand, these were not moves made in a vacuum. In the case of B.J. Upton, you're talking about a public humbling of one of the franchise's cornerstone players. And the Josh Hamilton intentional walk comes at a time when the Rays are entering their first pennant race on gauze and a prayer.

Yet Maddon ignored the safer, obvious choices to do what he felt was right.

"It took some (guts). And that's what makes a good manager," said Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. "I think the bad managers are the ones who always go by the book because that way they can cover their a--."

There was no covering Maddon's backside Sunday night. Not even in his own dugout.

When Maddon waved four fingers at catcher Dioner Navarro with Hamilton at the plate and the bases loaded, he even caught pitcher Grant Balfour by surprise.

"When Navi put his arm out for the walk, I'll be honest, I didn't want to do it," Balfour said. "I knew the bases were loaded, but I still looked at third, second and first just to make sure I was seeing this right. Yeah, they were all loaded. There was nowhere else to go. No safety base.

"I didn't like it, but I put myself in that position. And it turned out to be the right move."

If you've been paying close attention, there have been signs of Maddon's independent streak before this. The Rays, after all, steal more and sacrifice less than any team in the majors. And Maddon's interchangeable use of closers in Troy Percival's absence is not your typical manager's move.

Along the way, he has had words with Percival on the mound, pointed conversations with Matt Garza in private and a run-in with Delmon Young at the end of last season.

What was shocking — at least in the case of Upton — was the in-your-face nature of this decision. Maddon has never been afraid to air out a player behind the scenes, but he is careful not to humiliate openly.

Because he tends to let players police themselves in the clubhouse, and because he is loath to criticize on the record, there is a perception Maddon is not a strict disciplinarian. In small ways, that might be true. But Maddon has always insisted effort and accountability will not be sacrificed, and Upton tested his patience once too often.

"What he did raised his credibility," said Angels broadcaster Rex Hudler, who was an Anaheim player when Maddon became a coach in 1994. "Every manager at some point and time has to show how far he is willing to go for discipline. It's like you're babysitting kids, you have to maintain discipline. Joe Torre has had to do it, (Mike) Scioscia has had to do it, Bobby Cox had to do it with Andruw Jones.

"When you're on the outside and you see a manager do something like that, you're thinking, 'Good for him. Way to take control.' It doesn't surprise me at all with Joe. He's always had that side to him. That side that was not afraid of confrontation, that side that was not afraid of speaking his mind."

There was another incident Monday night when Upton was caught from behind cruising into second base on what should have been a double. This time, Maddon seemed content that Upton's own embarrassment and the hopeful reproach from teammates would be punishment enough.

This is the point Maddon has been trying to preach since arriving in Tampa Bay. That all 25 players are in this together. That they are all accountable to one another.

And, in case they hadn't noticed, that their manager is, too.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

The Maddon way is the right way for Rays 08/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 10:55am]
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