[This column was revised on July 8, 2008]
ST. PETERSBURG — Josh Hamilton is having a phenomenal season, and was a deserving choice as a starting outfielder in the All-Star Game.
Francisco Rodriguez is on a record pace for saves and, appropriately, is an All-Star closer.
Cliff Lee was nearly unhittable for the first six weeks of the season, and so he earned his spot as one of the American League's starting pitchers.
For the most part, all of the best performers at their positions have a place in the All-Star Game.
Except for this one:
Rays manager Joe Maddon should be there.
Sure, a Rays fan could argue the cases of J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler, but all the relievers on the All-Star roster have better numbers. And you could quibble with Joe Crede making it ahead of Evan Longoria at third base, but Crede was elected by players, and Longoria still has a chance in the final fan balloting.
In a lot of ways, Boston manager Terry Francona's hands were tied when it came to filling out the final six spots on the roster. He had to name four players to ensure every team had a representative, and he had to name an extra pitcher to make sure he had the required 12. That means catcher Dioner Navarro was his final selection, which was appropriate.
But when it comes to the coaching staff, MLB rules are horribly flawed. Francona extended invitations to New York's Joe Girardi and Detroit's Jim Leyland before the season began. Working under that kind of time frame, that means every spot in the dugout is performance-related except for the coaching staff.
And there's something wrong with that.
Seriously, which manager has had a better first half? Which manager has pushed more of the right buttons? No matter how it's measured, I defy anyone to find a more deserving candidate than Maddon.
Do you want to judge it in terms of success? Because the Rays have the best record in the majors.
Do you want to consider it in terms of improvement? Because the Rays are on pace for the greatest turnaround in major-league history.
Do you want to get inside the numbers and base it on who got the most out of their roster? Because the Rays came into Sunday's game without a single player in the top 10 in the AL in batting average, home runs or RBIs. And none of their pitchers was in the top 10 in ERA or strikeouts.
Here's another way of looking at it: You have to go back to the 1980s to find a team that had the best record in baseball at the break but was limited to two representatives at the All-Star Game.
Which means the Rays are a rare breed in this game. A highly successful team that does not need to be carried by a handful of superstars or players having career years. And I have to believe the manager has a lot to do with that.
"He understands our strengths, and he knows our weaknesses, and he puts us all in a position to succeed," outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "It's not like we have 25 robots going out there.
"Our stats stick with us, but the won-loss record sticks with him.''
From that standpoint, you could make an argument that Maddon has done his job better than anyone else in the Rays clubhouse. Statistically speaking, the thing that jumps out at you most about the Rays is their record. It's might overstating the situation to say Maddon has been the most valuable asset on the team, but it's hard to argue that he hasn't made a major impact.
Absolutely, Joe deserves it," closer Troy Percival said. "The job he has done started two years ago. He showed patience with all the kids they have here. As anyone in here would attest, they were all waiting for him to blow up, but he never did. He put in time trying to teach people how to play the game, and it's all benefitting the team now."
A few years ago, I suggested Maddon might be too soft to be a big-league skipper. That he was too concerned about building trust and a rapport with his players. I wrote that it would be nice if he would occasionally acknowledge publicly when a player wasn't performing to expectations.
Turns out, I was wrong.
Sure, it's a thankless job when it comes to managing an All-Star Game. Odds are, you're going to tick off somebody when filling out the roster, but it comes with the territory when you win a pennant.
"Maybe that's the answer," Percival said. "Maybe we'll get Joe there next year as the manager."
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.