Three Rays meetings that made a world of difference

The 9=8 slogan coined by Rays manager Joe Maddon was realized Sept. 20 when the Rays beat Minnesota to clinch the team’s first trip to the playoffs. Rays pitchers Edwin Jackson, left, and  Scott Kazmir, wearing new 9=8 shirts, celebrate the occasion.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

The 9=8 slogan coined by Rays manager Joe Maddon was realized Sept. 20 when the Rays beat Minnesota to clinch the team’s first trip to the playoffs. Rays pitchers Edwin Jackson, left, and Scott Kazmir, wearing new 9=8 shirts, celebrate the occasion.

The manager abhors team meetings. For the most part, considers them a waste of time.

Sure, back when he was a fledgling minor-league manager in the 1980s, Joe Maddon had team meetings all the time. Until he figured out he was not just the only one talking, but also the only one listening.

Big-league ballplayers are not big on lectures. And the motivational stuff is mostly cornball. Have too many meetings and a manager runs the risk of diluting his message when he really does have a point to get across.

"He stood up the first day of spring training and said: 'I'm not going to have a lot of meetings. I don't care for them, I'm not going to do it,' " designated hitter Cliff Floyd said. "And I thought, 'Pfffft, I've heard that before.' "

The Rays skipper was not kidding. There were a few organizational-type meetings. Some housekeeping stuff, like travel arrangements before the postseason. But manager-to-team meetings were incredibly rare.

And, as it turns out, incredibly important.

Naimoli complex, Feb. 20

Normally, this one wouldn't even count. It was the first day of full-squad workouts in spring training, and every manager of every team is going to have some kind of meeting to set up the season.

It varies from place to place, but usually the general manager will offer his two cents, and the traveling secretary gives his spiel. Finally, the manager presents the standard let's-get-'em-boys while players chew on blades of grass.

But this one was different. This time, Maddon had specific ideas to get across.

He had recently read the book Wisdom of the Ages by Wayne W. Dyer. The book included a passage on Michelangelo that explained how the artist believed if you did not aim high, then you were destined for mediocrity. Everyone was suggesting this might be Tampa Bay's first .500 season, but Maddon figured why not aim higher?

Another book, Coaching the Mental Game by former Rays consultant Harvey Dorfman, suggested that goals had to be specific to be effective.

"Michelangelo's thought was to reach higher than .500, and Harvey's thought was to be more specific. So, okay, how do we do this," Maddon said. "I'm riding my bike one day in the winter, and I think 9=8. Nine players playing hard for nine innings equals one of eight playoff spots. That made it sound viable."

Maddon figured it would take at least 93 victories to earn a playoff spot. The Rays had 66 in 2007. So he suggested the Rays needed nine more victories from the pitchers, nine from the hitters and nine from the defense.

"Us, being a bunch of rock chompers, were trying to figure out what 9=8 meant," outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "I mean, we've had all kinds of game plans since I've been here in '01. We tried power arms, we tried crafty lefties, we tried the Triple-A two-week tryouts, we had 90 guys run through here a season. And now here was another plan.

"But he was serious about it, and stuck with it. And once it started working, we all became believers in a hurry."

By late April, Maddon had purchased 9=8 T-shirts and had them circulated around the clubhouse.

"When he said 9=8, you could see the math guys going, 'That doesn't make any sense to me,' " reliever Trever Miller said. "We were like, 'How are you going to sell this later?' And he said: 'Let me handle that. Let it soak in, play hard and I'll introduce it to the public when I think the time is right.' He was waiting for us to embrace it, and we did.

"He'll admit it was kind of corny, but a lot of those things are. They go from corny to awesome real quick with wins. Now the entire area has embraced it. I'll bet right now there's someone in Kansas City walking around wearing a 9=8 T-shirt."

Rightfield, Tropicana Field, July 18

The Rays had lost seven in a row. The day before the All-Star break, they had fallen out of first place.

When his team gathered at Tropicana Field for the first game of the second half, Maddon's intent was not to scold. The message was more about what was ahead rather than the troubles they had just endured.

So he took them out on the field — he considers the clubhouse home and did not want to discuss business in there — and congratulated them on a spectacular first half. Then he told the story of the 1983 Baltimore Orioles, a team that had two seven-game losing streaks and went on to win the World Series.

"Coming out of the All-Star break we needed something," Floyd said. "I was on the break, having a good time with my kids, sitting in the pool, having my drink and I'm still thinking, 'How are we going to handle this?'

"Joe had the perfect message. He was like, 'Did you really think we were going to roll through this without hitting some bumps?' "

And then Maddon delivered his parting shot.

"Treat this moment with respect because this doesn't happen every year," Maddon said. "For you young guys, it's happening for the very first time, so treat it with respect because it doesn't often come along. For you veterans that maybe have been through this before, treat it with respect because it might be your last chance."

Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, July 26

It was a Saturday night, and the Rays had beaten the Royals 5-3.

Players already were hitting the beer supply and planning their postgame activities when Maddon directed everybody into the clubhouse. For Maddon, the timing was perfect. They were on the road, so he wouldn't sully his own clubhouse. And it was after a victory, so the message would have more impact.

And that's when Maddon ripped into them.

For the first time in three seasons, he blasted his players for not hustling. For going through the motions and expecting it to be enough. The guy with more smiles and less rules than any manager in the game came darn near unhinged while screaming about a lack of effort.

"We had this attitude like, 'What's this meeting all about? We just won.' Then he came in and we were like, 'Whoa,' " reliever J.P. Howell said. "He said he had seen teams miss the playoffs by one game, and here we were up by a game and not playing hard. It was one of those moments that made you stop and think. From then on, every game was important to us. We weren't going to give anything away.

"I think that's when we realized we could really do this."

Three Rays meetings that made a world of difference 10/08/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 4:45pm]

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