Are you surprised by the Rays' sluggish start?
No, I'm not. Joe Maddon mentioned the World Series hangover, and I can relate to that. When I was with St. Louis in 1968 and Detroit came back on us to win three in a row (and win the Series 4-3), and then the next year … we had a World Series hangover. It took us the first month and half before we rallied ourselves, but that season the Cubs had the big lead, and then the Miracle Mets won. I'm not saying that's going to happen to Tampa Bay. But I do believe in a World Series hangover, and I think the bullpen right now is a little thin.
What are the issues you see right now?
Well, with B.J. Upton, it's just a matter of time. He's a marvelous talent who will get back on track. I still think he's getting over his shoulder surgery. I don't think he's 100 percent. He might not be 100 percent all year. But 80 percent of Upton is better than 100 percent of most guys. As his shoulder progresses, he's going to be okay. The bullpen is another issue. Now you're dealing with numbers. That is the more paramount concern, I think. You can't do away with the entire bullpen. You can get rid of one guy and bring another guy in, but you can't change out the entire bullpen. That needs to straighten itself in a hurry.
Have we reached a point where the team should be concerned, or is it still early in the season?
This is a very, very good team. There are a lot of positives. You have (Evan) Longoria and (Carlos) Peña. There are some concerns. The bullpen, for example. I think (Dioner) Navarro is a concern. On the other hand, (Jason) Bartlett has been an eye-opener at the plate. Carl Crawford has just been fantastic. So you got half the lineup doing superbly, and the other half is struggling. I think Joe (Maddon) would just like to have everyone level off and do what they do. Even if Longoria and Crawford were to cool off, if the other guys can pick it up and guys can hit like they're capable, they'll be fine. No, it's not too late. It's still early.
Do you think the Rays are struggling with the high expectations? Is it hard to play with high expectations?
On the contrary, you want high expectations. It's a positive thing. That means you've performed well. Everybody talks about pressure, but I think there's a lot more pressure when you're in last place and you're losing 95 games a year and you're trying to find your way back. You can argue that, but I think it's a good thing to have big expectations. They come with success. This team ended up winning 97 games last year. They beat the Red Sox. They got to the World Series. They had a phenomenal year. I picked them to make the playoffs again this year, and I still believe they can get there.
Does Joe Maddon have to change the way he manages? Does he have to manage differently than he did a couple of years ago when this was a last-place team?
Joe's a smart guy. If he changes, he will change for the better. Of course, he is changing. That's the way baseball is. You're in constant flux. But this guy understands how to manage a winning team because he has been around winners all his life. And this guy is something else. I learn something every time I talk to him. Last week he told me about fly ball batting averages, and I was blown away. All my years in baseball, I had never heard that before. That's the type of stuff this guy comes up with. He's so far ahead of most baseball people.
He has taken some heat around here for some of his decisions, especially resting players like he did earlier this week with Carlos Peña and Aki Iwamura. What do you think of that?
Hey, if you're not taking heat, you're not doing anything. It's the nature of the business. I always thought a manager gets too much credit when a team does well and too much blame when it doesn't do well. … Joe Maddon is the least of the worries for this organization. This is one savvy guy who knows what he's doing.
What are your thoughts on Evan Longoria?
I remember early last year, Don Zimmer told me, "This guy is as good as any third baseman in the game.'' I said, "Zim, this kid has been in the league for a month. He's still just a baby.'' But Zim insisted that he played third base as well as anybody. And when Zimmer says something, you sit up and listen. Sure enough, we've seen what this guy can do. He has just leaped over the competition. He just looks so comfortable, so relaxed out there. I was so impressed with his first two at-bats last week against Boston in our game of the week. He hit the homer to dead center on what was not a bad pitch, low and outside. Then the next time up, he turned on the inside fastball and hit it off the wall. Talk about plate coverage. He's very impressive.
Matt Garza is scheduled to pitch the game you call Saturday. What do you think of him?
I love that term "electric stuff.'' I don't know who came up with that term, but it's a fun term. Well, Matt Garza has electric stuff. He's probably one of about, I don't know, 15 guys or so who can throw the ball right down the middle of the plate and not get hit because the ball just explodes. It gets 8 to 12 feet away from the plate and hitters can't get a predictable read on where the ball is going. That's electric stuff.
Last Saturday the Rays were featured on the Fox game of the week at Fenway Park in Boston. This Saturday they will be featured again as they host the Indians. Tim McCarver, Fox's longtime color analyst, called last week's game and will call Saturday's with Dick Stockton. McCarver, 67, spends much of his time at his home in Sarasota when he's not calling games for Fox. He spent a few minutes giving his thoughts on the Rays.