ANAHEIM, Calif. — Joe Maddon has some thoughts.
He always does, right? That’s part of what has made him one of the game’s most interesting and successful managers, steering the Rays for nine years through their seismic transformation from 2006-14, leading the Cubs to the curse-busting 2016 World Series championship during a five-year run, then coming home in 2020 to manage an Angels team he was part of for the first 30-plus years of his pro career.
Sitting in the Angels dugout Monday afternoon, Maddon discussed myriad topics with the Tampa Bay Times, including how the Rays have sustained success, his current gig and the ongoing search for a new stadium in Tampa Bay. Here are excerpts, edited for brevity and clarity:
You left after the 2014 season and last year you and your wife, Jaye, sold your iconic south Tampa home. With your Ava restaurant and Respect 90 charitable foundation still there, what are your reflections on the Tampa Bay area?
It’s one of our favorite places. It’s just a tremendous warm fuzzy that’ll never go away. Helped catapult my career, obviously. I didn’t know anything about Tampa before I got there, and fell in love with it.
Did you think the Rays would again find sustained success after four losing seasons, making the playoffs in 2019-2021?
They kind of got away from their tried and true, and then they got back to it. Our tried and was pitching and defense, and we figured out the offense. Once they recaptured their pitching and their defense, it’s sustainable annually.
I think what got us really going was we were ahead of the curve with defense, where to position your defense. And that’s always sustainable. But not every team’s got that ability.
And not everybody grows pitchers like the Rays grow pitchers. They’re able to utilize their bullpen the way they do because they have this endless supply of guys that they can count on.
What’s it like to fill out your lineup card daily with arguably the two best players in the game right now, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani?
It’s very easy, and I’ll tell you why. These are like two normal human beings. They are selfless. Their ego never gets in the way of the team. Our conversations are absolutely easy and I enjoy them. Sho’s from Japan, a very respectful, prideful nation. Michael comes from New Jersey, the land where if you get a little too big for your britches you’re going to get your ass kicked. So it’s just who these guys are. And I love them for it.
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You’re 68 and seem to be having fun, though somewhat in limbo as it’s the last year of your contract, with the Angels holding a 2023 option. So how much longer do you want to do this?
For a while. I love this group. This group can be good for a long period of time. I love working with (general manager Perry Minasian, who took over in November 2020); he’s done a great job. This really is home. The Rays are my second home.
What we’ve got going on right now, finally getting to the point where we have plenty of grownups in the room, and the young players understand that there is no entitlement program, there’s no scholarship, it’s kind of fun. And I think it’s going to keep getting better. It sounds like 2015 with the Cubs, it sounds like ’08 with the Rays. There’s a lot of that feeling.
What do you think of how the game is currently being played?
What I’ve always wanted to see was balance. The (current manufactured) baseball is bringing balance back into the game as the ball is not haphazardly going over the wall. We still strike out a bit, but if that’s the tradeoff I’d rather guys strike out more than cheap home runs being hit. Athletically, we’re stealing more bases, we’re bunting more, putting guys in motion more. We’re playing games in like 2 1/2 hours.
So there’s a pace to the game. The ball is being put in play. The rapidity of the pitchers, the way guys are getting in and out of the batter’s box and on and off the field, it feels good. There is a rhythm that’s not been present for a while. I think the baseball is really at the crux of it. I think I’m seeing we’re on the on the cusp of a little retro baseball, which I kind of like.
Are you surprised it’s 2022 and the Rays still don’t have a plan in place for a new stadium, with the Tropicana Field lease expiring after 2027?
It’s a shame. I can’t believe it. I remember though (principal owner Stuart Sternberg) telling me back then he wasn’t sure anything was going to happen before 2027.
I’d love for it to thrive there. I’ll say it again — the best thing about the Trop is air conditioning and a roof. The fans deserve more, the players deserve more. It’s just the truth, whether they want to hear that or not.
I’ve always thought I’d love to see the politicians get on the same page from both sides of the bay and truly work for what’s better for everybody. And, yeah, a Major League Baseball team in your community is better for everybody if it’s done properly.
I’d love to see them get their ballpark in the right part of town that benefits everybody and keep them there for the next 100 years. Tampa is the right part of town, and it’s disingenuous if you want to argue otherwise. It’s somebody flashing their own agenda. Put your agenda in your back pocket and do what’s good for the Tampa Bay area. Period.
The area is beautiful, show it off. Show it off! You’re going to put them in a mausoleum that looks like “Cheeseburger in paradise?” Or are you going to show it off and really want to get people to come there?
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