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When will baseball realize the game is better with Joe Maddon around?

John Romano | Nine different managerial changes in MLB since Maddon was fired by the Angels, and no one has picked up the phone to call him.
 
His return to Anaheim did not go as anticipated, but Joe Maddon's legacy in baseball is secure after turning around the Rays and winning a World Series on Chicago's north side for the first time in more than a century.
His return to Anaheim did not go as anticipated, but Joe Maddon's legacy in baseball is secure after turning around the Rays and winning a World Series on Chicago's north side for the first time in more than a century. [ JEFF GRITCHEN | ZUMAPRESS.com ]
Published Nov. 1, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — Good hire, Bob Melvin.

The Giants got themselves a proven manager with eight postseason appearances with three different franchises. He’s solid, well-respected and eminently likable.

(Although he hasn’t won pennants in both leagues and ended a historic World Series drought.)

Interesting candidate, Brad Ausmus.

Supposedly one of the frontrunners for the Astros job, Ausmus spent 18 years in the big leagues as a catcher and has had two stints as a manager in Detroit and Anaheim.

(Although he hasn’t won three Manager of the Year awards.)

Intriguing name, Stephen Vogt.

The Guardians reportedly have had two interviews already with the former Rays catcher who spent last season as Seattle’s bullpen coach and is considered a rising star.

(Although he doesn’t have nine 90-win seasons on the back of his baseball card.)

Baseball’s hiring season will hit overdrive once the World Series ends, and front office execs in Houston, Cleveland, New York and San Diego are working the phones, conducting interviews and doing deep dives on the backgrounds of candidates.

Do you know what those general managers are not doing?

Dialing Joe Maddon’s number.

I think (general managers) are afraid of me in a sense because they think I’m non-cooperative, and that’s not true," Joe Maddon says. "I’m very cooperative. And if I find the right situation where we’re philosophically aligned, that’s what would be exciting again."
I think (general managers) are afraid of me in a sense because they think I’m non-cooperative, and that’s not true," Joe Maddon says. "I’m very cooperative. And if I find the right situation where we’re philosophically aligned, that’s what would be exciting again." [ DERIK HAMILTON | AP ]

Just like last offseason when four other GMs decided not to call Maddon. One of the most accomplished managers to ever fill out a lineup card, Maddon has gone from a hot commodity to a forgotten man, and hardly anyone in baseball is talking about it.

His resume certainly isn’t in question. He’s got a higher winning percentage than Tommy Lasorda or Dick Williams, and they’re both in the Hall of Fame. He’s got more career wins than Whitey Herzog and more pennants than Joe Girardi and Buck Showalter combined.

So why is another baseball season likely to start with the former Rays manager watching on TV?

Maddon thinks he knows the answer, and suspects it has nothing to do with his performance in the dugout. Instead, he thinks general managers were turned off by the memoir he wrote with Tom Verducci (The Book of Joe; Trying Not to Suck at Baseball & Life) and his willingness to speak out about creeping interference from front offices into clubhouses, specifically in Anaheim where he was fired in the summer of 2022.

“I don’t know this for a fact, but I do believe what I said in the book, and what happened with the Angels, is kinda scaring them a little bit,” Maddon said. “I just can’t accept being fired without giving my side of the story, I just can’t do that. I don’t think I attacked anybody, I was just explaining what was going on, not only for myself but for the rest of baseball people in the industry. And everybody that works there, loved what I said.

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“But I think (general managers) are afraid of me in a sense because they think I’m non-cooperative, and that’s not true. I’m very cooperative. And if I find the right situation where we’re philosophically aligned, that’s what would be exciting again. That would be fun.”

There is no bitterness in what Maddon has to say. No regret, either. What he talked about in the book, and later in podcasts, were the same things he had been saying for several years before his firing. It was honest, sincere and daring, which are the qualities that once made him so coveted as a manager.

When he was hired by the Rays nearly 20 years ago, Maddon was at the forefront of the analytics revolution. He bought into shifts and pitching changes and platoons. His willingness to accept unconventional methods was one of the reasons Stuart Sternberg, Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman wanted to partner with him.

And he still sees the value in computers and advanced metrics when it comes to running a ballclub. His complaint is that too many front offices are not just devising strategies, but want to disseminate them, as well. And that, Maddon said, needs to be the job of coaches and managers.

The Rays' braintrust in 2008: Stuart Sternberg, Matt Silverman, Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon after the Rays won Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
The Rays' braintrust in 2008: Stuart Sternberg, Matt Silverman, Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon after the Rays won Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. [ Times (2008) ]

“When I first started with all of this in the early 2000s, the baseball people were in control and the analytical dudes were looking in through the window. Now the analytical dudes are in charge and the baseball people are looking in through the windows,” Maddon said. “There was a time when analytics were the outlier. Now analytics are baseball and baseball (methods) are the outliers. It’s totally reversed roles.

“I was writing to a friend the other day and I said the baseball stuff still matters. The bus rides (in the minor leagues) did matter. Pulling tarps did matter. Burning baseball fields when they were too wet mattered. Throwing 100,000 pitches in batting practice mattered. Working in the instructional league in Arizona when it was 100 degrees mattered. It should matter, but it doesn’t anymore. Those kind of undergraduate studies don’t matter.”

He’ll turn 70 in a few months and has plenty to keep him occupied, including renovating an old firehouse in his hometown in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, to store his vintage car collection as well as display his baseball memorabilia.

He once said he could continue managing as long as Mick Jagger continued performing, and the Rolling Stones just released a new album last month. Forty-some years ago, as Maddon said in his book, he was desperate to continue playing after the Angels released him as a low-minors catcher and took a job making virtually no money with an independent league team. At the time, he had something to prove.

Those days are long gone. Maddon’s legacy in the game is secure whether he ever puts on another uniform again.

But here’s the thing:

When he was in his late 20s and itching to leave his mark on the game, Maddon needed baseball. He needed someone to give him a chance as a scout and later as a minor-league manager, minor-league field coordinator, instructor and big league coach. He needed every one of those summer afternoons and nights in the 1980s and 1990s before the Rays finally recognized his potential as a major-league manager.

Financially and reputationally, Maddon no longer needs baseball.

But in a game that is increasingly reliant on computers, numbers and one-size-fits-all trends, baseball could use Maddon. Baseball is far more entertaining, imaginative and joyous when Joe Maddon is around.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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