Maddon's methods feeding Rays' success
'Mad scientist' manager has been crucial since coming aboard with Tampa Bay in 2006
Most people are familiar with the "Rays Way," the method of managing a franchise that has earned Tampa Bay renown across baseball for home-growing players.
But there is -- or should be -- also a thing called the "Maddon Way." Joe Maddon has a lot to do with the Rays' long-term success, like him or not.
And it's pretty hard to dislike Maddon. He is a player's manager, a reporter's manager and a fan's manager all in one.
Not to mention a nine-year Tampa Bay veteran skipper who guided his club from worst (61-101 in 2006 and 66-97 in '07) to first (97-65 in 2008) in the American League East in just a two-year span.
This much is safe to say: Maddon has been a big part of the organization having made something out of what was almost nothing.
And it's easy to pinpoint where the view from outside of Maddon's signature black glasses frames started looking as rosy as the one from his point of view.
Just look at that 2008 season. It was the year the Rays dropped the "Devil" in their name and the shadow of 10 years of franchise existence with not one winning season under their belt.
The seeds were sown in 2006, when Maddon was brought to the Rays as part of a personnel overhaul that also included new owner Stuart Sternberg and general manager/executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
Maddon's always been committed to the concept of the fountain of youth when it comes to forming a team. Turns out there's something in those Tampa Bay waters that lures in the best of the best.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the kind of discipline that we create in regard to how we play the game," Maddon said. "It's how we interact with our players and communicate with them. I think we build up a high level of trust from the players to us and back. With all that, you can really be constructively critical and have the players accept it. I think we put all those methods in gear. I think that's a big part of why our players have done well."
Another piece of the puzzle could be the city of St. Petersburg, geographically and economically. So would Maddon's methods still hold true in the Bronx or in Chavez Ravine?
"I want to believe that we wouldn't do anything differently," he said. "I assume this is the right way to do things. So regardless of where you are and what the circumstances are, probably the difference would be you'd have more money at your disposal. I don't know how that would translate into wins, because right now, since 2008, we have the second-most wins in the big leagues behind the Yankees.
"It's more about methodology and how you treat people and how you go about your business. Of course, you have to have good players. Of course you do. We do a wonderful job of balancing it out and creating our rosters."
Maddon is right: the Rays' 563 wins since 2008 are second only to the Yankees' 579, just a 16-win margin.
Maddon is also a big believer in the old adage "defense wins ballgames," and it shows in his team's numbers since that pivotal 2008 season. According to FanGraphs, the Rays' UZR since 2008 is an astronomical 276.2, thanks in part to being at the forefront in the growing trend of defensive shifts. The Reds, in second place, don't even come close, at 153.8.
Tampa Bay's front office has let Maddon, 60, conduct mad scientist experiments to his heart's content. Think about it -- that white hair, those black glasses, the careful tinkering with clubhouse chemistry, the innovation and outside-the-box thinking.
Just trade a white lab coat for a navy blue Rays hoodie and you're good to go.
"It's kind of neat to come in and try all your theories out and have them supported by your ownership and front office and then have your players buy in," Maddon said. "It's really a synergistic process with us. We really combine well with our front office. We utilize modern technology with good old-fashioned baseball acumen. It's really a fun place to work. I think you'd dig it."
Or maybe Maddon is better off as a professor.
"The overarching principle is: The more freedom I give you, the greater respect and discipline I'm going to get in return," Maddon said. "That's when you work with accountable people. Here, we have an accountable group of Major League players. They have all the freedom and latitude to be themselves they could possibly ever want in a Major League Baseball setting.
"Because of that, we get great respect and discipline in return, meaning that this old-school component of the game that we want to play very structured, a sound fundamental game, players buy into that. They want to because of how we interact with them. I really believe, in a very simple way, that's what you see happening.
"Because of that, also, the trust factor: When we want to introduce all this new stuff -- data-wise, sabermetric-wise -- they trust us with that, too. It takes a while to build all that, developing relationships. But once you do, it kind of runs itself."
Regardless, the Maddon Way is one of a kind.
"You have to believe what you're saying, and then you have to be consistent with what you're saying, and then you have to see yourself through bad times regarding what you're saying," Maddon said. "And while you're doing that, remaining flexible. You have to remain flexible all the time.
"I talk about the Rays' F.A.C.T.O.R.: Flexibility, accountability, consistency, trust, organization and respect. If you combine all those factors together, I really believe you can do it anywhere, any form of business. Understand especially that in this business, it is a game. It's not life and death. You approach it on a daily basis and approach it as a game and understand what you're doing out here. You've wanted to do it since you were 6 years of age, so treat it that way, too."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.