Joe Maddon revels in success
Rays manager, who learned his craft under Mike Scioscia, remains true to his roots
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon had seen the "Rally Monkey" hop up and down on the big screen in right field of Angel Stadium since it was born over a decade ago. As Mike Scioscia's bench coach for six years in Anaheim, he had seen that monkey rally the team to comeback win after comeback win and a World Series title in 2002.
"I remember when it first came on and we didn't like it," Maddon said Monday after the Rays' 4-3 win over the Angels. "We didn't get it and we didn't like it. But it's like anything else, when something corny becomes cool all of a sudden it takes off. So we went from corny to cool."
Now that Maddon sits in the visiting dugout, wearing his corny to cool thick-rimmed glasses, he can breathe a sigh of relief that the monkey's magic, much like the Angels' offense this season, isn't what it used to be.
Tampa Bay scored four runs in the first two innings against pitcher Scott Kazmir (8-11, 6.33 ERA) and despite a late rally by the home team, that's all the offense the Rays needed. While the Rays tied the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East and the best record in the majors (77-48), the loss dropped the Angels to third place in the American League West (62-64) and nine games behind the Texas Rangers.
Although the playoff prospects for the Angels are wilting away, Scioscia's influence on the postseason race still factors heavily in both leagues ... even if his team may not qualify for the postseason for only the third time in the last nine seasons.
Two of the three managers who hold the best records in the National League (Bud Black) and American League (Maddon) can trace their roots to Scioscia and the Angels. Before being hired by Tampa Bay in 2005, Maddon spent the previous 12 seasons with the Angels, with much of that time spent as Scioscia's right-hand man. Before taking over the San Diego Padres in 2007, Black was Scioscia's pitching coach with the Angels from 2000 to '06.
While not be as expansive as Bill Walsh's famed coaching tree, Scioscia's two protégés are likely to be named manager of the year in their respective leagues and a possible World Series matchup between the former staff members, as improbable as it may have seemed in the spring, isn't so far-fetched anymore.
Maddon, who was 33-26 in three stints as Angels interim manager in 1996, 1998 and 1999, still considers Southern California his home. He smiled before the game when he was asked what he missed most about the area.
"Outside of seeing my wife?" he said, raising his eyebrows slightly above his sunglasses. "Let's start with that first."
When Maddon says his heart still lives in the Southland, he's not only talking about his home in Long Beach -- which rests three short blocks away from the beach -- but his wife, Jaye. They were married at St. Juliana Church in Fullerton, Calif., less than two weeks after Maddon's Rays came up short in the 2008 World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies. They held their wedding reception on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. While they own a home in South Tampa, they spend most of the offseason in Long Beach, where Jaye is raising her two sons.
"We're bicoastal," Maddon said. "We have a home here in Long Beach and in Tampa. Jaye comes on the road once in a while. She was just in Detroit. So we try to mix it up. She's got two sons so she can't just take off."
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Maddon, a wine aficionado who has an affinity for California reds, spent Sunday night enjoying Italian food and wine at L'Opera, an Italian restaurant in downtown Long Beach, with his wife not far from their home shortly after arriving with the team.
"You land and you get off the plane and the weather's perfect and there's no humidity," Maddon said. "It's a little warm but that's OK. Since we moved to the Long Beach area, we're surrounded by great restaurants, great little shops, the beach is three blocks away. There's a bike trail. The Southern California vibe smacks you in the face when you get off the plane and I miss that."
Angels fans are probably missing both Maddon and Black this season (or at least are envious of the success their teams are having). The managers have built the Rays and Padres from the ground up and instilled in them many of the philosophies that grew from countless hours of conversations between Scioscia, Maddon and Black.
"What I've often talked about with [Scioscia] is the fearless way he manages a game," Maddon said. "He's not worried about who's going to say what after the game; he's going to do what he thinks is right. I've always felt with the Angels we always played the game the same regardless of the day. If you watch us in spring training we played it right and hard. If you watched us on April 15, we played the same if you watched us in the playoffs.
"I always felt if you take that kind of approach and if your guys have that kind of attitude, when it gets to playoff time, there's nothing different to do. When it gets to the playoffs, I like us to do less. I want even less preparation. I want us to think even less. I want them to be fresh mentally and physically and I want them to just go out there and play."
It's a philosophy that seems as wacky on the surface as the blue plaid blazers the Rays are wearing on their West Coast trip, which Maddon has dubbed, "BRayzers," a combination of blazers and Rays. But much like his managerial style, there is a method to his madness.
"Joe is a renaissance man in a lot of different areas," Scioscia said. "He's an avid reader. I don't want to say he's counter culture because he's very strong on the fundamentals of baseball, but he also understands approaches he thinks are going to be important to moving a group of guys forward that might be considered unconventional. He's not afraid to apply them. Something like fashion themes when traveling, it can take some of the monotony out of the schedule. He has some fun with it."
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Kazmir, who was traded to the Angels last year from Tampa Bay, said while Scioscia and Maddon may have shared the same bench for six years, they are far from the same type of manager. Maddon is the Oscar Madison to Scioscia's Felix Unger in this "Odd Couple."
"They're polar opposites," Kazmir said. "They both know the game, but they go about things differently. They both know how to manufacture runs, they know how to get runs on the board but they go about it differently."
As Scioscia tries to put the brakes on his team's late season freefall, he admits he is keeping tabs on his former coaches but is quick to correct anyone who wants to give him any credit for their success.
"I feel good for those guys but there's no way you can say I'm responsible for anything they're doing," Scioscia said. "These guys are self-made. We all grew together as a staff and as friends. We talked baseball for hours and I think we're all from similar backgrounds on philosophy as far as what we want to instill in a team, but they've had as much of an impact on my development as anything they learned here in their development. I don't look at it as anything but two guys who were well deserving of the opportunity and are making the most of it."
Quote of the day
"Who? Rivera is playing first base? Get out of here. It's got to be a typo. He's really playing first base?" -- Scioscia when asked before the game about his decision to play outfielder Juan Rivera at first base.
Ervin Santana (13-8, 3.19 ERA) will face Tampa Bay's Wade Davis (9-9, 4.45) Tuesday in the second game of a three-game series against the Rays. The Angels, who are 2-6 in their last eight games, have lost three of four against Tampa Bay this season. If they are to break out of their funk they will need to stop stranding runners. The Angels went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position Monday and are hitting .204 (32-for-157) with runners in scoring position in August.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.