Maddon leading the cultural revolution
Dave Cassarella wants to avoid being part of that growing menace to American safety, worse on a daily basis than the threat of al-Qaida or even the increasingly Dust Bowl characteristics being adopted by the nation's financial system. So, instead of endangering friends and strangers equally by driving with one hand on his cell phone and the other on the steering wheel, he pulls over to the side of the road to talk to me.I ask him about one of his oldest friends, Joe Maddon, the manager who is doing a sudden star turn in front of a baseball nation that viewed his baseball club, the Tampa Bay Rays, as losers, if it held any view at all. Meanwhile, the MLB establishment, despite his three decades of service to the game, views Maddon with a certain amount of skepticism for his willingness to challenge the accepted baseball conventions. I found Cassarella by calling Casamato's, the Hazleton, Pa., restaurant he owns with his wife, Terri. The voice on the other end was helpful and unimpressed. "Hold on a second, hon. I got a number for him," she began. "Call this number. He won't mind." A day earlier, before the Rays and the Red Sox commenced the American League Championship Series and St. Petersburg had been engulfed with the kind of October attention annually reserved for the Bronx, players were talking about Hazleton ("You ever been to Hazleton? I went to a wedding there once. It's right out of 'The Deer Hunter,'" someone says near the batting cage). Maddon is watching his young team on the biggest stage during the franchise's biggest moment, but the name Dave Cassarella brings Maddon back, mutes the flashbulbs, reduces the glitter. "Great restaurant. Great people. I used to drive with Dave in his 1970 Chevrolet, drinking Schlitz. That's how far back we go." Cassarella pulls his car over, realizing he's idling in something of a symbolic spot, Carson and Tenth Streets. "Where I am right now? I'm a block from his mother's house and Hazleton High, where we went together. That story is true. I used to call it my 'Super Split.' Schlitz. He got that right, too. We used to drive around in my old car, looking for babes. But that's Joe for you. He's never too far from here."
A cultural revolutionThere is a segment of the baseball establishment willing to listen to Joe Maddon, hungry for a new paradigm, and another segment that seems untrustworthy of the motivational speeches, the references to Sisyphus and the unorthodox methods that appear part Oprah and Dr. Phil, part Vince Lombardi and -- given the number of scrapes his team gets in and his baseball lineage -- part Leo Durocher. And they are everywhere, says Rick Vaughn, the Rays communications director who has been with the club since the day they were born, in 1996. Vaughn has been here for every manager, from Larry Rothschild to Hal McRae to Lou Piniella. "Especially in Baltimore," he says. "They'll come down with bags of sandwiches. Some guys will yell out, 'Hey Joe, it's me, Sharky!' And Joe will walk over and they all know him and he remembers them. It happened everywhere, guys with names like Sharky, bringing Joe sandwiches, and yet, he relates to the modern player. Joe relates to the modern player better than anyone that's ever been here, and that includes Lou." The Maddon backlash is part of the current of anti-intellectualism and conformity and fear that has existed in baseball since the days of college men like Christy Mathewson and Lou Gehrig. Maddon often challenges convention on the field, but the backlash was stronger off, such as when he left the team to fly to California to attend his fiancée's graduation from law school. To Maddon's supporters, it was another example of his perspective, a balanced world view too often missing in the incurious world of baseball; to the hard-liners uncomfortable that today's players routinely leave the club to attend childbirths, it was another sign of the apocalypse. (By contrast, on the day Charlie Manuel's mother died, he went to work, managing the Phillies in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.) The real story was perhaps even more indicative of Maddon's independence, even if it seems to border on incautious. Maddon had asked for the time off more than six months in advance. He was interviewing for the job and told owner Stu Sternberg, "If I get the job, I'm going to need a couple of days off." "Did I worry that I killed myself in the interview by saying that? No," he said. "Actually, I think they were kind of amused by it because maybe it sounded a little cocky. But I felt like, 'this is the guy you're getting.' And, if something like that was enough to keep me from getting the job, it probably wasn't a job I was meant to have, anyway."
Look, I'm 54, but you have to remain contemporary in your thinking. I don't agree that you have to accept and say, 'This is who I am and I can't go any further, and I can't relate to the next group of guys coming up.' I think that's wrong.
People say, 'Aw, he's trying to reinvent the game,' and I say, 'Yes, he is.' It is a total cultural revolution because they've never had a culture of winning. That's what he's trying to do, and it's absolutely appropriate.
--TV broadcaster Buck Martinez on Joe Maddon
Step 2: Put up numbers to make more money.
Step 3: Want to win. "What he wanted," Floyd said, "was to get guys to go from Step 1 straight to Step 3. And it's starting to happen." "The culture here had to be changed," Maddon said. "If you go to a different country, you have to learn to eat different food. You have to learn a different language, different dress, different customs. We had to change all of that. Why did I think it was going to work? I don't know. I just had a lot of confidence that everything I had thought about could work. That's what we had to do here. I mean, you have to remember, I've had a lot of this brewing in the kettle for 30 years." Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. He is the author of "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball" and of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.
MORE MLB HEADLINES
- Braves suspend struggling Uggla for 1 game
- Wright to get shot to aid shoulder at break
- Reds' Simon among 4 pitchers added to ASG
- Grand record: batterymates slam for S.F.