If you've heard my thoughts on the Rays before, you know I am hardly the biggest fan of manager Joe Maddon. But that doesn't mean I won't give him a chance, and you should too.
I can't stand Maddon's constant tinkering of the lineup. I can't stand Maddon's over-optimisitc approach to everything, an approach that makes him seem like he's out of touch with reality. I didn't like Maddon's "good cop" routine he pulled almost every day last season. I didn't like how he dealt with some situations on and off the field. I didn't like his infatuation with stats over common sense.
Yet, he's still the manager of the Rays. You know what? I'm cool with it.
Note I didn't say I think Maddon is great or everything will turn up roses this season. What I am saying is the man is entering his second year of major league service, hopefully a year wiser than what we saw last year.
So you're probably wondering why I'm all of a sudden giving a pat on the back to the man I've given nothing but hell to for the majority of last season. To me, it's simple-- the man needs another season or two to prove himself. He needs to prove he can be a major league manager, and not a minor league player dressed as one. If you doubt him completely now, he won't get that chance.
Look at these following full first season managing records:
With records like that, no one should feel safe about his job. FIRE THAT MAN! Okay, from top to bottom you just fired Tony Larussa, Joe Torre, and Bobby Cox. Now I'm not saying Maddon will ever become as successful as those three managers, but Larussa's debut with the White Sox, Torre's debut with the Mets, and Cox's debut with the Braves were just as disastrous as Maddon's debut with the Rays. I'm sure if you ask Tony Larussa if he would do the exact same things now like he did back in 1977, he'd probably laugh (if he laughs at all). The same goes for Torre and Cox. Within five to ten years each found his success (often with another team) once he figured out what worked and what didn't.
Maddon is still learning, as all first-year coaches do. Let's not forget Tony Dungy was 6-10 in his first season with the Bucs, and John Tortorella's Lightning lost 40 games in his first full season. Those two turned things around, as they learned how to be a head coach, coupled with management dedicated to building a winner from the ground up. The Rays management says they will build a winner, and for the time being we have to believe they will. We also have to believe Maddon will grow into the role of a much-improved manager since there are signs he wasn't last season.
Stu Sternberg says the problems from last season were caused by veterans who are no longer with the team. Maddon says they were caused by youngsters who didn't know what it meant to be in the bigs. Hmmm... a difference of opinion to say the least. Regardless, whether it was older players or younger players, it's up to Maddon and the coaching staff to set the example of what's expected. That means sometimes being the bad cop, holding stricter practices and warm-ups, and not giving David Ortiz bottles of expensive cologne.
Much like the players on the field, and this very young and lightly-experienced management group putting the players there, Maddon deserves a chance to figure it all out and make the right decisions. And think about this, did you get EVERYTHING right the first time you tried a new job? Chances are you didn't, and hopefully you learned fom your mistakes to become the best in your field.
If and when the team becomes successful, Maddon may not be the man in the dugout calling the shots (see "Dungy begat Gruden" and "Ludzik begat Tortorella"). As long as he is not rocking the boat like Lou Piniella did kicking and screaming through the final two years of his contract, he will be the manager of this club. And as long as he is the manager of the club, he needs a chance to prove he is the right man for the job.