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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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A man with a multitrack mind
By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 2, 2006
They'd start by saying they were going to go off to discuss hitting, but they usually didn't get there.
Joe Maddon, then the Angels' deep-thinking bench coach, would sit down with Troy Glaus, the hard-hitting third baseman, and what started as a casual chat about weight shift or wrist rotation often evolved into an hours-long full-fledged philosophical debate.
"It was everything," Glaus recalled. "It was books. It was movies. It was music. It was "Why is the frigging sky blue?'
"He'll talk about anything. He's very well-read. He's very intelligent about things other than baseball. I think a lot of guys get stuck in a rut and get very focused on one goal. But he's very well-rounded. And he goes about his business with that kind of attitude: There's always something to learn every day."
As the Devil Rays learn more about the erudite man hired to lead them to better days, they will find he is like no other manager they've had.
Unless, of course, they've previously played for a 52-year-old who sometimes acts 22, carries a backpack, rides a bike around town, blasts Bruce Springsteen from the speakers hooked up to the iPod in his office, talks in his own hip jargon, posts inspirational quotes around the clubhouse, wears No. 70 because he figures no one else will want it, brags about the meatballs he makes, cites self-help experts such as Wayne Dyer and exudes a unique mix of hard-scrabble Pennsylvania and California cool.
"He's got a lot of dimensions to him," former Angels reliever Mike Holtz said. "He's an interesting gentleman."
A Renaissance man
Maddon came to the Rays with an impressive resume after 31 years as a major-league coach (and interim manager), minor-league manager, roving instructor, field coordinator, farm director, scout and minor-league player in the Angels organization. For years he has been considered among the most likely future managers.
"He's probably the most prepared guy that I've seen in baseball," former Angels first baseman J.T. Snow said. "He loves what he does and he's not going to get outworked or outprepared."
But it's what else Maddon brings that factored heavily into the new Rays management's decision to bring him in. And what, according to former players and colleagues, will make him stand out.
His eclectic personality, educational pursuits, quirky philosophies, youthful exuberance and incessantly positive outlook are all impressive. But what may set him most apart is his sincere personal interest in people, specifically the players he is charge of. His door, his mind and his heart are always open.
"He's always genuinely concerned with his players. There's no front to it," Holtz said. "He really does care, and on a personal level too, not just from a baseball standpoint."
"He knows people," said Pirates manager Jim Tracy, who befriended Maddon during a stint with the Dodgers. "He knows how to communicate with them. He creates an environment that is very easy to play in."
Former Angels catcher Bengie Molina said sometimes he didn't realize how much Maddon was helping him until they were done talking.
"He works with your mind," Molina said. "It's a tough game and a long season, and he knows perfectly how to work with your mind. He helped me out a lot in my down times and even my good times. He knows what a player needs sometimes."
Maddon is so open and good-natured that some players consider him as much a friend - someone with whom they exchange book tips, music CDs and Christmas cards - as a coach.
"I haven't talked to him in a couple years, but I know if I called him today we could pick up a conversation that we probably never finished back three years ago," Holtz said. "And he would remember everything I said."
Some managers relate better to older players. Some to younger ones. Some to the black players, or the white players, or the Hispanic players. Some to the stars, some to the bench rats. Some not at all.
And then there's Maddon.
"Joe is incredible at connecting with people across a wide spectrum of cultures," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, his former boss. "He also has enough of the old school understanding of strategy and fundamentals to combine with the new-age vision of the game, and that will keep everything fresh."
Maddon's cerebral approach is part of the reason.
He is big on concepts and theories. He rarely says things that don't have a purpose. He has his own way of operating and isn't shy about sharing.
"He challenges your mind," said Rays pitching coach Mike Butcher, who worked with Maddon in the Angels system. "In this game, you can hear the same things all the time. He has a different way of saying things. He's an attention-getter. He piques your awareness."
"As cool as they come," Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford said.
"He's Galileo," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "I call him Joey Galileo."
Never done learning
The man who wants to know everything doesn't know why he wants to know everything.
If Maddon were to hypothesize why he became so analytical, he'd say it started when he was 10 years old quarterbacking the Hazleton (Pa.) State Trooper Eagles midget football team.
"This team was rather intense," Maddon said. "We had a playbook and all this other stuff. So by the time I was 10 I was learning plays and assignments, not only for myself but everyone else on the team. And I was calling audibles. So maybe that motivated me to look into things a little more deeply." He was a decent student for the nuns at Our Lady of Grace Catholic school, but it was a mid-1970s gift from his uncle - a copy of the James Michener book, Centennial - that made a huge impact.
"I was not a heavy reader in high school or college, but one day Uncle Chuck gave me this book and it just absolutely hooked me," Maddon said. "I became a huge Michener fan at that point. Reading Michener you understand all the research this man has done, and I think somehow that influenced me also."
Maddon is always looking to learn. As he worked his way through the minors, he was constantly revising his methods and concepts to teach fundamentals, such as painting the inside corner of the bases orange to reinforce the importance of hitting the right spot while making a turn.
"I'm into concepts big-time," Maddon said. "I really believe in minimizing the verbal in regards to physical mechanics. I'd much rather present a visual concept ... ."
Blue skies ahead
Maddon has been so blindingly positive this spring that it's tempting to wonder if those funky Hugo Boss retro glasses have a rose tint.
But the upbeat attitude and atmosphere is another integral element of his personality and his program.
"He is probably the perfect guy for this situation," Ricciardi said. "It's a very, very young club ... and I think he'll really be a good fit. He'll be positive, and it's all about creating an atmosphere, which he's really trying hard to do. You can see it."
The positive tone is reflected in two of Maddon's favorite sayings that are soon to become standard parts of the Rays' lexicon.
One - "Attitude is a Decision," from sports psychologist Ken Ravizza - is already on the Tropicana Field clubhouse wall (in English, Spanish and Japanese), implying that no matter how bad a player's day is, he can choose what type of attitude he takes on the field.
The other - "Whatever you put out there will come back to you" - delves into attitude in a deeper way. Essentially, if you are negative, people will be negative to you; if you are positive, people will be positive to you.
Maddon got that one on a flight to Midland, Texas, in the early '90s. He was upset about being passed over for a job on the big-league coaching staff and didn't want to go back to working with minor-leaguers.
"For the first time as a coach," Maddon said, "I was going to the ballpark with a bad attitude."
A woman sat next to him and wanted to talk. He didn't, and it showed. "All of a sudden she gets to this moment and she said that to me: "Always remember, whatever you put out there is going to come back to you,' " Maddon said. "And honestly, I mean it was like a lightning bolt. I got off that plane with a new attitude."
From then on, he would appreciate where he was and was determined to make the best of it, and he still does.
"He can always find the good in something when there probably shouldn't be any good," former Angel Shawn Wooten said. "He'll find it. And he's genuine about it. It's not like it's something that he's making up. That's one of the best qualities about him."
A perfect fit
That positive attitude has now permeated the Rays organization and could be a major factor in changing the culture of losing that has enveloped the franchise.
The task of managing the Rays has done in Larry Rothschild and Hal McRae and worn down Lou Piniella, but former Angels insist Maddon has the ability and the attitude to make it work.
"It's all his approach; the past is the past, learn from it and move on," said catcher Josh Paul, a former Angel now with the Rays. "And he's got zero ego. It's not about him, it's about us. That's a big point for him. It's something you appreciate if you play for him."
"He's very up front about everything," Glaus said. "He's not going to sugarcoat it necessarily, but he's not going to beat you down, either. He's going to help you out. He's out for the betterment of everybody."
Some days that means coming up with a new way to do an old drill, or a different ingame strategy, or a couple of well-timed conversations.
And some day, he and Glaus are going to finish their discussion about why the sky really is blue.
"I think it's because of the water in the ocean," Maddon said. "Or maybe it's quantum physics."