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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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Good man, sure. Good manager, wait and see
By GARY SHELTON
Published July 15, 2007
Fans criticize Rays manager Joe Maddon for many of his coaching techniques. But most of all, they criticize him for having the sunniest of dispositions after the gloomiest of defeats.
[Times photo: Brian Cassella]
Good guy, Joe Maddon. Smart guy. Happy guy.
Do you suppose that is why he seems to drive so many fans so crazy?
Ah, if only Maddon were a lout, perhaps people would like him more. If he screamed and snarled and fussed and fumed, if he threatened relief pitchers and kicked umpires and swore at mascots, if he knew more bartenders and bail bondsmen personally, perhaps people would cheer his name. Maybe they could call him something like "The General."
After all, this is what we look for in a manager. We like a short fuse. We like a gravel voice. We like an iron fist. We like someone capable of a complete, embarrassing meltdown. We like someone who isn't so darned likeable.
On the other hand, Maddon is a nice guy.
The nerve of him.
He speaks softly. He praises loudly. He smiles continually. In the beer league that is major-league baseball, he is a wine spritzer. In the singing-the-blues position of Rays manager, he is a pop song.
Along the way, Maddening Joe Maddon seems to get on a lot of nerves.
Fans criticize Maddon for pulling his pitchers too quickly. They criticize him for not pinch-hitting quickly enough. They criticize him for the way he argues with umpires. Most of all, they criticize him for having the sunniest of dispositions after the gloomiest of defeats.
With every happy thought after every unhappy loss, the criticism swells. Some of it is fair and some of it unfair, but the amazing thing is how much of it is dropped at Maddon's feet. In the history of the Rays, only Vince Naimoli, the human dunk tank, has been a bigger target for fan frustration.
Around here, there always has been a bigger target to blame than the manager. Fans felt sorry for Lou Piniella, and they respected Hal McRae, and they tolerated Larry Rothschild.
Joe? Joe vexes them greatly. The criticism of him clogs up the e-mail, and it fills up the message boards, and it keeps callers on hold on the local talk shows. You might think the Rays didn't know anything about last place until Maddon came to town.
Look, the intention here is not to defend Maddon. He has now lost 156 times in his 252 games as manager of the Rays, and a record like that begs for disapproval. Besides, the Rays ought to be tickled to death that fans still care enough to get upset.
The truth is, we don't yet know how good a manager Maddon is. The Rays, who haven't exercised his option for next year, don't seem sure yet, either. Still, in the interest of fairness, shouldn't we examine the charges against him?
For instance, the old gripe about Maddon pulling his pitchers too early is all wrong. Deep down, I suspect even the critics know better. Arms are fragile things, and pitchers are million-dollar investments, and the Rays aren't going anywhere this year. Given that, wouldn't it be foolish for a team to risk its young arms?
If you want to blame someone, blame Andrew Friedman for not building a better bullpen. Blame Stuart Sternberg for not having a bigger payroll. Blame society for not producing more relievers.
The pinch-hitting? To tell the truth, yeah, I'd like to see Maddon pinch-hit a little more. Whenever Dioner Navarro is scheduled to bat, for instance.
Ah, but you and I both know the real reason for the friction between Maddon and the fans, don't we? It's Maddon's incessant search for something to praise when other managers would be finding someone to bury. It's like hearing someone talk about how good the fishing will be as the house floods. It's like someone talking about the sunset as the volcano is erupting.
Remember when Maddon praised a throw by Delmon Young in the echoes of a 15-4 loss to Boston? Remember when he lauded Edwin Jackson's performance as his team lost its 10th straight? Game-show hosts aren't that peppy.
Hey, I understand. Maddon is working overtime to keep things positive on a franchise where there hasn't been much. Sometimes, I suspect, he says these things so the noise is aimed at him and no one notices that a pitcher gave up a touchdown in the first inning.
Still, there are times you would like to hear a trace of irritation in Maddon's voice. There are times you want to hear him demand more.
Me? I'm a helper. Before Saturday night's game, I gave Maddon a half-dozen index cards with alternative answers for postgame defeats. A few were simple profanities, just as a reminder. One threatened the bullpen with a chainsaw. One suggested the job might be responsible for how old Piniella looked when he left.