Managers of the Year!

November 13, 2008 at 12:24 am | Posted in Baseball, Rays | Leave a comment

Today, Joe Maddon added to the Rays off-season collection of awards when he was named the American League Manager of the Year.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he is one of the most deserving recipients of the award ever.  It’s not every year that a team goes all the way from last place to the World Series.  In fact, it only happened one other time in history.  He received 27 of the 28 first place votes, and I can’t figure out for the life of me how that one voter could have not voted for Maddon.

I was also happy to hear that the National League Manager of the Year is Lou Piniella, the former Rays manager who Maddon replaced.

It was only three years ago that Piniella was released from his Tampa Bay contract early when the Rays new ownership group and front office took over the team.  I considered Lou to be the best manager in baseball (a reputation that he earned with the Yankees, Reds, and Mariners) and I couldn’t see how anyone could do a better job managing the Rays than he did.  Lou became the Rays manager after the 2002 season when they traded their best player, Randy Winn, to Seattle for his rights.  The front office promised that they would increase the payroll and build a winning team for him to manage.  They broke that promise and he suffered through three horrible losing seasons.  The bright spot was 2004 when he led the Rays to a team record of 70 wins and a fourth place finish, the first time they finished outside of last.

Those three seasons were very tough for Lou Piniella.  He was from Tampa and he wanted to establish a winning tradition in Tampa Bay more than anyone.  Unfortunately he never had a group of players that were capable of winning.  He wanted to finish his career managing the Rays, but he didn’t have the patience to hang around while the young players developed.  Chicago, with its large payroll, was a great place for Lou to go.  I couldn’t be happier that he’s been so successful there, but I also couldn’t be happier that the Rays swept his Cubs back in June!

Anyway, back to 2005.  If Piniella couldn’t win with the Rays, who could?  The new front office interviewed a bunch of candidates including John McLaren, Alan Trammell, Mike Schmidt, and Bobby Valentine, who was considered the early front-runner.  Then came the Angels bench coach, Joe Maddon.  Here was a guy who was Mike Scioscia’s co-pilot in building the Angels into a winning organization.  He talked with excitement about wanting to rebuild the Rays organization the right way, focused around pitching, defense, hustling, and having the right mental attitude.  He was a guy who wanted to mold a group of young players around his philosophies, and it became obvious that he was a perfect fit.

Maddon’s first two seasons with the Rays were rocky.  They had the worst record in all of MLB both years.  Some fans (a.k.a idiots) very vocally believed that Maddon should have been fired.  Even I must admit that it was frustrating to hear Maddon focus on all of the positives after a blowout loss or one of the countless games that was blown by the bullpen.  I wanted him to yell and throw chairs around the locker room like Lou Piniella used to do!  But Maddon always did remain calm and he focused on the long-term plan.

When 2008 rolled around, most people figured that the Rays would be better, but common sense told us that they were at least a year or two away from seriously contending for the playoffs.  But Joe Maddon knew better.  He knew that the team had grown from all of the hard lessons of the last few seasons.  He knew that it wasn’t just time to win, but to win big.  So he had t-shirts made for all of the players in spring training with the slogan “9-8”.  It meant that 9 players playing hard for 9 innings every night would make the Rays one of the 8 playoff teams.  It was creative but sounded far-fetched.  But he made the players believe in themselves and he proved that 9 really did equal 8 for the 2008 Rays.

So, congratulations to both Joe Maddon and Lou Piniella!  Both will always be highly regarded by Tampa Bay Rays fans!

2004 Topps

2004 Topps

2008 Topps

2008 Topps

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