Joe Maddon has left the building. The beloved wine-sipping, bike riding, seemingly ageless manager left Tampa for a new adventure over 1,200 miles away. As of Oct. 31, Maddon is the newest manager of the Chicago Cubs.
For die-hard Rays fans, this move is devastating. In Maddon’s nine-year tenure in St. Petersburg, he led the scrappy Rays to four playoff berths, two American League Eastern Division titles, and one World Series appearance. Despite this being his first full-time managerial job, Maddon quickly revealed himself to be one of the best managers in the game, winning AL Manager of the Year in both 2008 and 2011.
Opposing teams praised his ability to turn talent-thin teams into contenders through smart baseball and strong team chemistry, while fans relished his witty, quirky sentiments. When Joe strolled out of the dugout, there was no telling what to expect.
Maddon truly established a new culture within the Tampa Bay Rays, an organization whose only semblance of pride was the retired Wade Boggs jersey hanging from the rafters in left field. Granted, Maddon wasn’t solely responsible for the rapid Rays makeover over the past nine years, but he did bring a sense of flair to an otherwise boring team.
Beyond the concrete walls of Tropicana Field, Maddon was a local icon and built a reputation as a benevolent force in the community. His annual “Thanksmas” events benefitted thousands of underprivileged citizens and his suave persona gave the Rays the much needed face they lacked for so long.
So what happened?
After the departure of general manager Andrew Friedman, fans couldn’t possibly fathom losing another vital component of their central command. Not only a week after, however, headlines of Maddon’s departure clogged every social media outlet in the nation.
Many thought the news to be some kind of hoax, as just a few weeks prior Maddon had announced he was “A Ray for life.”
Perhaps he only meant it metaphorically.
The news was confirmed after Rays president Stuart Sternberg revealed that the club “tried diligently and aggressively to sign [Maddon] to a third contract extension prior to his decision,” but “enabled him to explore opportunities throughout Major League Baseball.”
This is somewhat baffling, as not a soul in Tampa knew that Maddon even had an opt-out clause in his contract. By all indications, Maddon was signed through the 2015 season.
Nonetheless, Major League Baseball is a business and money often talks over loyalty.
Only Joe Maddon seems like the last person to leave a gig where he has quite a bit of established influence for money alone, leading many speculating that there was internal strain unaware to the public.
Maddon, however, denied any ill will towards the Rays ownership.
“[The contract] did not meet up to what I [wanted] and we came to an impasse,” Maddon told MLB.com’s Bill Chastain. “And that happens. There’s no friction between me and him or me and [principal owner] Stu [Sternberg]. I had great conversations with Matthew and Stu, they were very candid and open. I felt good about it moving forward. I hope they don’t feel betrayed, because I don’t feel betrayed by the offer.”
Regardless of what happened, the fact is that Joe Maddon is no longer at the helm for the Rays, and they must go on without him.
Some believe the loss of Maddon is crippling, as the Rays significantly improved upon his arrival.
“He really held that team together, I could see them falling apart without him,” said sophomore criminal justice major Nicholas Falduto.
Others aren’t concerned with the departures of Maddon and Friedman, considering that the Rays have an excellently established farm system and a capable replacement in bench coach Dave Martinez. Former team president and Friedman protege Matt Silverman has slid into Friedman’s role, so there shouldn’t be too much of a drop off in terms of front office stability.
Rays pitcher Alex Cobb was adamant that the departure of the two men doesn’t spell the end for the Rays.
“I think inside the clubhouse, it sounds rough to say, but I don’t think the impact that those guys had on us on a day-to-day basis is going to affect us as much as a lot of people are speculating,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “I don’t mean to take away from what Andrew and Joe do, but the people that win ball games are the people that are in between the lines every single day, and that’s who’s going to continue to win ball games.”
As for the Cubs, the arrival of Maddon can only help their young and inexperienced roster. Of note, their current roster has some eerie resemblances to the team Maddon inherited when he joined the Rays in 2006. Only a short two years later, he had the Rays playing in their first World Series. After a string of mediocre managers like Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria, the Cubs may finally have found the missing puzzle piece to take them to the next level.
Griffin Guinta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org