He talks about his rise to become the baseball manager of the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs, turning both teams around including a World Series victory for the Cubs, the first in 108 years. Maddon explains his style of being part strategist, part philosopher, part sports psychologist, and part motivational coach. Any fan of baseball will also enjoy his comments on how the game has changed, some for the better and some for the worse.
EC: Why did you gravitate to baseball managing?
JM: I have managed twenty-three years including the Minors and the Majors. I tried to be a player but was told I was not good enough. Because I always wanted to get into the Big Leagues, I had to be a coach first. In 1981 I got into the scouting, coaching, and managing. I learned my craft.
EC: In the book you cover analytics. Do you agree with the quote in the book by former San Francisco Manager Bruce Bochy, who won three World Series?
“I came up with the more traditional way of managing. I made the calls. I made the lineups. The information is great, and I wanted it. It made the players better. It made the coaching better. But you still love to manage a game and have a feel for it. You need a balance. That’s what has gotten lost in the game.”
JM: I like the information. What I do not like is how the clubhouse has been infiltrated by analytical people who I believe hold more baseball power than actual coaches and managers. They are not held as accountable as a coach or manager even though they are supplying information that everyone wants us to utilize. I want it but it should be subservient to the game and not the other way around. It gets way too much credit for a victory instead of the good players.
EC: So how should it be used?
JM: When a team acquires players the information about them is important in deciding between this guy or that guy. It is wise to break down analytically what is valued in a player. It does help a lot on defense to determine where to put the players. There can be advantages with pitching in game planning. I do not think hitters benefit at all.
EC: Does the front office interfere during a game?
JM: This had not happened to me. When it comes down to analytical suggestions they do it as late as when a manager walks down to the dugout. There should be a league wide rule that analytical folks are not allowed in the clubhouse after 3 pm for a 7 pm game. Analysts should not be involved in meetings. They should give their information to the coach and then have the coaches give it to the players, not the analysts. The team should rely on a manager’s wisdom, feel, and experience. This is becoming archaic across the board in every profession.
EC: Let’s look at an example such as leftie on leftie or righty on righty?
JM: There is a lot of analytics involved with it. The third time through the batting order is a big part of it. It can be very devastating or detrimental to a guy if they take him out. What if that guy gets better in the latter part of the game. The analysts will back it up with numbers and data or argue back to front. I cannot disagree more. I believe that the analytics gets in the way of making a player great because the pitcher should be allowed to show they can pitch deep into a game. I know, just based on experience during a game, when a guy can go further, or he is at his Waterloo.
EC: What about the hitting coaches?
JM: The hitting coach has the toughest job in the game and are blamed way too much. Hitters have the greatest disadvantage regarding any part of the game. The pitchers are pro-active, while the hitters are re-active. The scouting reports can tell a pitcher exactly what the hitter is good at or not. This allows them to match up their strength against the hitter’s weakness or strength versus strength. Hitters get nothing out of this analytical world. To get better hitters then acquire, draft, and sign better hitters, with a track record of success.
EC: What is your managing style?
JM: My approach is different than anybody. I focus on different things. I like to have building blocks, relationships with the players, establish trust, and exchange ideas. I believe the greatest danger is not that our aim is too high, but it is not high enough. Simple is better. An overarching philosophy the more freedom given the better respect. I do not have rules except position players should run hard to first base and pitchers should always work on their defense. I think I am a “player’s manager.” I feel I am there to protect and defend my group. Praise publicly and criticize privately.
EC: Do you think there should be a robot umpire considering how many times they get the calling of balls and strikes wrong, including the first game of the Division series with Yu Darvish pitching?
JM: I was really impressed that Yu did not really react. I texted him to let him know how much I loved and appreciated his composure. It did not go his way, but he was able to handle the adversity. Umpires are going to make mistakes. I prefer not perfect baseball. The problem is that the umpires are analyzed more, especially with the strike zone boxes. Before umpires could do whatever they wanted. If they did not like a hitter the strike zone is going to get wide, and for a pitcher they did not like the strike zone was going to get small. This shows the human element involved. I think the scrutiny and criticism is good for the game. When I was growing up in Pennsylvania and went to a bar there were always arguments. Social media is now the latter-day bar room. I was talking to a player who had a great idea: the umpire has an earpiece, calls the balls, and strikes on his own, but is reminded that he got it wrong in real time. He gets corrected during the game just as a hitting and pitching coaches do. I prefer this to a robotic umpire.
EC: Should the ball be less lively?
JM: Yes. I am hoping it will bring the game back without the ball leaving the ballpark. The problem is with analytics everyone stills wants the home run. I prefer that guys learn to strike out less, bunting for a hit when appropriate, and have the hit and run come back. Basically, movement, action, and strategy.
EC: What about the shift?
JM: I was one of the first guys to do it. People need to identify if it will be problematic for a guy to hit the other way or bunt, before they get to the Big Leagues. It is very difficult to do on a Major League level, to make those kinds of adjustments. Left-handed pull hitters will have better numbers when the shift is removed.
EC: What about the pitch clock?
JM: I like it. It will quicken the game since pitchers will pitch quicker and hitters will be in the box quicker. The game has a better pace.
EC: What about the new rule that pitchers will be allowed to throw over to first base only twice?
JM: It does give the advantage to the runner. Remember, I had John Lester in Chicago, and he did not throw over to first base. Yet, we still controlled the running game through pitching. There are other things that can be done.
EC: What was it like managing two big Superstars, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani?
JM: They are both great guys. Shohei and I would meet and decide what he can do and wanted to do. Did he need a day off or to pitch and hit on the same day? He is a joy. Mike Trout could have easily grown up in my hometown. He is a real solid guy with great parents. He has small town values. At the end of the year, he fixed a couple of things and looked good hitting.
EC: What do the Angels need to do to get Mike Trout to the playoffs?
JM: They started to do it this year. They have a lot of young guys I really like, nice starting pitching.
EC: Do you think that the injuries of the Angel players hurt you when managing them?
JM: We lost twelve in a row. Guys were struggling. We also had the best start at the beginning. We had a bad run with Mike and Shohei in a slump and our pitchers struggling. It was the imperfect storm. Guys just had a hard time all at once.
EC: What was it like to win the championship in 2002 with the Angels as a coach?
JM: It was the best moment of my life. It was a tough year for me personally with my dad passing away and I was going through a divorce. I was grateful to have that victory. I always wanted to be on the first Angel team that won the World Series. I have stayed in touch with a lot of guys.
EC: What is next on the horizon for Joe Maddon?
JM: I am an “in the present” kind of guy so promoting this book. I could manage again, more involved in the media, or open a restaurant, especially since I learned how to cook a pizza on a Weber grille that is outstanding. I believe in eyes open, ears open, and mouth shut to see what happens. THANK YOU!!