More on Maddon Being Maddon | The Process Report

More on Maddon Being Maddon

Last night Tommy wrote about Joe Maddon’s moves, and his gained respect for the psychological aspect of managing. There’s a follow-up point here worth making: This iteration of the Rays has asked less of Maddon’s in-game savvy and more of his emotional intelligence than any before it.

This season the most pressing issue for Maddon has not been who and when to pinch-hit, or how to employ his bullpen. But, rather, how to get everyone on the roster in sync; a difficult task given an odd roster composed of dependable mainstays, emotional wild cards, and rookies.

When the bullpen struggled early in the season, Maddon stuck behind them. Admittedly, it’s not like he had a choice—the trade market is barren in April and May, and the Rays can’t afford to deal resources for middle relievers anyway—but he never bemoaned reality. Instead Maddon continued to call upon Fernando Rodney, Jake McGee, and Kyle Farnsworth. When Yunel Escobar struggled out of the gate Maddon allowed him to keep plugging away, though he did move him down in the order. He did the opposite when Matt Joyce and Luke Scott went through dry spells. This is without mentioning how he shielded players from bean-ball wars and other trivial matters.

These acts are part of the most impressive part about Maddon: His ability to nurture trustful relationships with his players and coaches. He understands people, or the sub-section of ballplayers, at any rate. He gets how they think and what they respond to, good and bad. He’s a good strategist by any practical evaluation. He can play the cold-blooded tactician when required. But he’s also more than that, which is a good thing because managing requires more than that.

The secret about managers is that the in-game strategy is just one part of the job. It’s the most visible aspect, and so it receives the most attention. But there’s more to it. A brilliant tactician who can’t get his players to buy in is worthless since none of those great strategies will work without player cooperation. Maddon’s players buy in. They go along with the shifts and the platoons and the weird antics because they believe in him and his goals. In return Maddon buys into them, and puts them in positions to succeed. When they don’t he still supports them.

There’s a disproportional emphasis on things that can be measured. That’s part of why the other side of Maddon doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves, as so much of the player-manager relationship is obscured by closed clubhouse doors. (It doesn’t help matters that because of increasing proprietary data it’s grown more difficult to say outright whether a manager’s decision is correct or foolhardy.) You can see traces of it by how former players talk about their time in Tampa Bay, and how current players never complain about anything, be it playing time or otherwise. This is a good place to play and succeed, and a lot of has to do with Maddon; yes, his wits and feel for the game, but also his feel for humans.

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