Joe Maddon Opts Out as Rays Manager

It is a fact of life in baseball that managers come and managers go.

In fact next year 16 percent of the Major League Baseball teams will have a different manager for Opening Day than the one they had this year.

Usually managers leave by getting fired as was the case in Houston, Arizona and Minnesota. Occasionally managers take their own path and show themselves the door as Ron Washington did with the Texas Rangers.

Last Friday Joe Maddon joined Washington in the take your own path club when he informed the Tampa Bay Rays that he would not be back to manage the team next year.

Maddon spent nine years as the manager of the Rays and led the team to their only winning seasons in franchise history and a World Series appearance in 2008.

By all accounts Maddon planned to spend many more seasons with the Rays but a series of events changed that course unexpectedly.

The first event was the departure of Rays President Andrew Friedman who took a job with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Joe Maddon announced Friday that he was leaving the Tampa Bay Rays after nine seasons. Photo R. Anderson

Joe Maddon announced Friday that he was leaving the Tampa Bay Rays after nine seasons.
Photo R. Anderson

That first event triggered the second event which was an opt out clause in Maddon’s contract that went into effect in the event that Friedman left the Rays.

The decision to exercise his opt out clause came with one year remaining on his current contract and after negotiations for a contract extension broke down.

While the decision to leave with a year left on his contract may rub some the wrong way, it is hard to blame Maddon for not wanting to be a lame duck manager.

If Maddon knew that there was no way that he and the Rays could agree on an extension beyond the 2015 season, it really is best for both parties to start their next chapters as soon as possible.

Regarding next chapters in the near term the future looks much brighter for Joe Maddon than the Rays.

Next season the Tampa Bay Rays will be without Joe Maddon and Don Zimmer marking the end of an era and the start of a time of transition. Photo R. Anderson

Next season the Tampa Bay Rays will be without Joe Maddon and Don Zimmer marking the end of an era and the start of a time of transition.
Photo R. Anderson

Joe Maddon becomes one of the most sought after manager free agents in recent history and there is no shortage of teams that are likely to try to give him the keys to the manager’s suite.

Realistically Joe Maddon will not be managing next season and will take a season off to mull his offers which could include two thirds of the teams in the MLB.

One potential landing spot being mentioned for Maddon is the Chicago Cubs.

Wherever Maddon lands it is a near certainty that he will turn the team around much like he did with the Rays.

While the future for Maddon looks bright the Rays seemed poised for a few lean years to come.

Coming off of their first losing season since 2007 the Rays had a lot of issues that needed to be addressed even if Maddon was still the skipper.

Former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon's first victory as a Major League Baseaball manager is memorialized at Charlotte Sports Park. Photo R. Anderson

Former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon’s first victory as a Major League Baseaball manager is memorialized at Charlotte Sports Park.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rays were predicted by many to be the American League representative in this year’s World Series.

Instead through a season of injuries and trades the Rays reverted back to levels of futility not seen since the days when they were the Devil Rays.

Of course teams can have a bad season from time to time without declaring that the sky is falling but the Rays do not have the same luxury as most teams.

With national media constantly harping on the Rays for their “lack of fan support” and “outdated” stadium there is no room for error under that microscope.

With a fraction of the payroll of the other teams Joe Maddon and the Rays front office had a knack for getting the most out of their players and often exceeded expectations.

But with the purse strings getting tighter, and star players continuing to be traded, the Rays face a challenging future where a single losing season may turn into multiple losing seasons before the ship is righted.

Those losing seasons were possible even if Joe Maddon was still around but they would have seemed a little easier to take with the Mad Hatter in the Hoodie watching from the dugout.

The Rays will have a new skipper for the first time in about a decade when Spring Training starts next year and whoever his standing on that top step in the dugout has huge shoes to fill.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see how DJ Kitty is handling the news.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Orioles and Royals kick off American League Championship Series Tonight

The American League Championship Series kicks off tonight in Baltimore between the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals.

When people were making their predictions at the start of the season I am sure there were very few, if any who saw that particular match up in the cards for the American League Pennant.

While the last few decades have not been kind to the fan base of either franchise, in the mid eighties they were among the teams to beat in the American League led by a pair of Hall of Famers in Cal Ripken, Jr. and George Brett for the Orioles and Royals respectively.

I saw my first live baseball game in 1983 at Memorial Stadium when the Orioles hosted the Milwaukee Brewers.  Memorial Stadium is gone now and the Brewers are in the National League but I can forever say that my first baseball game occurred during a pennant winning season as the Orioles were the 1983 World Series Champions. Photo R. Anderson

I saw my first live baseball game in 1983 at Memorial Stadium when the Orioles hosted the Milwaukee Brewers. Memorial Stadium is gone now and the Brewers are in the National League but I can forever say that my first baseball game occurred during a pennant winning season as the Orioles were the 1983 World Series Champions.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles last went to The World Series in 1983 where they defeated the Philadelphia Phillies.

I saw my first ever in person baseball game in 1983 at Memorial Stadium when the Orioles hosted the Milwaukee Brewers.

Memorial Stadium is gone now and the Brewers moved to the National League, but I can forever say that my first baseball game occurred during a World Series winning season.

While I was fortunate to witness a World Series title come to Baltimore, Orioles fans who were not alive during 1983 have had very little to cheer about.

While the 1997 season showed promise and included a trip to the American League Championship Series, it was the Cleveland Indians who made the trip to the World Series instead of the Orioles.

Starting tonight the fans clad in orange and black filling Oriole Park at Camden Yards will know that the O’s are once again four victories away from the World Series.

Standing in the way of that trip to the World Series are the Kansas City Royals. The Royals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 World Series and had not made the playoffs since until this season.

The last time I saw the Royals play the Orioles neither team was at their peak. This year, four wins are all that stand in the way of a trip to the World Series. Photo R. Anderson

The last time I saw the Royals play the Orioles neither team was at their peak. This year, four wins are all that stand in the way of a trip to the World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

I last saw the Orioles and Royals play against each other on March 23, 1991 during a Spring Training game in Baseball City, Florida.

The Royals won the game but 1991 was not a good season for either team as most of the mid eighties mojo was already starting to fade.

The Orioles and Royals each finished in sixth place in their divisions in 1991 and both teams fired their managers during the season.

The Orioles have had a couple of more playoff appearances than the Royals over the past 30 years, but both teams are hungry for another World Series title which makes this year’s American League Championship Series much watch television.

Over in the National League Championship Series the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are battling for yet another World Series appearance.

Since that 1985 World Series loss to the Royals, the Cardinals have made five additional trips to the October Classic with a pair of championships to show for it.

Over in San Francisco, the Giants have made four trips to the World Series since 1985 claiming two World Series Championships.

The 1991 season for the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals started with promise in Spring Training and ended with both teams in sixth place in their divisions after firing their managers.  Photo R. Anderson

The 1991 season for the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals started with promise in Spring Training and ended with both teams in sixth place in their divisions after firing their managers.
Photo R. Anderson

In fact, since 2010 the National League representative in the World Series has been either the Cardinals or the Giants with each team making a pair of trips. This year’s NLCS winner will take a 3-2 advantage in that ranking.

So with the National League turning into a tale of the same two teams year after year,  the American League Championship series offers a chance for fresh blood to hoist the Pennant.

Only six members of the Baltimore Orioles active roster were alive the last time the team made a World Series appearance.

Of those players only Nelson Cruz, born in 1980, is likely old enough to remember it as the other five players were under a year old.

The Royals offer a slightly older roster and have 11 players who were born before the Royals last went to the World Series.

And if that does not makes one feel old enough consider this, when the Orioles were last in the World Series the top movie at the box was “Return of the Jedi.”

In 1985 when the Royals won it all fans were flocking to see “Back to the Future.”

Of course this time around one does not need the power of the Jedi or a time traveling DeLorean to see the Orioles and the Royals face off in the ALCS. They just need access to the TBS broadcast.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to get ready for.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

A Trio of Meaty Baseball Stories to Sink Your Teeth into

One of local barbecue restaurants I frequent has a plate called the pork three ways that includes pork ribs, pulled pork and pork sausage.

I mention this fact not to make people hungry for barbecue pork, but to point out that sometimes it is hard to pick a single entree leading to the need to combine things into a single meal.

In that same spirit we are going to focus on three entrees from the world of baseball since focusing on just one would not do justice to the other two, much in the same way that just getting ribs leaves out the pulled pork and sausage.

Our first entree comes to us from the Houston Astros who stepped on a player’s moment to create a look at us moment Monday.

For the first time in team history a member of the Houston Astros won a batting title. That player was second baseman Jose Altuve. Altuve not only had the best batting average in the American League but had the best overall average in all of baseball this season.

Jose Altuve won the American League batting title this year and had one day in the spotlight until the team announced it had hired a new manager. Photo R. Anderson

Jose Altuve won the American League batting title this year and had one day in the spotlight until the team announced it had hired a new manager.
Photo R. Anderson

Altuve also set a new team record for hits in a single season.

For a team that has known more about losing than winning the last couple of years this individual achievement by Altuve gave fans of the Astros something to cheer about as another lackluster season came to a close.

Traditional wisdom would say that in a situation like this a team would give the spotlight to the player for a couple of days to give the proper attention to such a stellar achievement such as having the best average in all of baseball.

Instead, the smoldering tire fire that is the Astros front office saw fit to take the attention away from Altuve less than 24-hour after the end of the season to announce that they had hired a new manager.

The Astros certainly needed to fill the vacancy at the manager position. However, was the news that they hired a man with a losing record as a manager, who has been out of the dugout for four years, so important that they could not wait a day or two to announce it? Apparently in their minds it was and thus ended the spotlight on Jose Altuve.

While the hiring of A.J. Hinch left many fans underwhelmed and thinking that the Astros should have hired a more established manager the fact remains that more established managers have enough sense to stay away from the Astros in their current state.

As for the manager the Astros did get, Hinch managed the Arizona Diamondbacks from May 2009 until July 2010, and was fired after a 31-48 start. Hinch served as the vice president of professional scouting for the San Diego Padres from 2010 until this past August.

Not a very successful resume at first glance, but I will wait to see what he can do with his second opportunity to manage a big league club.

Speaking of managers, our second entree takes us to Minnesota where the Twins fired longtime manager Ron Gardenhire after a fourth straight losing season.

While I do not follow the day to day operations of the Twins as closely as I used to, I have been a fan of Ron Gardenhire since his days as the manager of the Orlando Sun Rays of the Southern League.

Ron Gardenhire spent nearly 25 years in the Minnesota Twins organization including the last 13 as manager. Photo R. Anderson

Ron Gardenhire spent nearly 25 years in the Minnesota Twins organization including the last 13 as manager.
Photo R. Anderson

As mentioned before I attended many Minor League Baseball games growing up in Orlando and several of those years were spent pulling for Gardenhire led teams at Tinker Field.

All in all Gardenhire spent around a quarter of a century within the Twins organization, including 13 seasons as manager, and was there for much of the teams success.

Unfortunately in a what have you done for me lately world, past success can only go so far in covering up current problems.

The Twins offered Gardenhire a front office position which he declined stating that he feels that he still has things to offer as a manager.

Personally I would not mind the Texas Rangers giving the reins to Gardenhire if for no other reason than to say that he managed both teams that used to be known as the Washington Senators as the Twins leaving Washington D.C. for the twin cities paved the way for the expansion team version of the Senators that became the Rangers.

Even if Gardenhire does not end up with the Rangers I have little doubt that he will end up in another dugout before too long.

Our third baseball entree takes us to Sugar Land where the Skeeters are hosting the first two games of the Atlantic League Championship Series against the Lancaster Barnstormers.

The series opened up last night with the Skeeters losing to the Barnstormers 10 to 6. Game two of the series is tonight and will find the Skeeters trying to even the series.

Regardless of whether or not the Skeeters hoist the championship at the end of the year they can be proud of what they accomplished this year.

Sugar Land Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti led his team to the playoffs for the second straight season. The Skeeters opened the Atlantic League Championship Series last night. Photo R. Anderson

Sugar Land Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti led his team to the playoffs for the second straight season. The Skeeters opened the Atlantic League Championship Series last night.
Photo R. Anderson

Among those accomplishments are hosting the All-Star Game in June, making the playoffs for the second straight year, and winning the first playoff series in team history against the York Revolution.

It is likely that the Skeeters will continue to build on their success next year during their fourth season of existence as they continue to form an identity

There you have it, three delicious entrees from the world of baseball this week.

As every good three meat plate needs a couple of side dishes, it should be mentioned that the Major League Baseball Playoffs kicked off last night with the American League Wild Card game between the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland Athletics and continues tonight with the National League Wild Card game between the San Francisco Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about entrees has made me a little hungry.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson