Over the last two months, MLB.com has been breaking down the top five players at each position in Rays history. Some of the decisions were pretty clear -- hi, Evan Longoria -- while others created a good amount of debate on Twitter.
But after breaking down what the all-time Rays team would look like on the field, it was time to start thinking about which Rays manager would manage the all-time club, and, well, the decision was pretty easy.
The Rays have had just five skippers in franchise history, but none has had more success than Joe Maddon, who managed the club from 2006-14. Hiring Maddon, who only had a pair of stints as interim manager of the Angels, was a bit of a risky move, but it certainly paid off.
Maddon provided stability for a young Rays organization that had gone through three managers in its first eight years of existence. He also brought a forward-thinking approach and a contagious energy, which is exactly what the club needed after posting eight consecutive losing seasons.
“From the beginning, we felt our ideal candidate would have infectious energy and optimism, strong communication skills, extensive player development background and willingness to embrace new ideas,” former Rays general manager Andrew Friedman said in 2005. “He is a teacher, a leader and a strong communicator. He understands what it takes for a team to be successful.”
During his introductory press conference, Maddon exuded confidence. He talked highly about the talent in the organization. That’s something every manager says, but Maddon truly believed that the Rays were on the verge of competing despite years of futility.
The 2006 and ‘07 seasons weren’t easy for Maddon and the Rays, as the club posted two more losing seasons, but any time he was asked about the future, he was always positive and believed that the club was headed in the right direction.
In fact, after the Rays scored a couple of runs off Joe Nathan to beat the Twins in April 2007, Maddon quickly focused on the growth of the team and where it was headed.
“I don’t think we could have done this last year. I liked our approach at the plate all day,” Maddon said that night. “I think we are developing a lineup that can score in all spots of the order.”
There were some doubters, but it all came together in 2008.
Yes, the Rays had a lot of young talent during that season, but Maddon’s unorthodox leadership helped Tampa Bay reach its only World Series appearance in franchise history. While Maddon’s tactics of themed road trips and Spring Training shows gained a lot of publicity during his time with the Cubs, that all started with the Rays.
“He’s a really good leader. He’s really good at bringing players together and getting guys going in the same direction,” said former Rays third baseman Longoria. “I think what he does best is putting all those young guys in the right frame of mind. That’s what he did for us in 2008 -- taking an inexperienced group of players who haven’t had much big league experience at all [and getting them] at that point you see a bunch of guys play up to their potential.”
While the 2008 season was the highlight, Maddon and the Rays did a lot of winning during his tenure. Maddon is the franchise leader in wins with 754, leading the Rays to four playoff berths in nine seasons. Maddon also took home the American League Manager of the Year Award twice ('08, '11).
Current Rays manager Kevin Cash has 414 wins in five seasons with the club and has a chance to surpass Maddon over the next couple of seasons. But Maddon’s ability to help the Rays become a winning franchise carries a lot of weight.
“I was fortunate with Joe, his first year as a manager in Spring Training, and you could tell it was a different personality that Joe was bringing in,” Cash said after being hired by the Rays in 2014. “You kind of got the sense of some immediate success coming, just with the way he presented himself. The way he communicated with the players. I look at it more as kind of an honor to be following him.”