Note to readers: A blog that points to the positives about Joe Maddon’s managerial style may feel ill-timed with the Rays currently down 0-2 to Boston. But win or lose tonight at the Trop, it can’t be forgotten that this Rays team’s opening day payroll was about 100 million less than Boston’s. So even with 100 million less in talent, look at what the Rays have been able to do.
In an industry steeped in tradition and adherence to the way things have always been, it’s refreshing to see someone manage a baseball team to the ring of his own cowbell. But maybe Joe Maddon’s habit of challenging conventional wisdom says less about his own desire to be different and more about his knowledge of the importance of playing to your audience.
Papa Joe manages the Millennials. A look at the Rays’ current roster shows that 80 percent of the players are part of Generation Y. Labeled the Peter Pan generation, these guys need to be managed with a little bit of magic. With a group that places high-value on their favorite “f” word―fun, penguins and pythons are the preferred remedy for workplace blues. Clubhouse disco parties after victories liven the atmosphere, too.
You can apply a negative spin to the Millennials, describing them as narcissists. Or instead, like Joe, you can savor their confidence. The wine-glass-half-full Merlot Joe celebrates his young players’ sureness (i.e. Wil Myers), encouraging them to be “authentically confident.” He’ll remind players in hitting slumps how good they really are.
Another trademark of these mostly 20-something-year-olds is their self-expression. When I see staff ace David Price run on the field in a sparkly, purple top hat to give someone a pie in the face or spray some silly-string, I try to picture a player from an earlier era performing such acts of random silliness. Impossible. But when the manager wears pro-self-expression like a sloganed t-shirt, (literally: Maddon wears a shirt that says “Be Yorselv,” inspired by Yunel Escobar), it’s only natural that his players would follow suit.
The Millennials love technology and their leader does, too. He’s a strong proponent of instant replay, and he tweets like a prophetic teenager. In early May, when his team started out 14-18, he tweeted, “Hoping doesn’t work in baseball. You have to believe. You have to go out every day believing it will turn and eventually it does.”
Sure he reads Hemmingway for his own satisfaction, but he likely also knows that his love for reading will be more readily imitated by this open-minded generation of ballplayers than if he tries to direct them to read. Traditionally, reading and clubhouses have gone together like… well, like girls and clubhouses.
Utility man Ben Zobrist said, “He (Maddon) has reasons for everything he does. He’s a thinker and all those things make him who he is and endear him at times. We’ve grown to understand each other as a manager and players.” Spoken like a true Generation Y’er seeking friendship and understanding in the workplace.
The ever-thinking, ever-researching Maddon may have read a book or two on how to push Millennials’ touch-screen buttons. Or maybe the 59-year-old was born three decades too soon and maybe he’s just found his people.
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