Joe Maddon sizes up hometown team

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The MLB manager who is arguably the most cerebral in the game, Hazelton’s Joe Maddon sat down in his St. Petersburg office to speak with Metro about what else but sports.

The Rays manager waxes about growing up in the area but supporting teams across the country. Maddon reminisces about managing against the Phillies in the 2008 World Series and has a message for Phillies fans. And, hereveals whether you should support your local franchise in 2015.

Hazelton isn’t far from Philly but you never embraced the Phillies, correct?
I became a Cardinals fan because my dad took me to Yankee Stadium and he bought me a Cardinals cap in 1963. I was the happiest kid in Hazelton when the Cardinals won the World Series in 1964. I wasn’t anti-Phillie. I went to Connie Mack Stadium a lot. I saw the Giants with Willie Mays, the Cardinals and the Pirates there. I liked Johnny Callison. I loved Dick Allen. I embraced certain Phillies but not the team.

Folks in Philly don’t understand that. My kids are like you. With the exception of the Phillies, they root for teams outside of the city.
That’s unacceptable and it’s all your fault. (laughs). Your children are independent thinkers and that’s a good thing. But I know all too well how Philadelphia fans are. I was a Cardinals football fan and a Hawks fan in basketball as well. But I loved that I had the chance to watch some of these great players, who were with Philadelphia when I was a kid.

What Philly athlete had the biggest impact on you?
I was appreciative of the 76ers. I remember seeing Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell battle it out at the Civic Center. I was about 10-years old. It was amazing. I remember watching Chamberlain walk by me and my memory was that he was so gigantic. I saw Eagles-Cowboys games. I go back to Franklin Field with Chuck Bednarik playing there. He’s from Bethlehem, PA and he spoke at one of our midget football banquets.

And then you face the Phillies for the lone Rays World Series appearance. What was that like?
That whole thing was surreal to me. We got to the World Series and we play the Phillies. It was easy for my mom to get there. It was a great experience even though we didn’t win it.

During the game 5 hiatus, James Shields told me that his then 5-year-old daugher was called a ‘bleep’ by fans and it really ticked him off.
The same thing happened to me. That happened to my granddaughter too. She was 6. She was wearing Rays gear. It was something that they take pride in in Philly, but they shouldn’t. I totally believe in vocal fans but when they cross the line, it’s inappropriate. It’s awful. The one game we played, there was an Eagle game that afternoon. There was a connection there with the drunkenness. But what we heard that night. It was pretty awful.

Your former hurler Rich Garza made the mistake of provoking Phillies fans by comparing them to Boston fans. You can’t stir up Philly fans.
Absolutely. You don’t want to do that. I walked around the field before the game to meet as many people as I could. I met Rob Schneider, the comic-actor. He was standing down the left field line. I’m a big fan of his. I did a lap around the park talking to fans trying to disarm them as much as I could.

What do you think of all the grief Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are getting at the twilight of their careers?
That blows me away. All of those guys are MVPs. When I look at them, maybe there is a decline but don’t forget what they did for you.

Philly’s vocal minority has forgotten.
That’s a good way of putting it. The vocal minority and that’s what they are. They’re the ones, who call talk radio. It needs to be noted that they are the vocal minority and we should remember that talk radio is only entertainment. Nothing should come of that which is substantial.

What do you think of the state of the team you didn’t support during your childhood.
I don’t follow the National League. We didn’t play the the Phillies this year. I love Larry Bowa.
What a great baseball mind. But this was the first time we didn’t play them during spring training either.

You noted that part of the reason you think Derek Jeter should be the first unanimous Hall of Famer is due to how he busts it up the first base line. Isn’t Chase Utley Jeter’s NL doppelganger in terms of baserunning, approach and intangibles?
I think Utley is a lot like Jeter. He busts it from home to first whether he’s hurt or not. He’s cut from the same cloth as Jeter. Those are guys you would like to pay to see. They respect that 90 feet. Anytime a player does that how could you not want to see a guy that cares that much about playing baseball and cares that much about winning? That’s Chase Utley. How could you not want to see him play? Utley plays the game properly. If you have a chance to buy a Phillies ticket to watch him play, you have to do it if you love baseball. Utley is more than worth the price of admission. You have to remember that he’s not going to play forever. So go to the ballpark next season to watch him play. Bring your kids. Enjoy Utley while you can.

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