Rays’ way is winning way

MIKE RUTSEY, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 PM ET

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon probably thought he’d never live long enough to hear that other baseball organizations want to build their franchises the “Rays’ way.”

It wasn’t that long ago that the Rays were the laughingstock of baseball. The Rays’ way used to be on the cheap and dysfunctional.

But that all changed in 2008 when they won the AL East and went on the World Series. Despite a step back last year with a third-place finish, they are still considered to be loaded with young talent and are one of the powers in the American League.

Scouting, solid drafting and development, all fuelled by a host of low first-round picks have put the Rays in position to contend and the Jays, led by new general manager Alex Anthopoulos, are attempting to follow in their footsteps.

Maddon, who has led the Rays in good times and bad, offers a cautionary tale, suggesting that the rise of the Rays or a rise by another organization is not as easy as it seems.

It takes time and patience, Maddon stressed Thursday prior to the Rays-Jays game.

“My goal was when I got here to flip this thing in a way so that other people would want to be like us,” he said. “You’re talking about re-inventing a culture and that’s not easy.

“If you think you can do it in a few months or a year, you’re absolutely crazy. This is my fifth year here and this is the first year where I can honestly tell you that I feel as though the culture has been flipped.

“From my perspective I always heard about the five-year plan and I believe in it.”

No complacency

Of all the reasons for the Rays’ third-place finish last year, complacency wasn’t one of them Maddon stressed.

“It wasn’t so much complacency as much as that early in the season everybody was telling us how great we were,” he said. “We did right ourselves, as from May until the middle of August we had one of the better records in baseball. We eventually ran out of gas.

“The big thing is that in the American League East you can’t get behind three teams, you can’t get behind two teams and climb over them as the season’s in progress. It wears you down.”

So what went wrong for the Rays?

“First of all, we got off to a bad start,” Maddon said. “I think that was partly impacted by the shortness of the previous off-season and the length of last year’s spring training due to the WBC (World Baseball Classic), it was a very, very long camp. And then we tried to adjust how we got people ready based on all these different thoughts and we did not get off to a good start. That was the primary reason.

“Then we did not take care of the latter part of the game well. A lot of the blame was pointed at our bullpen but I also believe our offence was responsible as well as our defence. I’ve talked to our guys about having to play the latter part of the game better.”

Looking back, Maddon can appreciate how fine a difference there is between being a winner and an also-ran.

“I want our guys to understand that the difference between 84 wins last year and 97 the year before was a very, very fine line,” he said. “I don’t think people truly understand the difference between winning and losing. It’s just three or four plays, or maybe just the one play that you make or don’t make on a nightly basis. That’s tied to fundamentals and the little parts of the game.”

That’s another lesson that’s worth learning.

mike.rutsey@sunmedia.ca


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