Poor Brad Ausmus. He really never had a chance, did he? He knew he was in the recycling bin again after one season as manager of the Los Angeles Angels the moment the Chicago Cubs and Joe Maddon parted company.
It was the worst secret in baseball. The Angels dumped Ausmus to make room for Maddon, much the same way the Chicago Cubs fired Rick Renteria when the possibility of hiring Maddon became a reality in 2015.
Teams always find room for Maddon.
How could you blame the Angels? Maddon is a part of the organization’s nomenclature. He worked for them in various capacities for 31 years before leaving to become manager of the Tampa Bay Rays. Somewhere in his home, there must be a gold watch commemorating his service.
Angels owner Arte Moreno loves him and was said to be at the center of the effort to corral him, perhaps even more enthusiastic about the possibility than his own general manager, Billy Eppler.
“I dig into the relationship component of all this,” said Maddon in a radio interview on Wednesday. “Everybody wants to know strategies, hit and runs, bullpen management, lineups and all that stuff. But it starts with relationships, and I’ve already had that built. That’s where it began.”
The Angels have the best player in the game, Mike Trout, and perhaps the most interesting, Shohei Ohtani, but they haven’t been able to maximize their presence by putting together playoff-worthy teams.
They finished 35 games out of first place in 2019. They haven’t played above .500 since 2015. They haven’t been to the postseason since 2014 or won a playoff series since beating the Red Sox in a 2009 American League Division series.
What the Angels need is a reason to feel good about themselves. And that is what Maddon brings to their table. He is the Norman Vincent Peale of managers, perennially positive and original. He keeps things light.
The Angels and Maddon, a three-time manager of the year, reached an agreement on Wednesday on a three-year deal valued between $12-$15 million. He is the first of the veteran corps of unemployed managers, also featuring Joe Girardi and Buck Showalter, to find work.
“We are thrilled that Joe is coming back home and bringing an exciting brand of baseball to our fans,” said Eppler. “Every stop he has made throughout his managerial career, he has built a culture that is focused on winning while also allowing his players to thrive. We believe Joe will be a great asset for our club and look forward to him leading the team to another World Series championship.”
Maddon transitions to the Angels after five great seasons with the Cubs, highlighted by their first World Series title in 108 years in 2016. No matter where he is in life, there will always be an autograph show waiting for Maddon’s signature. Chicago will always buy him a drink.
“I could not be more excited to come back home and manage this great organization,” said Maddon in a statement. “I’d like to thank Arte Moreno, Billy Eppler and John Carpino for giving me the opportunity to add another chapter to my Angels career. I was lucky enough to be a part of the first Angels team to win a World Series title and I look forward to the opportunity to bring Angel fans their second championship.”
Although it was always assumed they would hire Maddon, the Angels diligently interviewed other candidates, namely Showalter and former Toronto and Boston manager John Farrell, who has been out of work for two years. But Maddon was the perfect fit.
He signed with the Angels as an undrafted catcher in 1975, and he spent the next three decades, dating to the days of Gene Mauch, doing what he was asked. He served as a Major League coach for five managers and was twice the Angels’ interim manager.
Before leaving to manage the Rays, Maddon spent six years (2000-05) as bench coach for Mike Scioscia, a period encompassing the team’s 2002 World Series championship. And then he managed Tampa Bay for nine years, taking the team to the 2008 World Series.
Here’s something for Angels fans to look forward to: Only Bill McKechnie (Reds, Pirates and Cardinals) and Dick Williams (Red Sox, Athletics and Padres) have ever led three different franchises to World Series appearances.
Still, managing the Angels this season will be a lot more than dealing with baseball issues. The franchise is now enveloped in a major scandal surrounding the death this summer of one of its pitchers, Tyler Skaggs.
Skaggs died of a drug overdose related to opioid addiction and MLB is looking into whether team employees both supplied him and kept his problem a secret. The organization could be facing myriad penalties if found complicit.
Maddon is very much a people person, as affable as he is ingenious. And he will provide an important buffer for his players, and an insightful voice for the media, as the investigation continues and ultimately concludes.
Make no doubt, Wednesday was a great day for the Angels. As the hiring of all new managers should be, it provided a fresh air for an organization badly in need of it.
Times and players constantly change; nothing stays the same for too long. But the Angels and Maddon are made for each other and the team is happy he’s decided to come home.