Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A conversation with ... Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon actually got some cheers from Angels fans when he got ejected from Monday night's game by Bruce Froemming for arguing a check-swing call. That would indicate that Angel fans haven't forgotten Maddon, the team's bench coach for a decade but now manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

As I wrote in Tuesday's paper, Maddon still feels some of that emotional pull but it's gotten less as time has gone on. Still, he had plenty to say about some of the guys he left behind, as well as one he relinquished to his former organization.

Do you still have strong emotions when you return to Anaheim?

"Always. It's wonderful to come back here. However, I'm a Ray. You've got to get over being an Angel after so many years. Right now it's more like the enemy's den than it had been in the past. I've kind of gotten over that. But I have a lot of good friends over there, and I have a lot of respect for every one of them.

"It's nice to come back. I’d like to come back with the record being appropriate so we could battle them for a playoff situation. That’s my real goal. If that day occurs, that’s what I’m looking forward to."

How far away are they?

"Not too far. Closer than people think and realize."

But you haven't won here as an opposing manager.

"Then I (inhale). ... I didn't even realize that. I didn't even realize we had not won a game with me as manager in this ballpark. The first series here was kind of a blur. That was a total setup."

What about Mike Butcher, who was your pitching coach last year but then returned to the Angels as Bud Black's replacement?

"You look at what (John) Lackey's doing right now, what Eskey (Kelvim Escobar) is doing. They're pitching at a very high level ... Mike's a great pitching coach. I knew that all along from the time I worked here and last year with the Rays. He's very good, and I know he commands the respect of his pitching staff. He's really well prepared. He's one of those guys who's able to teachy both physical and mental mechanics, which I think is rare in the game today."

Did you think things would change much after Bud Black left?

"I don't know. I never really thought about it that much. They're both really good. Pepe (Black) is one of the best, and I think Butch can be one of the best, so it was a nice transition for the Angels."

Did Black talk to you after getting the Padres job?

"Oh yeah, Pepe and I talk. We've talked several times this year. He's such a great guy and he's so low-key. He's perfect for that situation. We played them this year ... He's dong a great job. Their pitching is kickin' butt down there. That might have been the best staff we saw in either league. But he's going to be very successful there for years to come, and I'm very happy for him.

"That's the perfect spot for him down there, a veteran ballclub with good pitching. It suits his personality really well. They have a chance to move it along (this postseason), based on their pitching. In a short series, pitching matters a lot. We saw them, we saw the Rockies, we saw the Dodgers (and the Diamondbacks). We saw the guys involved (in the NL West), and I think they're right up there."

What about Chone Figgins' emergence?

"If you remember, Figgy was acquired in a minor league deal. It was a nondescript situation ... a minor leaguer for a minor leaguer, you're not expecting a lot from that guy. Then all of a sudden he shows up, and he's a lot more than we'd anticipated.

"When I talked to (Mike Scioscia), we thought making him a Super-U (utility) guy would be the right way to go. Offensively he's been much more than we'd ever anticipated at the time. Base-stealing wise, we thought that was a part of his game. But his ability to hit from both sides, and then he's turned into this little catalyst ... all this stuff was potentially there. But the biggest thing, I don't think anybody anticipated him hitting for this high an average."

What about his success on the basepaths?

"It doesn't surprise me. He studies it. He wants to do it. He believes he can do it. He's very self-confident in that part of the game. He's got both the physical and mental ability to be a high-end basestealer.

"I've always believed basestealers are those who aren't afraid to make a mistake. Guys that are cautious don't become basestealers. He's got a little bit of that Three Musketeer attitude."

Does that confidence also work in his favor when it comes to playing multiple positions?

"I think he knew when he first came up that that was his best chance of sticking around. To his credit, being a bright young man, he knew that playing all these different positions made him more desirable to the organization.

You know that you can set him up at third base if you wanted to. You know hyou can set him up at second base if you wanted to. Or you could set him up anywhere in the outfield on a daily basis if you wanted to. He was smart in accepting that role and how he went about his business. That's why he's become such a successful major league player ... he's primarily a super-U guy, but you know he could play every day in center field and still win you a championship.

"People don't talk about it, but Figgy's got one of the best arms (around), and it's unusual to have that kind of accuracy and arm strength playing so many spots. He's one of the few guys who can go from the infield to the outfield and maintain his arm strength and not get a sore arm. I've marveled at that with him."


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