By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) Joe Maddon is my favorite manager in baseball.
He’s an ever-curious free thinker, and a fearless innovator as a strategist. Ask his players and they’ll tell you that as a leader he’s clear, communicative, warm, and relentless. If you listen to him talk about baseball you’ll hear life maxims aplenty; mantras appropriated from philosophers and theorists he’s read through the years.
“Integrity has no need of rules” was one he dropped in a profile this month on HBO’s Real Sports. Maddon aims to breed integrity amongst his players, making them accountable and honorable. Theoretically that grows them into players who don’t need rules. But how in the hell do you do that?
He actually does have one rule for his position players, just one. And in his mind it’s the only one he needs.
Run hard to first base.
How hard is that to do, really? On a grounder, on a clear base hit, on a blast you shouldn’t assume is a home run. Run hard to first. If you do that, Maddon believes it then permeates to every aspect of the game. It’s fait accompli that you’ll run hard beyond that initial 90 feet. Not going aggressively after a ball on defense then seems ridiculous and an insult to your teammates. It is every bit of that.
He’s right of course, and that simplicity of demanded effort started to make me mad. Mad at players we’ve all watched, but also mad at myself for ever letting players and managers slide. As a baseball writer and talker, I’m done with excuses for lack of effort, and those that allow it.
When Dale Sveum didn’t come down on Alfonso Soriano in spring training about watching a deep drive off his bat, I gave him some early-term benefit of the doubt. “He’s waiting to build trust before he brings a hammer down,” I said to myself. Silly. There’s absolutely no reason to allow it, from a kid or a veteran, and the sooner you tell them that the better.
When Adam Dunn decided last Saturday to not run hard from first to third on a Paul Konerko double to left, he was then not prepared to round third hard and score as the ball was bobbled in the corner. He didn’t even look at Joe McEwing to pick up the sign, but the real problem was him “shutting it down” before he even reached second. He didn’t give himself a chance to take advantage of a mistake. That’s awful, and inexcusable.
Now, Joe Maddon’s mission is of course helped by the kind of roster and players he’s had in Tampa. It’s easier to demand and get effort from young, impressionable, eager guys. Thinking about this makes me want to go back and see if all his vets did it too. Did Manny Ramirez run hard in his five-game stint in Tampa last year? I know this much: his teams fight to the last out and the last day, and find their way to the postseason more than their talent level probably merits.
Look, we all know baseball is not a pure “effort = achievement” sport. The most difficult aspects of the game are usually achieved as a result of preternatural calm and patience, as opposed to frantic aggression and intensity. But there are ways to help your team, ways to breed the integrity Joe Maddon talks about, which are only enabled by every person simply trying his best.
Let’s not let anyone get away with less.
Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9am–1pm CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show and Sundays from 9am–Noon CT on Hit And Run.