By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Feet propped on his desk, cigarette in hand and smoke puffing lightly out of his mouth as media members gather around, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland is the definition of old school. Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon, on the other hand, hosts clubhouse guests ranging from mariachi bands to magicians to penguins.
Watching the managers in this Tigers-Rays series has been a study in opposites.
“Old-school versus new-school,” said Tampa Bay outfielder Matt Joyce, who spent his rookie year in Detroit. “Leyland is very old-school. Obviously Joe’s the new school.”
Leyland believes managing is about trusting one’s gut. Maddon is a fan of sabermetrics.
“Joe is very intellectual in that he thinks about every move, every decision and everything,” Joyce said. “With Leyland he’s just a baseball guy, you know. He’s been around the game for so long that he just goes by instinct a little bit more.”
On the surface Leyland and Maddon would be hard-pressed to appear more different, but the records of Detroit (31-26) and Tampa Bay (32-26) are nearly identical. They have great respect for each other despite their contrasting styles of management.
“He’s 10 years younger than me, so he might be a freer sprit than I am, but I really like him,” Leyland said. “He’s got energy, he’s a good guy, smart, I think he’s done a fantastic job.”
Maddon said he appreciated the compliments, and he reciprocated readily. He called Leyland one of the best managers ever. Maddon might be right. Leyland has accumulated 1,707 wins in his major league career – the 15th most in MLB history and more than any other active manager.
“Any time you play a team that he’s managing, you do stare at your lineup card a little bit longer because you know he’s not going to miss anything,” Maddon said. “I enjoy this going against him, but he definitely creates more pause with your decision-making.”
Maddon respects Leyland, but the younger manager has definitely embraced his own unique style. He also employs all manner of random, fun activities that can help players stay loose, which he considers especially helpful when players might be stressed or not performing well.
“I don’t want them to take any more swings, I don’t want them to run any more sprints, I don’t want them to throw any more pitches,” Maddon said. “I want them to lighten up and be themselves. I think for you to be really successful on this level the most important thing to bring to the ballpark is you.”
Right-handed pitcher Fernando Rodney, who played with Detroit for seven seasons and is on his second season with Tampa Bay, said he likes the approach of creating a carefree pregame environment.
“Everybody gets relaxed, and when you get out to the field, your mind is clean,” Rodney said. “You don’t have to worry about nothing. Just play. Play hard. Play hard for this guy because he tried to [help] you have fun, get happy before you go to the field. I think it’s a great idea.”
Leyland can loosen players up too, but he goes about it a little differently – no penguins required. Rodney said if a guy is struggling to hit, Leyland might just tell him to go out, have fun, get away from baseball and come back ready the next day. He may also jokingly give the player a hard time, as Joyce remembered. He smiled as thought back to Leyland’s reaction to an out Joyce made after fouling one pitch, missing another and ultimately popping up to the infield while trying to bunt.
“He just comes up to me, ‘Joyce! What the – what the hell? I thought you said you could bunt!’” Joyce recalled with a laugh. “So, I mean, just little stuff like that. He’ll make some jokes, joke around and crack on the guys. He’s part of the clubhouse atmosphere.”
Leyland and Maddon take different approaches to managing, but both have impressive resumes. Maddon has led the Rays to five straight winning seasons, while Leyland’s Tigers have had four straight winning seasons. The Rays have been to the playoffs three of the last five years; the Tigers have been twice. The Rays made it to the World Series in 2008, and the Tigers went in 2012.
“It’s interesting, but obviously they both have a lot of success,” Joyce said. “What they’ve done is pretty amazing.”