It seems likely that Joe Maddon’s success was in the back of Jack Zduriencik’s mind when he tapped Don Wakamatsu to be the Mariners’ manager. Zduriencik said as much at the GM Meetings in California in November when I asked him if he was open to hiring a coach with lots of experience but none as a major-league manager. That was the route the Rays took in 2006, when they hired Maddon, the long-time Angels bench coach under Mike Scioscia, to be their manager. Maddon suffered through two last-place finishes before winning the American League pennant — and AL manager of the year — last season in a landslide vote (receiving every first-place vote but one, which went to Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire).
“Joe’s a good story,” Zduriencik told me at the time. “Are there individuals out there like that, guys that have less experience but a similar upside? That would be intriguing to me.”
Not only do Wakamatsu and Maddon have similar backgrounds, but they’re also good friends. I asked Maddon about “Wak” today after the Rays’ practice in Port Charlotte, Florida. Turns out their relationship goes way back to Wakamatsu’s playing days at Arizona State (1982-85).
“I love Wak,” Maddon said effusively (which is how he says everything, come to think of it. He’s just an effusive guy). Jim Brock, the Arizona State coach, used to permit me, as a young scout and coach, to go out and work with the ASU baseball team. That’s where I first met Wak, working with him defensively as a catcher. He worked with me at my different baseball camps, and also with the Angels as a coach, etc. (Wakamatsu was a manager, coach and minor-league field coordinator the Anaheim organization from 2000 through 2002). We had interaction that way.
“He’s very bright, very organized. He has a lot of good thoughts. He feels very good in his own skin, so I believe he’s going to be able to take charge of that situation. He’s going to make decisions based on the right thing to do, as opposed to trying to ameliorate or appease somebody. For those reasons, I think he’s going to be very good.”
Yeah, he dropped an “ameliorate” on me. It means “to make better or more tolerable.” I had to look it up.
Continued Maddon: “He’s definitely ready. He’s a great student. He’s a great observer. We still have good talks. I called him after he got the job. He’s solid, and he’s got a good staff there, too. You’re going to be very pleased with the group.”
When I asked Joe about GMs like Zduriencik seeking out “the next Maddon,” he replied, “It’s always flattering to hear something like that. I have so much respect for Jack. I know Jack way back from scouting in Grand Junction, Colorado, in the early ’80s. To have him say something like that is very flattering to me. Quite frankly, Wak and I share a lot of the same kind of thoughts.”
And finally: “We have great conversations, whether it’s on the field or phone calls in the offseason. We’d call and talk about different things. If I needed an opinion on somebody once he left the organization, I would call him because I always trusted his opinions. He’s a very good evaluator, also, which is very important in a role where you’re trying to build something like that.
“Wak has all the tools. He’s a five-tool manager.”
That’s a pretty good endorsement from the hottest manager in the game.
(Photo by Associated Press)