A long-time Halo returns to the team who have invested in Ohtani and Trout, and now have a proven skipper.
The Twitter handle of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — and maybe someday Long Beach — is simple: @Angels.
This week, they could have tweeted just one hashtag: #blessed.
Somehow the snakebitten team has lured back the best manager in baseball, one of their own, Joe Maddon.
The first time Maddon donned an Angel jersey, Captain and Tennille’s ridiculously hopeful “Love Will Keep Us Together” bounced from Chevy Novas to Chrysler Cordobas.
He remained in that uniform (mostly) for 30 years as a player, a scout, a hitting instructor and as a coach. He was Mike Scioscia’s consigliere/bench coach from 2000-2005, helping Anaheim win their only World Series trophy in 2002.
Hello Tampa Bay!
In 2005 the rebuilding Tampa Bay Devil Rays gave Maddon a chance to do something he hadn’t done since the ’80s: manage a team. Despite being a personable guy, and a trusty #2, he didn’t sparkle as a minor league manager, so giving him full reigns of a big league club was a bit of a risk for the team.
But what did they really have to lose? They were only spending $44 million on salaries between 2006-2007, but they shortly found themselves with a healthy list of young soon-to-be stars: Evan Longoria, David Price, James Shields and B. J. Upton.
Time had taught Maddon to appreciate patience, a trick he must have hypnotized the Rays front office with as they endured two losing seasons where they lost more than 90 games each year.
And then in 2008 everything fell into place when Joe Maddon led the team to the World Series. The franchise’s first.
Maddon would get the Rays into postseason play two more times during his reign, quite a feat in the highly competitive A.L. East.
He would get to the World Series again, and when he did, he made history.
What Maddon accomplished in Tampa was what every team hopes will happen when they hire a new manager: he could turn their cheaply assembled pile of losers into champions. But a manager is only as good as the players the General Manager hooks him up with.
After a disappointing season in 2014, the Rays’ GM Andrew Friedman left to become President of Baseball Operations of the Dodgers. Maddon had a clause in his contract that said if Friedman was no longer around, that he could opt-out of his deal. The deep-pocketed Chicago Cubs swooped in with a five-year contract at $5 million a year. It would make Maddon the highest paid manager in baseball.
The Cubs were going through a World Series drought of laughable proportions, having not won a title since 1908. Generations had come and gone only to see the Cubs lose. In Maddon they saw someone who took a group of young bucks and turn them into champs. They too had young talent like Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo.
The Cubs in 2015 bet it all on the happy-go-lucky gray hair with thick glasses.
Maddon brought his entire bag of tricks to Chicago: the t-shirts, the road trips, costumes, the light-heartedness, the hippy vibe and the fun. It all helped relieve the pressure that all players experience, but especially those who are expected to win it and win it now.
Hell, the lovable loser Cubs had started embracing the W flag in 2007. They wanted to wave it in October.
And then on a rainy Cleveland night in November, the Cubs did raise it. Joe Maddon who had driven a ’70s van onto the field in spring training, who had coined the phrase “Try Not To Suck,” and who told the team the new dress code for traveling on the road was “If you think you look hot, wear it…”
Joe Maddon had delivered the Cubs its first World Series championship in over 100 years. Five million people showed up for the victory parade and celebration and when the skipper took the mic to address the endless sea of smiling faces he compared it to Woodstock.
The entire thing was unbelievable.
Equally surprising was when Maddon’s contract was expiring this year and despite bringing the Cubs to the post-season in his first four years, when the team failed to make the playoffs last month, the team bid him farewell. Someone in that front office had played too much Janet Jackson “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” apparently.
Once the Dodgers had announced that they would be sticking with Dave Roberts, who has brought the team to the precipice of a title several times, but has repeatedly failed in October, all eyes were on the Angels to close the deal with their old friend.
How much love does Joe have for the Angeles? On that rainy night in November, he had an Angels cap tucked into his back pocket. It was his father’s favorite. And now he returns to wear it every day.
The second-most popular baseball team in “Los Angeles” have now landed a triad of unexpected pieces.
Welcome home to Anaheim!
Just two years ago, when every team in baseball was trying to woo two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, the soft-spoken pitcher/slugger chose to play with the sub .500 club, instead of the stacked Cubs. Why? Nobody knows. The only answer might be because he wanted to play alongside the best player in MLB, Mike Trout.
This spring the Angels gave Trout, their 27- year-old centerfielder, a whopping 12-year $430 million contract before he could enter the free market and possibly get more. Why did Trout stick with the club that had tried and failed to team him up with talent? It’s a mystery. Life is full of them. Why do you park in a driveway but drive in a parkway?
But now with Joe Maddon, the Halos hope those moves can mean something and he can turn around the team as quickly as he did in Chicago and Tampa.
Not sucking will be a nice improvement. But because the Angels share the division with the Houston Astros, they’re going to have to make some more money moves to bring the Rally Monkey back to national prominence. Fortunately for Angels fans, they now have one of baseball’s best ambassadors to begin the conversations.