This has been an incredibly frustrating year for the Joe Maddon and his Tampa Bay Rays. It has been equally frustrating for their fans. That level of frustration is now beginning to show in comments made by Manager Joe Maddon.
This past weekend series with the hated New York Yankees had impressive attendance numbers. The three game set had an announced attendance of 86,389. It gave this series an average of almost 29,000 butts in the seats per game and was a 58% increase over the average home attendance for the Rays this year.
Now, it’s clear that many baseball fans know that Derek Jeter is retiring from his sure to be Hall of Fame career. Attendance has probably spiked for New York road games throughout the season as fans pay homage to the Yankee Captain.
Clearly, Maddon felt this as he told some of the media after Saturday’s game “Yeah it’s great. It’s great that it’s sold out. And I understand that the people like Derek Jeter. But you’ve got to come out and root for the Rays, too, you understand. I mean, I totally understand what’s going on. But I’m not going to sit here and defend all of that noise in the Yankees’ favor in our ballpark. I’m not going to defend that. So we’re going to come out and root for the Rays. We’d appreciate that.”
Ouch. Perhaps I am making a mountain out of a molehill but Joe Maddon sounding upset about this, is out of character.
Only one team since 2008 has won more games than the Tampa Bay Rays. Those damn New York Yankees. The Rays have played .564 baseball for over half a decade, yet in that same time frame, have never broken out of the bottom 10 in attendance. In fact, the last two full seasons, the Rays have finished dead last in home attendance and seem to have last placed locked for this season, with a paltry average home attendance of 18,237. They haven’t been making noise for the Rays in forever. Joe Maddon should know this.
I understand why Maddon is upset. Those 10,000 extra fans are rooting for the Yankees and not the Rays. My point is that from 2008-2013 when the Rays and Yanks were the two best teams in baseball, when they both seemed to be in the hunt for AL East supremacy, when they were the hunted and not the hunters, Maddon was at the Trop when fans came to root for the Yanks and the Red Sox and just about every other visiting team on the planet. But he never displayed his displeasure until this past weekend.
This season has not gone according to plan. This year started with such high expectations. Even Vegas books seemed to like the Rays and they haven’t believed in them ever. So many national magazines and so called experts had them playing in the World Series. Unfortunately, the season started. So did the losing.
It is a remarkable feat that after Friday’s win, the Rays had climbed their way back to .500. They were 18 games under that mark in June. The feat was so remarkable, that only three teams in history had accomplished that feat. As a point of interest, none of those three teams finished above .500.
So, is Maddon’s outburst at the fans at the Trop, the first sign of cracking under the pressure? The reaction was very un-Maddonesque. He is usually the guy that rolls with the punches. Never a bad thing to say about anyone or anything.
Maybe Joe knows that even though the Rays are mathematically in the race, the hole they dug was too steep to climb out. Maybe he knows that the Price trade is going to catch up with the team. Whatever the reason, for the last seven years, Joe Maddon has made himself a quasi-legend in these parts with his never ending faith and belief in his team, their small but loyal fan base and the organization. The small budgeted team that could.
If it was the first sign of cracking under pressure, I’m willing to give Joe Maddon a pass. He’s earn that. There are 38 games to go and the Rays are 6 ½ games back for the second wild card. There is still time but Joe Maddon and the team needs to focus on what is happening on the field, not who’s making noise in the stands.