When Marcel Lachemann resigned as Angels manager Aug. 6, 1996, the team hired grizzled veteran John McNamara to finish out the season.
Two weeks later, when McNamara, then 64, was hospitalized because of a blood clot in his calf, the Angels turned to 42-year-old bespectacled bench coach Joe Maddon to run a disappointing and dysfunctional club.
Among the first questions Maddon was asked: What do we call the interim to the interim manager?
“How about interim squared?” Maddon quipped in the visiting manager’s office of old Yankee Stadium. “Or I2D2?”
Maddon’s sense of humor and ease with the media were immediately apparent, though his body language was a bit peculiar. As he spoke on his first day on the new job, Maddon leaned on the side of the desk in the manager’s office.
Maddon assumed the same posture for every postgame interview during his three-week run as interim-to-the-interim manager, a stint in which the Angels were 8-14. Not once, in clubhouses in New York, Baltimore, Minnesota, Cleveland and Anaheim, did he sit in the manager’s chair. It was his way of showing respect to McNamara and Lachemann.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Gary DiSarcina, the Angels shortstop from 1992 to 1999. “It’s just class. He’s a total pro. Joe didn’t play in the major leagues. He knew if he sat in that seat it might have ruffled some feathers, and it just didn’t feel right for him. He wasn’t named the manager.”
About 23 years, 1,225 victories as a big league manager, one World Series championship, two pennants and four division titles later, Maddon will plant himself firmly in the chair he refused to sit in back in 1996.
Maddon, 65, will be introduced as Angels manager Thursday at Angel Stadium after agreeing last week to a three-year, $12-million deal to replace Brad Ausmus, who was fired after one year at the helm.
After spending his first 31 years (1975-2005) of professional baseball with the Angels in a variety of minor league and big league roles, Maddon is returning to a position, and a chair, that he is more than worthy of filling.
“For the Angels, especially with some of the bad news they’ve had over the last year or two, it’s some really positive news they can start rallying around and look forward to,” said DiSarcina, who has coached with the Angels, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. “His track record is pretty impeccable. Where he goes, they win.”
The Angels hired Terry Collins as manager in 1997, and Collins retained Maddon as bench coach. When Collins stepped down amid turmoil in August 1999, Maddon led an eventual 92-loss team to a 19-10 record as interim manager.
Maddon interviewed for the job that went to Mike Scioscia, who led the Angels to the 2002 World Series championship and six division titles in 19 years before stepping down after 2018.
Scioscia didn’t know Maddon when he took over in 2000 but retained him at the urging of upper management. Maddon was a key component in the resurrection of a franchise that was dominant from 2002 to 2009.
Maddon’s reputation and profile grew with the Angels’ success. He interviewed for the Red Sox job that went to Terry Francona in 2004. He left the Angels after 2005 to manage the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who lost at least 91 games in each of their first eight years.
Maddon, his signature thick-rimmed glasses already giving him a studious look, embraced the information provided by an analytics-driven, Andrew Friedman-led front office and combined it with his old-school sensibilities, a fusion that helped turn the low-budget Rays into contenders.
From 2008 to 2013, the Maddon-led Rays reached the 2008 World Series, where they lost to Philadelphia, and won two division titles.
Maddon left Tampa Bay for a five-year, $25-million deal to manage the Chicago Cubs from 2015 to 2019 and will forever be known as the skipper who helped the Cubs end a 108-year championship drought with a thrilling seven-game World Series win over Cleveland in 2016.
Maddon guided the Cubs to a 471-339 record (.581) and four playoff berths before stepping down in late-September. Now he has come full circle to lead a sagging and troubled franchise that is looking for its first playoff win since 2009.
“I always knew he had the intelligence and the baseball smarts — he’s always five steps ahead of most everyone else,” former Angels closer Troy Percival said, reflecting on Maddon’s career arc. “But I never anticipated a guy going from a minor league director to the top dog.”
The challenge in Anaheim will be far more daunting than Chicago. Maddon assumed a Cubs team with talented youngsters Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber, who formed the core of the 2016 title team. The rotation included Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks.
The Angels have endured four consecutive losing seasons. They have the best player in baseball in center fielder Mike Trout, a two-way phenom in Shohei Ohtani, a power-hitting outfielder in Justin Upton, a defensive whiz at shortstop in Andrelton Simmons, a solid infielder in David Fletcher, a capable closer in Hansel Robles, a top outfield prospect in Jo Adell and not much else.
They will have to spend big in free agency to get the starting pitching they desperately need. Gerrit Cole would be a great start, but they need two more arms to compete. They have a gaping hole at catcher. They need bullpen upgrades.
The fallout from the drug-related death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs — the ongoing federal investigation and the wrongful-death civil lawsuit the Skaggs family is expected to file against the Angels — could be an albatross around the franchise’s neck for years.
In Maddon, the Angels believe they have the teacher, motivator and strategist to maximize performance on the field and the level-headed sage to navigate the land mines off the field.
“He’s one of the most positive guys I’ve ever been around. He’s always been a glass-half-full type of person,” DiSarcina said. “He can be a father figure, a friend, a mentor, a teacher. Coming into the organization at this turbulent time, he can be the calming force, an anchor.
“He can settle things down and get back to the basics, to what the Angels have been known for — winning divisions, putting themselves in position to be the best team in the American League and ultimately win a World Series. He was a big part of that as a bench coach, and now, I think he has a pedigree.”