ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Maddon believed in his team, and the Rays responded to their boss, fighting all the way to the end of the season to claim the American League's Wild Card spot.
For Maddon's work as Tampa Bay's skipper, the Baseball Writers' Association of America honored him Wednesday with the AL Manager of the Year Award.
"My first thought is always about the group of people who helped get you into this position," said Maddon during a Wednesday afternoon conference call from his hometown of Hazleton, Pa. "I like to think of it as a validation of the Rays' way of doing things, and that the program we've put together and the culture we've created works. ... First of all, I think it's an organizational award. Personally, I'm very humbled by it."
Maddon received 26 of the 28 first-place votes on the AL ballot -- good for a total of 133 points. He now has two of the three highest totals in the history of the AL Manager of the Year Award voting. He received 27 first-place votes in 2008, tying the record set by Tom Kelly of the Minnesota Twins in 1991.
AL Manager of the Year voting
Detroit's Jim Leyland and Texas' Ron Washington each received one first-place vote and finished second and third, respectively. Cleveland's Manny Acta finished fourth in the voting.
"Joe clearly deserved it," Acta said. "He did an outstanding job with a ballclub that lost the likes of Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and Rafael Soriano."
Since the Manager of the Year Awards began in 1983, Maddon becomes the 12th in either league -- and seventh in the AL -- to win the honor multiple times. He is one of four active managers to be named Manager of the Year two or more times, joining Mike Scioscia, Leyland and Dusty Baker.
Maddon's faith in his team has never been tested more than last season after the Rays' roster got depleted by free agency and trades -- including the losses of Crawford and Pena, who were popular in the clubhouse and were among the top producers on the field.
However, panic never entered the picture for the baseball lifer. Instead, Maddon brought the voice of calm, telling his players on the first day of Spring Training that they needed to find another way to get it done.
"I can see the boys sitting in front of me at Port Charlotte on that very first day when you talk to the team," said Maddon. "And that was the message. It wasn't, 'Well, we're rebuilding,' or 'We're hoping to do something good this year.' We talked about doing it in another way.
"My point was we were missing a lot of good guys from the previous season. Maybe the style of game was going to be a little different, because you're missing some speed or some power, [there were] new guys having to take over."
Finding another way became the team's mantra.
"And that's exactly what we've done," center fielder B.J. Upton said. "Obviously we lost some key guys to our success from the last couple of years, but he never made a big stink about it. He just told us to move on and we'll find a different way to win than we have in the past, which I think we have done this year."
Tampa Bay started the season with six consecutive losses, at which point Maddon told his team that it was the best 0-6 team in baseball. The Rays got back into the playoff race and found themselves nine games back in the AL Wild Card race on Sept. 2. Maddon led the team to wins in 17 of the team's final 25 games, including its final five, finishing with a 91-71 record and leapfrogging the Red Sox on the final day of the regular season to reach the playoffs.
"We are the best 0-6 team in the history of Major League Baseball," said Maddon after his team was eliminated in the AL Division Series by the Rangers. "It was a huge success this year, and anybody that wants to argue otherwise, please come by. I'd be happy to engage in that discussion."
Maddon is respected and loved by his players. When asked what made Maddon so successful in 2011 and what makes him a quality manager, Sam Fuld replied: "There's a lot."
"First and foremost, he's consistent with his demeanor and his approach," Fuld said. "And I think that's a huge asset as a manager. Whether we were 0-6 to start the year or we were on a roll in August and September, he was the same guy. And I think that's huge. It allows you to relax when you face adversity.
"His demeanor rubs off on us. He's an easy guy to play for. He just asks you to play hard. And otherwise, he just wants you to be yourself. There's just something to be said for being comfortable as a human, beyond being a baseball player. The second you meet him and the second you sort of realize what the whole team is about, you feel comfortable. And that definitely helps you as a ballplayer."
Looking at how Maddon managed a game, Fuld noted that "what struck me was his ability to use the bench and keep the bench fresh."
"Certainly I know that from my own perspective, you always feel like you're going to get an opportunity to contribute and help the team win," said Fuld, who was used as a reserve for much of the season. "And that's huge, because the reality for us to win and be successful, we can't just rely on our starting nine guys every day. We have to use all of our position players."
Fuld also pointed to the element of fun on the team, crediting Maddon for being responsible.
"It starts with him, really," Fuld said. "He encourages that kind of stuff. He knows that kind of stuff helps keep you loose during the games. It's just an intangible to feel like that sense of chemistry on the team. It does produce better results on the field. And he knows that and it definitely [helps], and the amount of fun we have is a product of what he wants and what he allows."
James Shields pointed to Maddon's understanding of the talent and personalities on the team for a big part of his success.
"We have the talent on the team to make the playoffs, it's just putting it together," Shields said. "I think one of the biggest attributes that Joe has is to put a team together and get the right chemistry together. He brings that loose attitude to the clubhouse. The way he works with each individual is pretty special. I think that chemistry is one of the most underrated things as far as an organization, and Joe definitely puts that together for us."
Shields summed up his feelings about Maddon and the job he has done.
"Over the last four or five years, he's done a phenomenal job with our team," Shields said. "I don't think there were a lot of people who thought we were going to make the playoffs at the beginning of the year, and Joe put it together once again. Three of the last four years, we've gone to the playoffs, and that's a tribute to Joe."
Maddon, who has compiled a 495-477 (.509) record in his six seasons as Rays manager, joins Baker as the only two to win the award twice in their first six seasons of managing. Only three managers in baseball have been at their post longer: Scioscia (12 seasons with the Angels), Ron Gardenhire (10 seasons with the Twins) and Charlie Manuel (seven seasons with the Phillies).
Thanks to Maddon's success, along with that of the team he manages, he has become a coveted managerial property. However, on Wednesday, he sounded content to remain in place as the manager of the Rays.
"I think any manager would love to be the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays," Maddon said. "I really mean that. It's a very pure form of baseball. I think a lot of people appreciate the way we do things and how we do it. Nationally, I think a lot of people are into the Rays' style. ... So for me, it's kind of a no-brainer. I love it there. ... A better place to work, I don't think one exists in baseball."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.