Commentary

Maddux might've been just right

Tough, demanding baseball man has what Sox need -- except a desire to be in Boston

Updated: November 8, 2011, 2:56 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- When Mike Maddux was with the Red Sox for two seasons in the mid-'90s, having been pulled off the scrap heap by Dan Duquette in 1995, he was a spot starter who also was useful in middle and long relief, especially in his first season, when the Sox won the American League East.

Maddux's brother, Greg, meanwhile, was winning Cy Young Awards for the Atlanta Braves.

"I think Greg inherited my father's genes and I inherited my mother's," Mike Maddux joked at the time.

Turns out neither brother has to apologize for his DNA. While Greg is headed to Cooperstown and a likely first-ballot election into the Hall of Fame in 2014, Mike has carved an impressive niche as a major league pitching coach. He transformed the big league staffs of both the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers after making a seamless transition from pitcher to Double-A coach with Houston, where he influenced the careers of Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt, among others.

[+] EnlargeCJ Wilson
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireMaddux has a reputation for toughness and a demand that his charges be in top condition. Sound like someone Boston could use?

On Tuesday, Mike Maddux was scheduled to become perhaps the most intriguing candidate the Red Sox intended to interview for their vacant manager's position and the one who might have best fulfilled the needs of a team whose pitching could most benefit from a strong, expert voice. Rangers president Nolan Ryan has called Maddux the hardest-working pitching coach he has ever been around, and Maddux brings a reputation for toughness and a demand that his charges be in top condition -- attributes that would appear exactly in line with what the Red Sox require.

But on Monday afternoon, the Sox announced Maddux had withdrawn his name from consideration. GM Ben Cherington said Maddux cited "family reasons" for his decision, although he had not yet taken his name out of the mix for a managerial job with the Chicago Cubs, where brother Greg is a special assistant to the GM.

Mike Maddux has never managed before, but neither had ex-pitching coach John Farrell, who almost certainly would have inherited Terry Francona's job if he had not taken the job to manage in Toronto, and Bud Black went from being pitching coach of the Angels to manager of the Padres without missing a beat.

Those two have done much to blow up the hidebound theory that pitching coaches don't make good managers, a bias that such coaches-turned-managers as Ray Miller and Joe Kerrigan did little to counter.

And now Maddux, 49, figured to be next in line. Maddux was one of two interviews the Sox had scheduled this week -- on Wednesday, longtime catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., recently promoted to bench coach by the Indians after serving as first-base coach, is due to meet on Yawkey Way.

That will bring to three the number of candidates interviewed by the Sox, who last week gave hearings to Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin and Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum.

"I'm humbled to find how highly some other organizations feel about me," Maddux, resorting to text messaging, had written to Texas reporters last week. "It's come upon our family and me quickly. Just last week we were in the World Series, and managing another club was not in the game plan."

But Maddux looked like just the man to take the next step, his best assets the same attributes that have made him such a terrific pitching coach. Smart? Check. Communicator? Check. Independent thinker? Check. Respected? Check. Works well with others? Check.

Successful? Look at the evidence. In Texas, a graveyard for pitchers since the Ballpark in Arlington opened in 1994, the Rangers posted their best staff ERA (3.79) since 1983. In 2008, the season before Maddux came over from the Brewers, the staff ERA was 5.37. By the next season, he had shaved off nearly a full run (4.38), and it went to sub-4.00 in 2010 (3.93) before dropping again this past season.

Five Rangers starters made 29 or more starts in 2011, and four starters made 19 or more quality starts, led by C.J. Wilson's 23. The Sox had two pitchers with 19 or better: Josh Beckett (20) and Jon Lester (19).

It was on Maddux's watch that Wilson converted from reliever to starter with spectacular results. All five members of the rotation won 13 or more games, and it was Maddux, responding to a directive from Ryan, who impressed upon his starters that they were expected to pitch deep into games.

That doesn't mean the same as abusing pitch counts. Wilson ranked 15th in the league with 105.6 pitches per start, and all five starters made it through the season healthy, which admittedly takes luck but also reflects the kind of conditioning Maddux expected.

Instead of taking a step back when ace Cliff Lee left as a free agent for Philadelphia last winter, the Rangers got better, Ryan calling Maddux one of the team's best-ever free-agent signings.

The Rangers don't want to lose Maddux, but GM Jon Daniels said the team believes in giving its people the chance to pursue jobs in which they are interested. Maddux last week paid tribute to Farrell and Black for paving the way for other pitching coaches.

On Tuesday, he was supposed to get his chance to convince the Red Sox he belonged in their company. The Sox at the moment don't even have a pitching coach, having allowed Curt Young to return to Oakland after a rocky one-year term here. Hiring Maddux would have sent a clear signal about how determined the Sox are to get their pitching right this time. Instead, he became a nonstarter. The search continues.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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