Crawford and Zobrist's baserunning disaster on Thursday was freaky enough that you can't really read anything into it. Maddon had a quote in Marc Topkin's story this morning, though, from which we can learn about the state of the team.
From Topkin: "The best lesson I've seen from this whole thing is how Carl stood up to it and was accountable for what he did," Maddon said. "I hope as a group we all take a lesson on that from him, especially the young players. He could have made up a whole bunch of excuses, but he did not. I really appreciate that, and I know the rest of the guys did, too. I think that, as much as anything, is a growth moment for us as a group compared to maybe what happened here in the past."
Maddon is remarkably consistant in his language around building a group psychology that is particular to the Rays. The last sentence of his quote digs deeper into that. For those who think Maddon is too soft on his players, make no mistake: he clearly holds them to high and clear expectations. The way he chooses to communicate his standards, however, is unique. This quote shows him being unflinchingly critical of the clubhouse he inherited, but willing to search for the positive in an otherwise heartbreaking loss. The compliment to Crawford is not superficial, but insightful. Compare it, by the way, to yesterday's impulsive, shortsighted behavior of the previous manager.
Creating a culture of accountability and self-awareness is essential in fostering long-term change in Tampa. Last summer, Maddon told me, "I’ve always thought that you have to get the group in the clubhouse, the individuals and personalities, to come together and be accountable before what you’re trying to do is going to show up on the field.
"I think everybody looks at it and thinks its going to be a different player, a new player addition, or you teach a guy a new pitch or different batting stance, and right away you think you’re going to get better. That is not true. When things get better is when we interact better. And then all the philosophies and concepts that you want to put out there have a much better chance."
So, when he speaks of " a growth moment for us as a group," he is refering to the progress of the team's move toward a winning culture. A winning culture does not involve fake positivity or illogical cheeriness--some critics, seeing only what is on the surface, accuse Maddon of these things-- but genuine cohesiveness and awareness. As anyone who has ever tried to lead a group knows, creating these conditions is hard work, and the rewards can be great.