ESPN baseball reporter Tim Kurkjian’s report on the firing of Joe Maddon included a juicy morsel of information that couldn’t be ignored. According to Kurkjian, Joe Maddon shaved a mohawk into his head in a last ditch effort to awaken his team. However, it was a day late and a dollar short because the team never even saw his new ‘do. In fact, nobody has seen it. Thus, Maddon’s mohawk has entered the Baseball Lore Hall of Fame.
However, Maddon’s mohawk is more than a mohawk. It is also a shrine to his failed tenure in Anaheim. An early adopter of the infield shift and analytics with Tampa, he’d begun battling the Angels’ front office over their meddling. Apparently, he was annoyed by their excessive dependence on analytics and inserting themselves into his managerial decisions, telling The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, “It’s been kind of difficult overall. I’m into analytics, but not to the point where everybody wants to shove it down your throat.”
“You’re unable to just go to the ballpark and have some fun and play baseball.” Maddon added.
Maddon loved influencing the clubhouse through abstract means. He relentlessly mixed and matched lineups, pushing out left and right-handed platoons depending on the day. The mohawk isn’t the first time he’s used hair as a way to enliven his team. However, it is the most extreme. Dressing up in themed outfits for road trips, petting zoos, flamingos at the ballpark, and other orchestrated slapstick clubhouse decisions are just a few of the cartoonish steps he’s taken to break up the monotony of a 162-game campaign. Analytics wouldn’t neuter the madman rep that he’s spent two decades curating, but a 68-year-old World Champion set in his ways did not want to be reigned in. Maddon has always been this way, but a rudderless organization has made him look like a caricature of the Maddon fans saw in Tampa and Chicago.
Maddon has called for two of the eight known bases-loaded intentional walks in major league history. Two months ago, he intentionally walked Corey Seager with the bases loaded, a move he’s used before against Josh Hamilton, to fire his team up. It would be noted that the Angels came back and won that game, which probably convinced Maddon that his approach was working.
His reasoning at the time? “Psychology,” he said.”Just trying to stay out of a big blow, and also just to stir the group up, quite frankly. That’s something you don’t normally do, and I thought just by going out there and doing something like that, the team might respond, simple as that.”
As revered as Maddon was in Chicago for leading the Cubs to their first World Series in 108 years, his managerial choices nearly cost those Cubs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Unfortunately, Maddon’s tactics in Los Angeles never had an impact. The 12-game losing streak Los Angeles was in the midst of, blew the door off of Maddon’s job security. But now that the Angels have lost four of their last six games, it’s become apparent that the Angels needed more than just a shock to their system. The mohawk was an extension of Maddon’s growing reliance on gimmicks that made him look like Ted Lasso working and Jackie Moon rather than a manager trying to bust his team out of a 12-game losing streak.
The real question is whether this was a chicken or an egg situation. Did Maddon walk into the front office, show his mohawk to the president or general manager, who promptly fired him? One can only imagine an unsuspecting Joe Maddon walking into the front office on the day he was set to be fired, taking off his hat and watching everyone’s expressions drop like anvils. Or was he fired and then things got awkward after he took off his hat?
Now he’s got to walk around with a mid-life crisis haircut explaining that to anyone that asks that he got it to inspire his team, but they never saw it because he was canned the same day. Hopefully, he doesn’t shave it and pops up in a television studio role this summer rocking the mohawk while everyone pretends not to notice the elephant in the room. It could have been worse though. It could have been a tattoo.