Not Everyone Reviles Dorks: Joe Maddon Thinks Nerds Are Pretty Cool

I am a nerd.

I know, I know, the dashing good looks and air of general awesomeness would lead you to believe otherwise, but it’s true. Need me to flash my nerd cred to prove it? I scraped together change to buy each of the issues from the four different Superman comic lines that followed the titular character’s return from death. I wrote papers for classmates for money. I was named the outstanding Home Ec, Industrial Technology, and English student in my senior class and was told by my Calculus teacher that I was the second-best mathematician he’d taught (my uncle Ed was #1).

Oh, there’s also the fact that I didn’t date or kiss a girl until college. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to actually write that?

The good news is that I’m not necessarily sharing the admission with a very big audience. Even so, I can only imagine the dude-bros reading this — albeit slowly and with their lips silently mouthing the words as they do — and thinking up all kinds of (not very) funny things to say to/about me. But you know what? I don’t care.

Despite reinventing myself in college, I’m still the same guy who loves comic book movies and 80’s cartoons, who read all the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books, and who can be painfully awkward in social situations. And for those of you who’ve actually met me and who might call BS on the latter of those claims, consider whether and how much beer was involved. Absent liquid courage, I’m actually really quiet and reserved when I’m around people I don’t know.

Perhaps that’s why Goose Gossage’s profane tirade the other day got me so bent out of shape. I mean, I’m opposed to all manner of soapbox grandstanding about the superiority of a bygone era, but this particular diatribe gave me a real mental wedgie. The fine folks at Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs make me look like a mouth-breather by comparison, but I’d like to think I’m a card-carrying member of baseball nerdery. As such, I considered this malignant missive of mustachioed machismo to be somewhat of a personal affront.

While not everyone was as rankled — Danny Kanell, outspoken opponent of the wussification of America, actually praised Gossage’s rant and changed his Twitter avatar to a picture of the pitcher — you know there were more than a few throughout baseball’s highest levels who were less than pleased with Goose putting the F in HOF while calling out players and execs. In fact, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi had a little sit-down with the former Yankee to basically let him know that it’s not cool to be a human turd in society’s punchbowl.

You had to know other organizations were going to be asked about this as well, though this blog is primarily concerned with only one team. As such, I was most interested in Joe Maddon’s reaction to the loudmouth legend’s lamentation.

“My take on that is it’s just evolution,” the Cubs skipper said. “Everything’s evolved. In my home in Tampa Bay, I’ve got several really wonderful high-definition televisions, and I’m so glad we’ve evolved to the high-def TV. All the classic cars I own, I would never drive them without air conditioning, or disc brakes or power steering. … It’s just the evolution of the world.

“In regard to professional sports, the things that are available now, if they’d been available in the ’40s, I believe without question Mr. [Branch] Rickey would’ve been all over this stuff, and this would be considered old-school right now.”

And that’s the real key, right? I’m writing this on a laptop computer connected to Al Gore’s greatest contribution to human existence via wifi while watching college basketball on a 60-inch high-def TV. Does it make me soft or weak or nerdy that I enjoy some of the technology that is available to me? Okay, maybe a little. It also makes me human.

I’m sure Gossage is not into the various trappings of modernity though, enamored as he is of the past. No, I’m guessing he still brews his coffee with a handful of greenies and sharpens his cleats in order to aerate the grass he cuts with a manual rotary mower. He uses a flip phone because smart phones aren’t really all that smart after all. He still imagines giving swirlies to guys at the gym because, dammit, he can.

But how does Maddon feel about the nerds who are ruining, er, running the sport?

“I love nerds; I wish I had some nerd-ism in me,” Maddon admitted. “These guys went to school, went to class, wrote their own papers and they did everything right, and all of a sudden they’re in a good position to give me some information that I don’t have. I’ll take it.”

Joe, are you admitting to the world that I was, in fact, the one who did all the work on that book report on Atlas Shrugged?

“I didn’t say that,” Maddon said. “I just said these guys wrote their own papers.”

Ooooh, that was close. He almost gave up our secret.

But Maddon’s the human equivalent of a cucumber, by which I mean that he’s really cool, not that he’s green and sorta phallic. Speaking of, am I the only one who sees the fantastic coincidence in Gossage’s given name being Richard?

I know I’m not the only one who sees right through Maddon’s words though. He can say he wishes he had some nerd-ism in him, but I think we all know that no self-respecting jock would ever carry around a card dripping with analytics. He’d never wear those glasses or be so willing to deviate from the venerated standards of normalcy in a sport governed largely by antiquated tradition. Joe Maddon is a nerd.

Maybe that’s why I like the guy so much and how the Cubs were able to throw gasoline on the flames of my affection for the team last season. Maddon is zany and wacky and he’s wholly different from any of the guys who’ve filled out lineup cards for this team before. He is me. He is probably you. Unless, of course, you’re cooler than me, which isn’t really saying much.

So here’s to the nerds ruining baseball and taking over the world, and to hoping the coup they’ve staged on the north side of Chicago is successful.

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