AS FASHION fraternities go, the horn-rimmed hall of fame is pretty impressive. Buddy Holly. Barry Goldwater. Woody Allen. Tina Fey. Clark Kent. Wild Thing Vaughn. They're all giants in their fields, visionaries with faulty vision, and they all reached the top with their eyes framed in thick, black plastic. ¶ Baseball managers are underrepresented in the horn-rimmed hall, because 1) few of them have worn the unsubtle spectacles and 2) even fewer have been described with the adjectives (geeky, hipster, iconoclastic) often attached to those who like their eyeglasses black and bold. But it's time for Buddy, Barry and Woody to make room for the Tampa Bay Rays' Joe Maddon. He too is at the top of his profession, having just guided a franchise that had never had a winning record in 10 seasons—never won more than 70 games, for crissakes!—to a division title in the cutthroat American League East. Maddon has presided over a historic turnaround (the 2008 Rays are only the second team in major league history to win 95 games one season after losing 95) that makes him a lock to be AL Manager of the Year.
Maddon's eyewear is the real deal too. He sports a sleek, 21st-century take on classic horn-rims, a funky pair of Hugo Boss specs that appear to have been swiped from Elvis Costello's nightstand. His fiancée, Jaye Sousoures, picked them out for him four years ago. She simply thought they looked good on him, but they have since added to Maddon's aura as, in the words of Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli, "a pretty cool cat." (The front office caught on right away, handing out 15,000 replica pairs on Joe Maddon Retro Glasses Night in his first season with Tampa Bay.)
His multidimensional personality does the same. Maddon is a voracious reader who keeps a wine rack in his Tropicana Field office, bikes five to 10 miles most days and can hold forth on a seemingly endless array of topics: James Michener novels, gardening, self-help psychology and the best cycling routes in every American League city, for starters. On an off night in New York City before a crucial September series against the Yankees, Maddon planned not an evening of tinkering with lineups or poring over scouting reports, but of rocking out at a show by the B Street Band, a Springsteen cover band fronted by an old friend from high school. And he keeps things light enough that his team, the sixth youngest in the majors this season, sometimes forgets that the silver-haired man on the top step of the dugout is 54. Name another manager who has gotten a Mohawk after a game, as Maddon did last month when his players were getting shorn in a show of team unity. "He has the personality of a teenager," says 24-year-old rotation ace Scott Kazmir. "He fits in well with us."
Hip isn't the only horn-rimmed trait Maddon has covered. He may not be a nerd, but he has egghead tendencies. Two decades ago, when computers were rarer in clubhouses than Pavarotti cassettes, he was toting a laptop and preaching the importance of on-base percentage and statistical analysis as a minor league hitting instructor for the Angels. He can go retro on you too. Though consistently positive with his players and one who rarely raises his voice, Maddon twice benched star-in-the-making 24-year-old centerfielder B.J. Upton last month for not hustling, stating forcefully that the lack of effort was disrespectful to the game.
A nonconformist? Maddon has little regard for baseball's managerial book, and he has the bases-loaded intentional walk (the one he had issued to the Rangers' Josh Hamilton in August was the first in the AL in 107 years), four-man outfields (he sometimes uses the softball alignment against sluggers like the Red Sox' David Ortiz) and unique hitting tips (he told his switch-hitters to bat righthanded against Yankees righty Mike Mussina) to prove it. "I get so annoyed when you get around a lot of baseball people and basically all they can do is regurgitate previous thoughts," Maddon says. "They don't think of anything original. Tell me a better way."
With all due respect to the Republican presidential ticket, your best chance to see a maverick in action this fall may be to follow the Rays, who will open their American League Division Series on Thursday at Tropicana Field. As if a postseason game at the Trop wouldn't be novelty enough. "We've done some unorthodox things around here," says Tampa Bay reliever Trever Miller. "Now we get into situations where we're all like, How's Joe going to handle this one? We might see something we've never seen before."
SOON AFTER he was hired in the fall of 2005, Maddon papered the Rays' clubhouse with inspirational quotes from an eclectic collection of thinkers, including UCLA icon John Wooden ("Discipline yourself so no one else has to"), former Fed chief Alan Greenspan ("Rules cannot take the place of character") and The Myth of Sisyphus author Albert Camus ("Integrity has no need of rules"). Camus was an apt choice: When Maddon replaced managerial heavyweight Lou Piniella, who jumped ship with a year left on his contract, he seemed to be taking on a Sisyphean task. "There was no trust, no specific plan," says Maddon. "It had all the symptoms of being a bad organization."
Maddon was hired by the new front-office triumvirate—president Matt Silverman, executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and senior VP of baseball ops Gerry Hunsicker—to be the polar opposite of Piniella, someone with the patience and willingness to teach young players. Maddon certainly had that; he spent 31 years in the Angels organization as, among other things, a player, scout, roving hitting instructor, minor league manager and major league bench coach. He also impressed the Tampa Bay brass as open-minded and progressive, someone who would embrace the 31-year-old Friedman's devotion to complex statistical analysis. Even in the 21st century, finding a dugout boss who thinks that way isn't easy. "There are some pretty prominent managers who are closed-minded," says Hunsicker, the Astros' G.M. from 1996 through 2004. "I won't mention any names, and some of them are among my better friends, but I just don't agree with that narrow-mindedness. I think we all have to change with the times."
Maddon isn't a sabermetrician and doesn't have Baseball Prospectus bookmarked, but he knows his way around a stat printout and is adept at the keyboard. In the late 1980s, while he was working as a roving hitting instructor and minor league field coordinator for the Angels, he traveled with an unwieldy Panasonic word processor so he could pound out typewritten schedules and notes for players. (He's an obsessive organizer, and the thought of handwritten notices in clubhouses horrified him.) By '90 he had traded in the Panasonic for a bulky 386 laptop, a machine that produced exquisite daily agendas. More important, it also opened his mind to the nascent universe of statistical analysis. Spray charts, batter-versus-pitcher matchups, charts of managerial tendencies—at the time Maddon was one of the few in the game paying attention to them.
Maddon also began charting stats he invented for Angels minor leaguers such as "jug runs" (runs that go for the other team's jugular and pad a small late-inning lead to put a game out of reach) and kept count of plays that sustain rallies but don't show up in box scores: runners going first to third, two-out RBIs, hitters who hustle to beat out the back end of potential double plays. They were stats, but not in the sabermetric sense. To Maddon they were quantifiable motivational tools, a way to get players to buy into a deceptively old school offensive philosophy based on situational hitting rather than prayers for three-run homers. Maddon took grief from players and other coaches for being tethered to his computer, but his calculations were little more than new-age methods of teaching timeworn baseball truisms.