TEMPE, Ariz. — The other day, Cubs reliever Justin Grimm was wearing a blue T-shirt that read ‘‘Try Not To Suck’’ on the front. The two rows of white letters were split by a large pair of white-framed glasses.
The shirt is a popular one, with the words courtesy of Cubs manager Joe Maddon and the glasses representing the big pair he wears.
Only thing is, Maddon’s glasses are black. He never would wear silly white ones. Would he?
‘‘Call him out, he will,’’ Grimm said.
Fascinating. Maddon, who was voted the National League Manager of the Year after making every smart move and getting the most from his players last season, will do — has done — just about everything silly a skipper can do and still be a respected leader and tactician.
The nutty things — such as, say, the Maddon-inspired mime who hung with the Cubs during a game last week — are part of his baseball essence.
Maddon, 62, is a child of the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s, when a lot of things were questioned, rock-and-roll hit its stride and ‘‘do your own thing’’ became a countercultural mantra.
Maddon does his own thing. But the key is that he does it in the different world of baseball. That’s not the world we live in.
With games coming one after the other — the White Sox played three games in 30 hours last weekend — baseball people need levity and, let’s call it what it is, juvenile but harmless stupidity.
Hence, Maddon’s pajama-party airplane rides, ’70s-era hippy garb, magicians roving the clubhouse, gamboling (and peeing) bear cubs afield, etc. Just do stuff that might be construed as fun and childlike and let people take from it what they will.
The players take away the fact that Maddon gets what baseball is all about.
‘‘I love it,’’ right-hander Kyle Hendricks said while icing his arm after a spring start Monday against the Angels. ‘‘I think the young guys that are very mature and the veteran mix that we have, what Joe does just fits perfectly. It works for me very well, my personality, to hang loose.’’
Hendricks was quick to add the caveat: ‘‘Baseball is still serious, very serious. But Joe has the balance.’’
The pressure is on Maddon this season, even though he is only the sixth manager in baseball history to be voted Manager of the Year in both leagues.
The reason for the pressure? World Series expectations. But not just expectations. Not this year. Demands.
So Maddon will be forced to remain himself under intense scrutiny. And his Magical Maddon Mystery Tour might not look so alluring when combined with failure or endless black-cat questions.
But his ability to remain true to his own feelings and philosophies through 40 years in the game is why he is so beloved by players, co-workers and fans.
And the white glasses? Wear such things?
‘‘I believe it,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘He’ll rock anything.’’
Maddon is a shrewd game manager, but his funny side was nurtured by his friendship with Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
‘‘Some of the funniest stuff happened in that clubhouse over there, in this really claustrophobic clubhouse,’’ Maddon said before the game Monday. ‘‘An ostrich, tub full of fish, piano player, disco ball, all kinds of stuff. I would cry sometimes.’’
Not out of sadness. Nope, they were belly laughs of joy that brought on tears of surrender. Indeed, after this game — an 8-8 tie, if you care — Maddon and Scioscia embraced, talked about old times, chuckled and reminisced as they walked slowly off the field toward the parking lot.
Both of them will tell you the fun stuff trickled down from former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, whom Scioscia caught for, a man as funny and lively as he was profane. (I once heard Lasorda use the F-word as a subject, verb, adjective and object in one sentence.)
So those white glasses, Joe, the ones on the T-shirt. What do you think?
‘‘I have some white ones,’’ he said. ‘‘Not in that style.’’
He looked into the desert sky, his mind whirring.
‘‘You know what? I will get some like that,’’ he said. ‘‘White ones. I’ll call Maui Jim. I’ll do it. I promise.’’
He nodded. He was sincere. Then he said it again, with all the things going on in the world, all the baseball, everything: ‘‘I promise. I will.’’
I have no reason to doubt him.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.