Baseball will never see the likes of Greg Maddux again. It is no surprise that he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer as the winner of 355 games. The era has passed when a pitcher will win that many games again.
Most amazingly is the way that Maddux accumulated all of those wins. He was not an overpowering pitcher in the sense of blowing the ball by hitters at 95 mph. He was a dominant pitcher because he out-thought hitters, teased them, fooled them, owned the inside and outside corners and time after time threw them balls that flitted past in places they least expected them.
At 6 feet tall and 170 pounds the right-hander from Las Vegas was no muscle-bound male who profited from a Jack LaLanne workout course. If you saw Maddux in the clubhouse of the Atlanta Braves or the Chicago Cubs, the teams he toiled for and where his fame exploded, without a shirt on your first thought might be, “That guy should do some sit-ups.”
Brains over brawn
More than once Maddux divulged that the secret of good pitching was using your brain more than your brawn or arm.
Over a 23-year career Maddux, who enters the Hall of Fame Sunday, finished 355-223. He threw more than 5,000 innings and he won 61 percent of his games. Maddux was a scientist on the mound. He rarely got ruffled and he was super efficient. A Maddux complete game might well conclude with less than 90 pitches thrown.
That style made him a throwback. Maddux was not a strikeout specialist, but he still struck out 3,371 batters in his career. He made hitters lunge helplessly at his pitches as he constantly kept them off-balance.
Maddux was also great with two teams. The Cubs had him first and even after he won the first of his four Cy Young Award trophies they did not recognize his true value. So after seven seasons in Chicago Maddux signed with the Braves, where he burnished his legend for all but the last few seasons of his big-league career spent with the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers.
It is a prized and rare honor when a team retires a player’s number and sometimes circumstances result in long gaps spanning the time period from when they depart from a club and when the idea comes to the forefront. Maddux wore No. 31 with the Cubs and so did Ferguson Jenkins, another Hall of Famer, before him.
The unique ceremony at Wrigley Field in 2009 retired No. 31, with both pitchers present. One number was run up the flagpole on the left-field line and one was run up the flagpole on the right-field line. The pitchers toured the field in golf carts, waving as fans cheered.
Can't play favorites
Maddux did more for the Braves than he did for the Cubs, but he did excel in Chicago. While fans felt that Maddux would wear an Atlanta Braves cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, this week he tossed one more pitch that fooled almost everyone. He announced that the cap on his plaque will be blank. He refused to choose the Braves over the Cubs as his favorite or the Cubs over the Braves.
During the five years since he stopped pitching, Maddux, 48, has worked as an assistant to the general manager for the Cubs and held a similar position for the Texas Rangers. He was the pitching coach for the USA team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
It was commonly said as Maddux approached retirement that he would make a splendid manager. So far either he has not pursued any such opportunity or no team has called. One thing is obvious: If Greg Maddux becomes a Major League manager he'll be out there trying to out-think his opponents.