People think I’m smart? You know what makes you smart? Locate your fastball down and away. That’s what makes you smart.” Greg Maddux
ATLANTA— An era is over. Greg Maddux has retired. Hands down, he is one of the top 10 pitchers ever to play the game.
I remember when Maddux won his first Cy Young award in 1992- how disappointed I was. Just the previous year, the Braves had pulled me into baseball with their dramatic stretch run against the Los Angeles Dodgers. I fell in love with the team and became a lifetime baseball fan. Of all the great players the Braves had in 1991, Tom Glavine stuck out to me. He was a left-hander like myself and I completely identified with him. Not only that- he was awesome that year – winning 20 games with a 2.48 ERA. He took the Cy Young award that off-season, beating Doug Drabek of the Pirates.
Coming into 1992, I could not wait for Glavine and the Braves to make another run for it. And they did! Glavine won 20 more games and the team took the division title. I thought for sure Tom Glavine would be in the running for another Cy Young. But there at the top of the pack was a goofy-looking righty named Greg Maddux. Even though Maddux had already put together some impressive seasons prior to that one, I did not know who he was until he eked out to 20 wins and took the Cy Young award from Glavine. Needless to say, I was very jealous. I remember hoping Maddux would be a flash in the pan. But the Braves picked him up that the off-season and the rest was history. I spent the rest of Maddux’s time with the Braves rooting for him to pitch well- but always hoping that Glavine would outdo him. 1998 was only other year Glavine was able to do it.
Great Maddux Stories
The thing I will remember most is Maddux’s impeccable ability to dissect a hitter. Most pitchers who confidently state they can get a guy out in a particular situation are talking about striking the guy out. Not Maddux. He was talking about getting the guy to ground the ball to a certain fielder or to pop up in a particular situation. And he could remember arcane details of specific at bats from years ago- employing those details to his advantage. It was unique and almost unbelievable. Here are some good Greg Maddux stories that illustrate this point:
- Braves catcher Eddie Pérez tells the story of Maddux intentionally allowing a home run to the Astros’ Jeff Bagwell, in anticipation of facing Bagwell in the playoffs months later. Maddux feltBagwell would instinctively be looking for the same pitch again, which Maddux would then refuse to throw. (I can understand setting a guy up for the next pitch you are going to throw- but doing it several months in advance?)
- On another occasion while sitting on the bench, Maddux once told his teammates, “Watch this, we might need to call an ambulance for the first base coach.” The batter, Los Angeles’ José Hernández, drove the next pitch into the chest of the Dodgers’ first base coach. Maddux had noticed that Hernandez, who’d been pitched inside by Braves pitching during the series, had shifted his batting stance slightly and accordingly would favor hitting the ball sharply down the first base line.
- On another occasion, a former teammate, outfielder Marquis Grissom, recalled a game in 1996 when Maddux was having trouble with his fastball and was having trouble spotting it. Between innings, Greg told Marquis, “Gary Sheffield is coming up next inning. I am going to throw him a slider and make him just miss it so he hits it to the warning track.” Sheffield did just that.
- Early in the 2000 season, Maddux was asked by sportswriter Bob Nightengale what had been the most memorable at-bat of his pitching career. Maddux said it was striking out Dave Martinez to end a regular season game. Nightengale was surprised Maddux hadn’t picked a postseason game, or a more famous player. Maddux explained: “I remember that one because he got a hit off me in the same situation (full count, bases loaded, two out in the 9th inning) seven years earlier. I told myself if I ever got in the same situation again, I’ll pitch him differently. It took me seven years, but I got him.”
Impressive Maddux Records
Maddux put up unbelievable numbers throughout his career. But here are what I believe are some of his more amazing records.
- In 2001, he set a National League record by going 72 1/3 innings without giving up a walk.
- He won 18 Gold Gloves, the all time record for any position.
- He holds record for most time leading his league in games started (7).
- He also holds the record for most seasons finishing in the top 10 in the league in wins (18).
- He was the first pitcher in Major League history to win the Cy Young Award for four consecutive years (1992-1995), during which he had a 75-29 record with a 1.98 ERA, while allowing less than one runner per inning.
- Maddux is the only pitcher in MLB history to win at least 15 games in 17 consecutive seasons.
- Maddux won more games during the 1990s than any other pitcher.
- He’s 8th on the all-time wins list. Only Warren Spahn (363) has more career wins among pitchers whose entire careers were in the post-1920 live-ball era.
- Maddux is the only pitcher in the Major Leagues to have 20 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins.