To Greg Maddux- You Were Easily One of the Best

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.  maddux1

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 feltgmadduxBagwell 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.

12 thoughts on “To Greg Maddux- You Were Easily One of the Best

  1. Greg Maddux was easily the best I have ever seen. He made it look so easy. His fastball never reached more than about 90. He was in my opinion the smartest athlete ever. There will never be another pitcher quite like him. Hopefully he wears a Braves cap into the Hall of Fame in 5 years.

  2. There was that time in San Diego he threw to the bullpen catcher, as the catcher had his eyes closed. He hit the glove square on… showing a catcher could catch Maddux with his eyes shut.

    And this one:

    …when Brad Penny and Maddux were teammates on the Dodgers, during the last two months of 2006, they had a conversation one day that led Penny to reach a stunning conclusion: This guy knows my stuff better than I do. It was eerie, really, how easily Maddux dissected Penny’s repertoire and suggested ways to maximize it. Penny, figuring he’d take advantage of the situation, asked Maddux to call a game for him against the Cubs. And so, on the night of Sept. 13, Penny glanced into the dugout before every delivery and found Maddux, who signaled the next pitch by looking toward different parts of the ballpark. Penny threw seven scoreless innings with no walks and beat the Cubs 6-0. “Maddux probably won’t tell you that story,” Penny says. He’s right.

  3. Cool story on Brad Penny, TP. I had never heard that one. I was actually googling to see if I could find that one Mark Lemke used to tell about how Maddux once called him aside in the middle of a game and told him to change his position b/c he was going to get a guy to hit to that position so he could get the double-play. Lemke said he followed Maddux’s advice and on the next play the ball was hit right to him- he turned a double-play and the inning was over. There was much more drama to the moment than that so wish I could find the story. But cool nonetheless.

  4. Arnold- I agree he is definitely one of the best I have seen. He’s certainly the smartest. But we’ve had some great pitchers in this era. I struggle to say he was absolutely superior to Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson (at RJ’s height of performance). The stretch RJ had from the late nineties through about the middle of this decade was almost as good as the stretch Koufax had in the mid-60’s. And Clemens took 7 Cy Youngs (though I hate he was a roider). That’s absolutely unbelievable.

    And what about a healthy Pedro Martinez? That guy was impressive too.

    But Maddux wins on longevity and consistency over and against these guys. And Maddux’s numbers when he won those 4 straight Cy Youngs are unreal. Particularly in the era he was pitching in (the start of the roids era).

    So- this is all debatable. Maybe I’ll tip this in favor of Maddux, but I’m not sure yet. Clemens and RJ still rattle around in my head when I think about this…

  5. The thing that was so impressive to me about Maddux was the fact that he never overpowered anyone. they used to say his best fastball would not break a plate glass window. His ability to get inside the hitters head was like nothing else. I have heard some other interesting stories about Maddux that I can not mention on here. As for the thing with Lemke, next time you visit Turner Field, you might try asking “The Lemmer” about it. He is usually out in the plaza pre-game doing the radio show.

  6. Maddox is one of the greatest. I loved watching him pitch—he made it look easy and he always had fun with it. I always knew we would win the game when he was pitching for the Braves. Yes, I was a bigger Glavin fan, but cannot escape the realization that Maddox was greater during those years. I’ll miss him, but am glad he is going out on top. BTW in Cooperstown, you’ll notice that Maddox has donated a lot of his old cleats for the museum. Funny.

  7. Pingback: Maddux | Eks Axis
  8. I might have missed something, but I’m wondering if anyone has an answer on whether the Martinez story is true. Martinez only had 10 hits against Maddux, and in the time frame of Maddux’s timeline, he had none. I didn’t have a chance to go through every at bat on, but I did look at fangraphs game by game (for the most part). There was one fishy hit in the 7th inning in 1991, but that was on a 1-1 count. Anyways, none of Martinez’s 10 hits seemed to have come in the situation that Maddux described. Maddux went 9 innings a lot against the Montreal, and Dennis had a few 9th inning outs. I just couldn’t find any record of the situation.

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