Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mad Dog The Professor

Greg Maddux is an amazing individual. He may be the greatest pitcher in baseball history, and he's done it not with a 97 mph fastball and a monster curve, but with intelligence, intuition, and impeccable control. I could go over the stats (349 wins, 4 straight Cy Young awards, consecutive years with ERA's of 1.56 and 1.63, 17 Gold Gloves, and on and on and on...), but what's more interesting to me about Maddux is his legend - it's one that you don't see with a lot of current players.

Here are some quotes by and about the man:

Greg Maddux: "I could probably throw harder if I wanted, but why? When they're in a jam, a lot of pitchers...try to throw harder. Me, I try to locate better."

"Oh, poor me (jokingly, after being told that Randy Johnson & Pedro Martinez would make more in 2003 than he would). What do I do now? I guess I'll have to get a second job."

"Every pitch has a purpose. Sometimes he knows what he's going to throw two pitches ahead. I swear, he makes it look like guys are swinging foam bats against him." - John Smoltz

"He makes it look easy. You wish there was another league he could get called up to." - Dwight Gooden

"It seems like he's inside your mind with you. When he knows you're not going to swing, he throws a straight one. He sees into the future. It's like he has a crystal ball hidden inside his glove." - Wade Boggs

"Greg Maddux could put a baseball through a life saver if you asked him." - Joe Morgan

"(Greg) Maddux is so good, we all should be wearing tuxedos when he pitches" - Montreal Expo scout Phil Favia

"We've never seen the likes of (Greg) Maddux before, and chances are most of us won't live long enough to see the likes of him again." - Rob Neyer on ESPN Sportszone (August 7, 1998)

"When he's on like this, it can be a boring game for the fans. It looks like you're not even trying." - Paul O'Neill

"I remember my first bullpen session with him. He was throwing the ball all over, and afterward he asks me, 'So, what did you think of that?' And I told him, 'To be honest with you, I didn't think it was very good.' So he says, 'Hmmm,' and the next day he hits every target he threw at. Every one. The son of a gun was testing me." - Leo Mazzone

Here's a story about Maddux and the large number of stolen bases the Padres give up. There was a lot of media pressure on the team about it, and Chris Young was worried about it.
"He told Young, "Only 17 percent of runners who steal second go on to score." This 17 percent solution became something of a mantra in the second half of the season for the Padres. Why? Because Maddux said so, that's why.

Nobody bothered to check the stats; they just repeated Maddux's assertions. When I was in San Diego last September, a savvy and wry reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune told me, "I've got a feeling Maddux just made up that 17 percent thing to take the heat off these guys. It gives them something to say, and everybody just nods because it's Maddux.""
Tim Keown wrote a separate article on Maddux.
"Inside the man's head resides the most comprehensive history of the most essential confrontation in sports: pitcher vs. hitter. Maddux sees things nobody else sees, senses things nobody else senses. The examples are legendary, almost mythical. He can speed-read a batter's stance—a little more open, a few inches up in the box—in the middle of his windup, allowing him to change his grip from changeup to fastball in the time it takes him to lift his leg. That's why, throughout his career, Maddux has steered clear of certain catchers, because they couldn't think fast enough to keep up with him. Padres catchers Josh Bard and Michael Barrett will sometimes go an entire game without giving him a sign. A little tap on the thigh for location is all that's necessary."
I'd never heard that he did that before, but if so then it's pretty amazing. It also explains a little why Maddux didn't like Javy Lopez to be his catcher.
"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."
That shows the extra advantage that a team gets from having Maddux. He's like an extra pitching coach.
"With the Cubs, the story goes, Maddux once sat in the dugout and watched José Hernández of the Dodgers set up in the batter's box. After two pitches, Maddux turned to the guys around him and said, "We might have to call an ambulance for the first base coach." On the next pitch, Hernández whipped a shot that hit first base coach John Shelby in the chest."
It's one thing to make guesses, even educated ones, but Maddux really seems to know what is going to happen. There are many such examples of it.
"One involves a close game in which there were runners on first and third, one out and a left handed batter due up. Braves Manager Bobby Cox came out to the mound to ask him if he wanted to intentionally walk the batter to set up a double play. "No thanks," Maddux replied and went on to describe the exact sequence of pitches he would throw the next two batters and what they would do. As a stunned Cox watched, he did almost exactly what he had said he would (the third out was a pop up that went just fair of third while Maddux had said it would be on the foul side of 3rd)."
His catcher with the Braves, Eddie Perez, tells an almost unbelievable story of Maddux setting up Jeff Bagwell:
"We were playing the Astros in the middle of the season and Jeff Bagwell was coming up, and Doggie had told me before the game, "We're not going to pitch this guy inside. We're going to stay away. He's pulling everything, and if we go in he'll hit it out."

So it's late in the game, we're up something like 8-0, and Bagwell is batting with a runner on. All of a sudden, Doggie wants to go inside. "What?" He nods that's what he wants to do. So he throws it in, and Bagwell hits a bomb. We still won the game, but I was mad. "Why did you do that? I wanted you to pitch a complete-game shutout."

He said, "You know what? Two months from now we're going to meet these guys in the playoffs, and he's going to be up there with runners on and he's going to be looking for that pitch, and we're never going to throw it."

I said, "Whatever, dude. I wanted the shutout."

Sure enough, two months later and Bagwell is hitting. They've got two men on and Doggie strikes him out. He says, "Do you remember two months ago?" I had already forgotten about it. He said, "You got mad because we went inside and he took us deep, but he was looking for that pitch today, and we won the game because of that."

No other pitcher can do that. No one can get away with that kind of stuff. It's almost illogical. You don't throw inside changeups to major league hitters. He'll hang a slider on purpose. He wants people to get hits because everything he does is setting up the hitter for a situation later on."
I also want to call attention to a game Maddux pitched against the Cubs in 1997. He went 9 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K, which is a great start, but isn't that amazing. The amazing part? Maddux threw 76 pitches in the game - 63 were strikes. He threw 13 balls in 9 innings. Daniel Cabrera will throw that many balls in an inning every once in a while. 76 pitches. He could have gone 15 or 16 innings and not been in too much trouble with his pitch count.

I wish that I had had more chances to see Maddux pitch. I'm thankful that he was with the Braves for so long, as I would catch him on TBS every once in a while. I'm fully confident that Maddux could pitch effectively into his late 40's, or even 50's. There's no question that he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I'm just wondering if he'll be the first unanimous selection. I don't see how it could be any other way.

Greg Maddux is the reason I love baseball. In what other sport could a guy like him be amongst the games' best?

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