On Wednesday afternoon, baseball legend Greg Maddux was named as a 2014 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Everyone knows the numbers, but I have uncovered some amazing stories that highlight the personality of this true pitching genius.
“You just can’t do it,” he said. Sometimes hitters can pick up differences in spin. They can identify pitches if there are different releases points or if a curveball starts with an upward hump as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. But if a pitcher can change speeds, every hitter is helpless, limited by human vision.
“Except,” Maddux said, “for that [expletive] Tony Gwynn.”
Because of this inherent ineradicable flaw in hitters, Maddux’s main goal was to “make all of my pitches look like a column of milk coming toward home plate.” Every pitch should look as close to every other as possible, all part of that “column of milk.” He honed the same release point, the same look, to all his pitches, so there was less way to know its speed — like fastball 92 mph, slider 84, changeup 76."
Same column by Thomas Boswell:
"One day he pitched alone on an empty field except for his catcher. I’ve never seen a pitcher use an entire empty field for practice. And I have never seen one show much emotion in a supposedly meaningless practice period.
With no one to distract him, Maddux concentrated like an actual game. He might throw a dozen pitches and show nothing. But on the next, if he missed his spot badly, he would rip the air with a curse, his head snapping with the violence of his yell. Always the same word, like a gunshot; perhaps it hurt his throat, like self-punishment. But in a second, he was calm.
The final pitching product was one of the most elegant, intelligent and fierce self-creations in American sports. Maddux left hitters with an “I-am-stupid, kick-me” sign on their backs."
"Eddie Perez caught 832 1/3 innings from Maddux, by far the most of any catcher, all with the Atlanta Braves. He caught Maddux's final Cy Young season, which capped a four-year era in which Maddux was 75-29 with a 1.98 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 7. And early on, when Perez was learning the big-league game, Maddux called nearly every pitch from the mound.
"Now I can talk about it," Perez said Tuesday.
When Perez returned the ball to the mound, he said, Maddux would designate the next pitch by the way he caught the ball, or the way he held his right hand, or touched his cap. And Perez would follow along. It went on like that for months, until Perez decided he knew the opposing hitters – and Maddux – well enough to take over.
"I got it," he told Maddux one afternoon. "Let me call tonight's game."
Maddux nodded and went along with it, shaking off Perez only two or three times. They won the game. Perez was elated.
"How'd I do?" Perez asked proudly.
Maddux looked up at Perez and said, "Those two or three? That's too much."
"One year in spring training, facing a Met who had hit him hard the previous season, Maddux told teammates he would throw dinky sliders to encourage the Met to hit a home run. Maddux figured that hitters remember, and subsequently look for, what they crush. The Met homered--then, always looking for the same pitch, went hitless against Maddux in the regular season.
Leading 8-0 in a regular-season game against the Astros, Maddux threw what he had said he would never throw to Jeff Bagwell--a fastball in. Bagwell did what Maddux wanted him to do: he homered. So two weeks later, when Maddux was facing Bagwell in a close game, Bagwell was looking for a fastball in, and Maddux fanned him on a change-up away.
Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci collects such stories demonstrating Maddux's knowledge of hitters. Four times in one season, Maddux, while in the dugout, warned the man sitting next to him that the batter would line a foul into the dugout. Three times the batter did. Another time Maddux said on the bench: "Watch this. The first-base coach may be going to the hospital." The batter lined the next pitch off the coach's chest. Once with runners on second and third and two outs, Maddux's manager suggested an intentional walk. "Don't worry," said Maddux, explaining that on the third of his next pitches the batter would pop out foul to third. Maddux was wrong: The pop was a few feet fair."
"nothing embodies Greg Maddux quite like my all-time personal favorite, and this one comes from a buddy who was with the Padres in spring training at the time… Maddux is slated to pitch a few innings in an inter-squad game a few weeks into spring training, and whoever is supposed to catch is out with an injury so they bring up some minor leaguer for the game. Catcher goes up to Maddux before they start warming up and asks him, “What do you throw?” Maddux replied, “Strikes.” The catcher laughed and asked him again. Maddux responded, “Wait you mean you’re going to try and call a game for me? Forget it kid. Just pick a spot, put your glove up, and I’ll throw a strike there.” Maddux proceeds to throw three scoreless with no wild pitches or passed balls despite the catcher NOT KNOWING WHAT WAS COMING. On his way back to the clubhouse the catcher stopped Maddux and the following exchange ensued:
Catcher: Great job man
Maddux: Yeah arm feels pretty good
Catcher: When’s the last time you threw?
Maddux: Game 3
Catcher: Oh in the simulated games last week?
Maddux: What in the f*** are you talking about simulated games?
Catcher: You said game 3
Maddux: Yeah. Of the National League Division Series. Last year. Game 3.
Maddux: Offseason rookie. Get some golf clubs and learn to love it.
Simply does not get more big league than that."
These are all awesome accounts of a legendary genius. I have always been a huge fan of Greg Maddux and there is really only one way to end this little tribute...