NOTE: I have sources for the stats and antidotes below. I’m far too lazy to have looked them up myself. I published the wrong version. I’ll get the links up later today.
I’ve never made any bones about it. I’ve always been exceptionally jealous of those who got to watch the greats play. I have two Uncles, one who grew up in East St. Louis and another from West Tennessee, who got to see Stan Musial play in person. When I’m out and about in the Atlanta area wearing my Hank Aaron jersey, there are always old-timers who tell me that got to see the great Hammer play. My Dad would tell me of seeing Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays play on television. As a baseball fan, it eats me alive that I never saw Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente or Ted Williams play baseball. On the other hand, from 1993 through 2003 I got to see Greg Maddux pitch roughly ever fifth day. It was an honor.
I’ve always liked pitchers. I think my first favorite pitcher was Steve Carlton of the Phillies, who numbers among the all-time greats. To this day, I don’t see how every single left handed hitter that faced him didn’t pee his pants when he threw that devastating slider. I wished I had gotten to see Pedro Martinez pitch more in 1999 and 2000. He was clearly as dominant as anyone that ever threw a baseball. I even loved the “should have been” greats like Dwight Gooden and Fernando Valenzuela. I remember watching Ron Guidry as a kid and wondering how anyone could possibly be better. I got to see Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Tom Seaver pitch. I never got to watch Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn or Sandy Koufax, but I’ve still gotten to see a lot of great pitching over my 43 years. Obviously, the following is funneled through my massive Braves homer-ism, but I do not believe that any of the pitchers I saw were as good as Greg Maddux.
It would be easy to run down all the things that made Maddux great. The complete games that lasted right around two hours. His uncanny ability to always hit the center of the catchers mitt. His ability to change speeds. The late movement on his pitches. The way he seemed to get in a hitters head. All those hitters walking away from home plate after striking out looking, and not even looking to complain. Still, while those establish his greatness, it’s those random facts, stats and stories about Maddux that make your jaw drop.
- Not counting intentional walks, hitters against Maddux had but a single 3-0 count in all of 1997.
- He faced 20,421 and only 310 hitters EVER saw a 3-0 count. Think about how insane that is. Then think, that without intentional walks, the number is only 133.
- Maddux ended his career with exactly 999 walks. He hit that mark with three starts to go. He was determined not to hit 1000.
- In his first major league start on September 7, 1986, he threw a complete game.
- Against the Marlins in 1996, he couldn’t locate his fastball. Marquis Grissom tells the story of Maddux telling him that he was going to throw Gary Sheffield a slider that he would hit to the warning track. He told Grissom not to give up on it because it wouldn’t go out. Then it happened. (Stories like this are rampant with Maddux.)
- In 30 of the 170 losses that Greg Maddux took in his career, his team was shutout.
- A 3.13 career ERA during a period where the league average was 4.11.
- Greg Maddux never missed a start. Ever.
- 20 consecutive season of 10 or more wins.
- He won 18 gold gloves.
- He once went 72 and a third innings without giving up a walk. That streak ended with an intentional walk.
I’m not nearly a good enough writer to express what a joy it was getting to watch Greg Maddux pitch for all those years. He was, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the best player I ever got to watch regularly.
I plan to be in Copperstown this July to watch Maddux, Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox enter the Hall of Fame together. I expect that, as a Braves fan, it will be one of the great joys of my life.