Last time out, the name Greg Maddux came up as part of a short story within the short story.
Thanks to the Maddux reference, there was some immediate feedback.
One loyal reader simply wrote: “Doggie.”
A second wrote: “There’s got to be a part two.” I’m not sure if that had anything to do with the mention of Maddux, but it works within the context of this story.
A third person – a former teammate of his – wrote: “Only Mad Dog could get away with calling you Wassermacher while keeping a straight face.”
It’s very apparent that the masses have spoken. You want Greg Maddux, then let’s write about Greg Maddux.
Writers Note: Actually, before I go on – thanks to the day and age we live in – I need to avoid any “alternative facts” on this site. The truth is, I did have a fourth emailer – Randy Bush, the Cubs’ assistant general manager – who noticed that I had mentioned him in the first paragraph of that story. He wrote: “Buy lunch – get a shout out … nice!” The 100% truth: Four people emailed me after that story, and you’ve seen the quotes. And … it’s now out there that I’ll give you free publicity if you buy me lunch.
Anyway … back to this post.
I had the luxury of seeing Greg Maddux at three different junctures of his career – as a 20-year-old coming up to the majors for the first time, as a grizzled 37-year-old coming back to his original organization to be the senior leadership voice of what could have been an amazing starting rotation, and in a post-playing career position when he was hired to serve as an assistant to Jim Hendry.
Through all the Wassermachers … and the sick jokes that can’t be told here – while keeping a poker face, even after the joke … and the warped one-liners … he never let go of the kid voice inside of him.
But he also was one of the hardest working, most cerebral adults I’ve ever come across. He didn’t become a professor of his craft without doing the prep work. He was using video way before it became the norm. He was using analysis way before it caught on. He figured out that changing speeds and throwing softer when in trouble was a much more effective approach than trying to blow the ball past the batter.
I’m not breaking new ground when I write that Maddux was the best pitcher I ever saw. Period. He was smart. He had a bulldog mentality. He was overly prepared. He had a game plan every time out – and he had the ability to both stick to it if things weren’t working right – and deviate from it when needed.
Some of my favorite baseball learning experiences took place in the Cubs’ video room during his second stint with the Cubs, as I listened to Maddux talk as he prepared for his next start. Sometimes, he was talking to me or others in the room. Often, he was talking back to the screen. He would watch video of his past matchups against the opponent’s hitters. He would watch video of those hitters in recent games to see if they were doing anything differently. He would take mental notes and written notes … lean up and drop something warped on the people in the room … and then continue on with his film study. And he almost always dropped a Not Safe For Website one-liner on you as he walked out of the room, a little smirk on his face.
When it was Maddux’s turn to pitch, you knew two things would happen. First, the game was going to be quick. Second, you knew your team had a really good chance of getting a “W.”
I still shake my head and smile when I look back at some of the numbers he put up:
And maybe my favorite stat, since laying down a bunt has become a lost art: 180 sacrifice bunts – in 1,812 career plate appearances. It doesn’t take much basic math to see that a pitcher successfully moved a baserunner over in 10 percent of his career trips to the plate. He also reached base via hit/walk/HBP 311 times and had a pair of sacrifice flies, so he helped his team offensively nearly 500 times.
Just for kicks, I took a look at the box score from Maddux’s September 2, 1986, big league debut – although he officially pitched for the first time on September 3 (only in Cubdom could that happen). The Astros/Cubs game on the 2nd was suspended in the 15th inning. It was resumed on September 3 with young Mr. Maddux was on the mound.
For the record – and again, only in Cubdom, could this happen – Maddux technically made his first major league appearance on September 2 as a pinch runner in the bottom of the 14th. So pitcher came after the hyphen – PR-P – in his first big league box score.
The Cubs’ starting lineup that day was Davey Martinez, Ryne Sandberg, Jerry Mumphrey, Keith Moreland, Leon Durham, Jody Davis, Chris Speier, Shawon Dunston and Jamie Moyer. Other Cubs appearing off the bench that day included Chico Walker, Thad Bosley, Manny Trillo, Terry Francona, Bobby Dernier and Ron Cey. How’s that for some name dropping?
By far, Maddux was the youngest player on the field during that game. He was just 20 years old – and it was just a little over two years since he had graduated high school. Heck, he was even younger than the Media Relations intern. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a press row seat to the beginning stages of his Hall of Fame career.
And what a view it was.