Greg Maddux, Baseball’s Rembrandt, On To Hall Of Fame
We should have witnessed greater accomplishments, more historical moments, further record-breaking performances.We celebrated Wednesday the Hall of Fame triumvirate of Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine, becoming the first true class of players from the heart of the steroid era.
It’s just a shame we never saw what they might have accomplished on a level playing field.
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Can you imagine if all of the hitters that Maddux and Glavine faced throughout their careers, and all of the pitchers that Thomas opposed, were clean, too?
“I guarantee you that if Mad Dog was pitching today,” Leo Mazzone, Maddux’s vaunted former pitching coach with the Atlanta Braves told USA TODAY Sports, “he would never give up a run all year.
“What he accomplished at that time, in the era he was pitching in, is absolutely amazing. It takes his accomplishments to a whole new level.”
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Maddux should have been the first player to be a unanimous selection into the Hall of Fame. Surely, he should have eclipsed Tom Seaver’s 98.8% record. Instead, he fell 15 votes shy of perfection, and received 97.2%.
Yet, considering that second baseman Craig Biggio fell just two votes shy of election, finishing at 74.8%, it’s hardly worth squabbling over Maddux’s vote total. If nothing else, this election could be historic, providing an impetus for the Hall of Fame to revise voting regulations in the future, permitting voters to submit more than 10 players on their ballots.
The 10-man ballot likely cost Biggio his 2014 election, and it threatened to eliminate first-time candidates Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina. They likely belong in the Hall of Fame, but their candidacies weren’t strong enough to be included by three-quarters of the voters simply because of the limit.
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Still, despite the ballot controversy, the diminished vote totals of the PED suspects, and the elimination of Rafael Palmeiro, this day belonged to Maddux.
This is a 6-foot, 180-pound man who pitched in an era of juiced bodies and swollen heads, and still dominated the game. Maddux won 355 games, the second-most since 1930. He won four consecutive Cy Young awards. He overshadowed his own Hall of Fame teammate, Glavine, a five-time, 20-game winner.
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Try to envision the records Maddux would have registered in today’s game with drug testing, and the number of zeroes in his paycheck, facing more hitters with bodies that actually resembled his?
Maddux may be the greatest pitcher we’ll ever see that dominated the game with his mind. He had trouble cracking 90 mph on the radar gun. No one confused his curveball with Sandy Koufax. Mariano Rivera had a better cut fastball.
Yet, this guy who looked like your neighborhood accountant than a professional ballplayer, was sheer genius on the mound. He won at least 15 games in a record 17 consecutive seasons. He had a career 3.16 ERA – 0.95 lower than the pitching average during his era, the greatest disparity since Walter Johnson. And, yeah, he was an 18-time Gold Glove winner.
Maddux led the league in ERA four times in six seasons – including a mind-boggling 1.56 ERA in 1994 and 1.63 ERA in 1995. He was the Rembrandt of pitching. He painted every corner of every plate in baseball, nipping corners with his two-seam fastball. Never did he walk more than 45 batters in any of his final 15 seasons.
Maddux’s former manager, Bobby Cox, who’ll also be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July, called Maddux the smartest man he’s met in his life. He was the rare pitcher who would watch the opposing team take batting practice on days he pitched, just to see their tendencies. He would actually experiment and set up hitters early in the game, just to exploit their weaknesses in crunch time.
So can you imagine pitching Maddux pitching against today’s lineups where power-hitters are hitting 20 homers a year, and 150-strikeout seasons are the norm.
“We will never see anyone like him again,” Mazzone said. “He was the greatest. His ability to hit a target was as good as anybody who ever pitched.”
Maddux, whose biggest vice was double cheeseburgers, shrugs off the what-ifs. Sure, he gave up monstrous home runs to juicers. He still remembers Sammy Sosa hitting a home run off the camera well over the center-field fence at Turner Field.
“Hey, if you’re going to give up a homer,” Maddux said, “it might as well be one we can admire.”
Maddux, whose career was overshadowed at times by Roger Clemens, gets the last laugh. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Clemens, and everyone else whose career has been ensnared in performance-enhancing drug suspicions, are on the outside looking in.
Barry Bonds, the man Maddux feared facing the most, and Clemens, his American League nemesis, may never get to Cooperstown.
“He was the best hitter I ever faced,” Maddux said of Bonds, “to be honest with you. He might have been the best hitter when he was in Pittsburgh, too.”
Bonds received just 34.7% of the vote, losing eight votes from a year ago.
And if there ever was a better right-handed pitcher in his era than Maddux, it was Clemens, the seven-time Cy Young winner. He lost 12 votes from a year ago and received 35.4%.
The voters have spoken.
Maddux doesn’t feel comfortable speaking about the PED issue. Everyone had a choice to make. He made his. Everyone else made theirs.
He wouldn’t change a thing, even though his brilliance left him feeling a little secluded at times, once making a special request, asking Mazzone to visit him on the mound just to break up the boredom.
“I told him, “Mad Dog, the way you’re pitching, there’s no reason for me to come to the mound,” Mazzone said. “He told me, “Yeah, but I get lonely out there Leo. I don’t want to talk to the umpire. I’m tired of talking to Chipper [Jones]. Eddie Perez can’t understand me. Come pay me a visit.”
Well, we’ll all be paying Maddux a visit this summer. On July 27, 2014. In Cooperstown, N.Y.
He’ll never be alone again.