From the vault: M. Bradley on G. Maddux – April 19, 1994

As a rule, I don’t like re-reading my stuff. (It was bad enough reading it the first time.) But I make an exception because Greg Maddux will be inducted into the Braves’ Hall of Fame tonight and I’ll be there and, of the dozen or so Maddux columns I’ve written over the years, this one I hated least. (And not because I did anything special therein. Because Maddux’s quotes were ace.)

I wrote it early in what would become the Strike Season, the truncated entity that yielded Mad Dog’s third (of four) consecutive Cy Young awards. And I do remember Mr. Ron Martin, then the AJC’s editor, saying he liked this one. So maybe it wasn’t too awful. Anyway, I re-submit it for your approval:

To an artist like Maddux, pitching seems simple

Barbra Streisand once described Andre Agassi, the tennis player from Las Vegas, as a Zen master. Greg Maddux is likewise from Vegas, and doggone if there isn’t a hint of Zen about him, too. He seldom changes expression. When speaking, his voice rises only a notch above a whisper. To hear Maddux discourse on pitching is to get a lesson not in the exotic but the basic. If he has a philosophy, it’s this: “Just keep it simple.”

An illustration: He describes his fastball as his best pitch. Of every 100 pitches he throws, he estimates 70 will be fastballs. His fastball travels 85 mph, tops. By big-league standards, this is a lukewarm heater. Yet this man of modest velocity has won consecutive Cy Young awards and, having yielded but one earned run in three 1994 starts, is tracking a third. You ask: How?

Says Maddux: “You stand in the middle of the road and a car’s coming at you. Can you tell how fast it’s going? Can you tell if it’s going 55 or 60? You can’t. It’s the same standing in the middle of the diamond trying to hit a baseball. As a pitcher, you’re better off making 75 [mph] look like 85 instead of making 87 look like 90. . . . I remember watching Fernando [Valenzuela] after he hurt his arm. He was throwing 10 miles an hour less but jamming more guys and breaking more bats.”

The point being, it’s not how fast but how well. Asked to describe himself, the first thing Maddux says is “a finesse pitcher.” Then he corrects himself: “I’m a control pitcher who changes speeds.” How does that differ from being a finesse type? Because Maddux relies on his fastball to make all else work. “Unless you’re a knuckleball pitcher, every pitcher pitches off his fastball.”

Those pitchers he watches most closely are those, he says, with “a fastball that does the same thing as mine, like [Orel] Hershiser.” And what does the Maddux fastball do? It moves.

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Even after he reached the majors in 1987, Maddux would loose fastballs without a sense of their destination. “I’d throw sinkers, sailers and cutters, and I never knew why they did what they did.” He has since learned. “It’s in the way I release it, ” he says. He has a nice sinker, but his best pitch is the cut fastball, which bends in on left-handed hitters and looks like a slider, except that “it’s harder and doesn’t break as much.”

In the hands of another pitcher, the cutter might seem a weapon of small bore. Maddux makes it work because he mixes it with his other pitches — slider, curve, change — and because he operates with a palpable sense of purpose. He points to a sheet of paper bearing the names of the St. Louis hitters he’ll face tonight. Beside each name he has written a brief notation. He reads aloud: ” ‘Slow early, in late.’ ‘Mix.’ ‘Can jam.’ ‘Will chase.’ ‘Dead-red [fastball] hitter.’ ‘This guy’s aggressive.’ “

He folds the paper. “That’s it. Nothing elaborate.”

Scouting reports are fine, but they go only so far. Says Maddux: “A pitcher has to learn himself first. He has to learn what pitches he can and can’t throw, then try to set up hitters. You can’t be throwing your third-best pitch just because it says a guy is a slider-speed hitter.”

When golfers talk about course management, they essentially mean they think ahead. Sometimes Maddux, a fine golfer, will think ahead when pitching. Other times he won’t. “I never try to think about the outcome of a game, ” he says. “I only have five things [his various pitches] to worry about. I don’t try to look and see who’s on deck. I like for it to be a surprise. That means you’re focused.”

There are, however, moments when peeking is mandatory. Take Maddux’s last start, the 96-pitch dismissal of San Francisco. “We had a two-run lead with [Barry] Bonds hitting fifth. That tells me that I can only make one mistake that inning. You don’t want a guy like that to beat you. People think you stay up all night trying to figure out how to get people out: Sometimes the way to pitch the best hitters is to get the two guys in front of them.”

A listener asks how long it took to accumulate such knowledge. Maddux, who seldom looks surprised, looks surprised. “I’m still learning, ” he says.

(P.S. I made reference in the column to Maddux facing the Cardinals “tonight.” How’d he do? Well, he lost 5-4. It was the first of his six losses — against 16 wins — in the shortened season. He lost on two unearned runs in the seventh; Terry Pendleton made an error and Mike Stanton yielded a go-ahead single to Bernard Gilkey after Gerald Perry had touched Maddux for the tying double. By Mad Dog standards, it was a shoddy performance: Eight hits, three walks, a homer to Todd Zeile and three whole earned runs, which blew up his ERA clear to 1.12.)

Logistical update: I’m at the ballpark, and I’m here just to write about Maddux. Meaning: If Jair Jurrjens throws a no-hitter, I won’t write a word about the feat. (Yes, I’m kidding.)

OK, here’s the column: In which I reveal for the first time that Greg Maddux is a phony.

33 comments Add your comment

mike

July 17th, 2009
3:14 pm

Ahh, the good old days…

Sting 'em Buzz

July 17th, 2009
3:14 pm

doggone it TP, you sucked that night

AGTFan

July 17th, 2009
3:16 pm

All the greatest artists kept it simple.

BA

July 17th, 2009
3:20 pm

Ok then, I’ll recycle my comment on the 1994 article:

_

Nova Scotia Steve

July 17th, 2009
3:22 pm

He was simply the best…was an honour to be able to say I watched this man pitch in person…especially since I live in Nova Scotia, Canada…I can’t wait for the ceremony and game tonight…Here’s to No. 31

Bama Aaron

July 17th, 2009
3:25 pm

Ah, memories of a much better time. You turned the game on TBS and just knew the Braves would probably win that night.
I didn’t have season tickets back then…only made it 5 or 6 games a year. I would make sure one of the big three were pitching on the nights I made it.
Maybe with Hanson & Jurrjens leading the way the Braves can get back to those days some time soon…..

Gman

July 17th, 2009
3:27 pm

That was a treat Mr. Bradley. Thank you. He was the best I ever saw but sometimes the years blur the recollection and you can’t remember why he was so great.

MattyB

July 17th, 2009
3:39 pm

Great flashback, Bradley! Man, those were the days! BTW, I refrained from voting, because it really is an apples to oranges thing, print vs. web, that is. Both then and now, engaging, yet occasionally infuriating.

gtm

July 17th, 2009
3:41 pm

Why so hard on yourself, Mark? Is it a result of the terrible comments you see since the ajc came online, or have you always been that way?

Mrs. Chanandler Bong

July 17th, 2009
3:44 pm

Nice throwback to the good old days.

Supes

July 17th, 2009
3:44 pm

Mark, you’ve improved b/c you are now less crticial and less controvesial…something your former co-worker TM never learned! I don’t want to say you’ve “mellowed out” or anything like that, but I’ve been reading your work in the AJC since 95. I think of late you are proposing more questions, and provoking your readership/blogship to think, which is good…it sparks discussion.

Phildo

July 17th, 2009
3:58 pm

Not only was he among the greatest of the Braves ever, along with Spahn, he was a total class act, unlike that whiney, jerk, Glavine, who didn’t even bother to attend the Maddux enshrinement, offering some lame, probably bogus excuse.

Braindawg

July 17th, 2009
4:05 pm

Congrats Maddawg! You deserve all the awards, and HOF’s you get. And from an Atlanta Braves fan who watched the Bravos lose over 100 games before. Thank you for all your good work in a Braves uniform. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving this Braves fan and this city something to cheer and be proud of. Thanks again!

Sonny Clusters

July 17th, 2009
4:22 pm

We was happy to read this back in 1994 and we are happy to read it again because we’ve been reading the AJC since we was little. Greg Maddux could probably still get a few batters out and one of them will be on the field tonight for the Mets. When we was little and now that we are grown he was always swinging at bad pitches or at good pitches he couldnt hit. We played ball together back in school.

LFP6

July 17th, 2009
4:25 pm

Next stop, Cooperstown!

Congratulations, Greg.

Mark Bradley

July 17th, 2009
4:31 pm

GTM, I’m just not very impressed with anything I write. Like the story above: Re-reading I saw 10 things I should have done better.

And I don’t know that I’ve mellowed. I think I’ve just gotten really, really old.

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

July 17th, 2009
4:55 pm

I agree Supes, MB has gotten a little more mellow and improved because of it unlike TM, I don’t even think TM believed the crap he wrote. As for the retro piece…loved it. I think you could write a book (and I mean a thick one) on Maddux’ mind set and why he did the things he did. Stuff like throwing a guy a split finger fastball in spring training just so the hitter would think about it the next time he faced Maddux in the regular season. When it comes to pitching, He is the most interesting man in the world.

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

July 17th, 2009
4:58 pm

Mark, when you went back on this piece, did you sport an afro for old times sake.

goose

July 17th, 2009
5:01 pm

MB-

I have to say, you never cease to amaze me. How proud of yourself are you? that “here…look what I wrote about Maddog back in 94″ BS reminds me of the guy at the juke box swearing up and down he liked Johnny Cash before the movie came out.

At least you didnt tell us again that you coined the term “evil genius”. I did see you throw that term in your Urban Meyer deal and yes we know…thats your baby.

Good grief Bradely.

FairburnFred

July 17th, 2009
5:04 pm

Bradley-

Spare us the contrived self depricating humor. Its clearly over compensation for your obvious need to pat yourself on the back at every turn. It doesnt come off as genuine OR funny.

Bring back Hummer!!!!

Jeff

July 17th, 2009
5:15 pm

I remember once watching Maddux pitching with a 1-0 lead in the 5th inning and feeling completely confident that the game was effectively over. The BEST.

SimpleDawg

July 17th, 2009
5:20 pm

Nice article….Maddox on pitching should be required reading for anyone wanting to be a pitcher.

Dr Henry / Augusta

July 17th, 2009
5:24 pm

Good column MB…In fact I think I remember reading it in 94….Wow, do I need to get a life or what? What’s also interesting is that in 4 yrs. Maddux will not be selected unanimously for the HOF….Seems that some Baseball Writers don’t vote for anyone the 1st time on the ballot…Maybe those people will be replaced by then.

Homer

July 17th, 2009
5:26 pm

FIRE BRADLEY!!

Mark Bradley

July 17th, 2009
5:27 pm

I think you’ll be surprised, Dr. Henry. I think Maddux will be a unanimous inductee.

Mark Bradley

July 17th, 2009
5:30 pm

As far as the hair: I seem to recall I was, if you will, between styles in 1994. The current look hadn’t yet evolved, if you will, and the old look had been left in the ’70s. (And only 14 years too late.)

Max Sizemore

July 17th, 2009
5:31 pm

Hey Mark, I remember reading once that when he played high school basketball Maddux could dunk. If you get a chance, ask him if that’s true. Thanks. I’m guessing it is true. He’s a lot more athletic than some people think.

Hillbilly Deluxe

July 17th, 2009
5:37 pm

Mark, I think Maddux will be a first ballot inductee but I don’t believe there has ever been a unanimous inductee has there?

Unthinkable, Stupid & Silly

July 17th, 2009
5:48 pm

I think you’re pretty consistent….

CM

July 17th, 2009
5:51 pm

Maddux was the best. I remember distinctly one game. The theory had gotten around the league that the best way to hit him was to jump on the first pitch, because he liked to get Strike 1, and because it might be the most hittable one you’d see.
So Maddux throws a complete game shut out on 89 pitches. A lot of guys swinging at the first pitch. Turns out they couldn’t hit that one either. ESPN showed all 89 pitches in a row on Sportscenter in a classic highlight.

That’s what I’ll remember most.

Mike D

July 17th, 2009
5:53 pm

OK, first off, a legend is getting inducted today (Mad dog). He will probably always be my favorite Atlanta Brave of all time, with Smoltz, Glavine, Murph and Chipper to follow. Ervery time he got on the mound, we knew we would likely win. He pitched in the greatest pitching dual I’ve ever seen in my life against Alan Benes on May 16, 1997.

Braves 1, Cardinals 0

Alan Benes lost his no-hitter on Michael Tucker’s two-out double in the ninth inning last night and the Braves scored in the 13th on Andruw Jones’s infield dribbler for a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Atlanta.

Benes, bidding to pitch the first no-hitter of the season and the first in Turner Field’s brief history, more than matched Greg Maddux for eight innings before 46,626, the largest crowd ever at the new ball park.

In the ninth, Benes got Keith Lockhart on a soft liner to short to open the inning before retiring Kenny Lofton on a grounder. Benes got a strike on Tucker, who then hit an opposite-field double to right. After allowing the hit, Benes walked off the mound and dejectedly pulled off his glove. However, he sent the game to extra innings by striking out Fred McGriff.

Benes walked 3 and struck out a career-high 11. The teams combined for 33 strikeouts.

In the 13th, Tucker singled with one out off John Frascatore (2-2) and stole second. Chipper Jones’s fly to right moved Tucker to third and Fred McGriff was intentionally walked. Andruw Jones then beat out a slow roller between the mound and first base, allowing Tucker to score.

I mean, this is the greatest game I think I will ever see. Two men, pitching lights out the entire night, and we just managed to squeak out a winning hit well after the masterful Benes left the game. But, our most masterfyl Maddux led our way, keeping up with Benes’ no-no every step of the way, and getting ground out after ground out the way he always did. He was very humble, very composed, very strategic, he studied every batter and knew how to pitch to anyone he faced before the game even began, the “professor”. He will forever in my mind be the greatest pitcher of all time because he didn’t need to overpower you like the Roid-filled Clemens. He’d just carve up the strike zone like some kind of awsome sushi chef, always in the right position to make a play on comebackers to the mound. He’d be someone our younger pitchers could go to and learn from and try to get better, and remained very soft spoken and a very nice person. Our organization will forever miss him and there will never be another like him. God bless Maddux. Thank you for the countless memories of your excellent pitching and dominance on the mound that we may also never see again.

Einstein

July 17th, 2009
5:54 pm

Anyone, other than your resident genius, think the Met’s starting line-up looks like a San Juan phone directory. Maybe there’s something to Omar Minanya (alledged) extorting money from Hispanic’s contracts. Maybe that’s why the Mets consistently have a huge payroll, but never make the playoffs. Anyway…just a thought. Go Braves! Peace.

RB

July 17th, 2009
6:05 pm

Thanks for sharing the old article. Looking forward to the new one tonight.