A slew of words have been tossed around these past few days in order to characterize Greg Maddux, and I’d like to add a new one:
The man, I’m telling you, was a total fraud. He tried to come off as just another guy trying “to make pitches” and “get guys out,” and there’s a Fox Sports interview from the ’90s — it’s available from YouTube and can be viewed below — in which he discusses what a lousy student he was in high school.
Lousy student. Yeah, right.
Smartest ballplayer ever.
Three hundred fifty-five wins with a fastball that wouldn’t get clocked for speeding on the Downtown Connector. Seventeen consecutive 15-win seasons with pitches that shouldn’t have fooled anybody but bumfuzzled everybody.
The Swiss philosopher Henri-Frederic Amiel (who had a lousy fastball himself) famously said: “Doing easily what others find difficult is talent; doing what is impossible for talent is genius.” That was Mad Dog. He saw everything. He knew everything.
Mark Lemke: “He’d call me over and say, ‘Move to your left two pitches from now.’ Not on the next pitch, but the pitch after that. He said, ‘I’m going to throw something he’ll foul off, and then I’m going to throw him a slider he’ll ground into the hole.’ ”
Terry Pendleton: “We were in Cincinnati one night and Bret Boone kept fouling off fastballs, and I went to the mound and said, ‘You could get him with a slider.’ And Doggie said, ‘Yeah, but I want to save that for when runners are in scoring position.’ ”
Leo Mazzone: “We were having our pitchers’ meeting before the 1996 World Series and we were going over the scouting report. It said to pitch Bernie Williams a certain way. Maddux said, ‘That’s not right. I’ve watched every game they’ve played the last two weeks and he’s killing that pitch.’ And I said, ‘We’ll go with Doggie on this one.’ ”
(Postscript: Bernie Williams faced Maddux three times in Game 2. He went 0-for-3.)
He saw everything. He knew everything. He remembered everything. Bobby Cox tells this Doggie tale:
Andy Benes was pitching for Arizona and plunked a Braves’ hitter. Cox told his men after the game, “Next time we play them, Benes better go down!” Well, the Braves didn’t play Arizona again that season or in the first weeks of the next. And one day Maddux walks into Cox’s office and said, “Still stand?”
Said Cox: “What are you talking about?”
Said Maddux: “That thing with Benes. Still stand?”
Said Cox, who’d forgotten such a edict was ever levied: “Damn right!”
First at-bat that night, Andy Benes ate dirt.
Smartest ballplayer ever. Biggest phony ever. Tried to make it seem as if he was unarmed — of Randy Johnson, Maddux once said: “His slider is faster than my fastball” — but in truth was possessed of the greatest weapon in the game. The Maddux brain.
One thing more about our Einstein: He was also a raging slob.
Lemke: “When we trained in West Palm, I’d take a look in Maddux’s car the last week and the thing would be a disaster. He’d hit Burger King every morning and he’d just turn around and — whoosh — toss [the cups and wrappers] into the back seat.”
On Friday the Braves inducted this con artist into their Hall of Famer and retired the Sultan of Sloth’s number. Even Maddux, who’s never fazed, seemed moved by the ovation he received at Turner Field. And then he gave an unmemorable speech that concluded with, “Let’s go beat the Mets.” The man always could focus.
Smartest ballplayer ever. Greatest pitcher I’ve ever seen. Greatest pitcher I’ll ever see.
Another Maddux story, this from Pete Van Wieren: “In Montreal they used to have a big bowl of jellybeans in the clubhouse, and Gerald Williams would come in every day and pick out the red ones. One day got to the ballpark two hours early and dumped the whole bowl and took out all the red ones. Took him a couple of hours, but he just wanted to sit in the corner and snicker when Gerald came in and started looking for the red jellybeans.”