Common-sense approach sets Greg Maddux apart from crowd

Written By BY RICK MORRISSEY | @MorrisseyCST Posted: 07/27/2014, 02:32am
Array Chicago Cubs Greg Maddux delievers a pitch during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Peter Zuzga) ORG XMIT: WIPZ101

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Someone reminded Greg Maddux that when he returned to Chicago amid huge expectations for the Cubs in 2004, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior ended up struggling with injuries. The team didn’t make the playoffs.

‘‘That’s the Cubs,’’ he said. ‘‘You know the Cubs.’’

We do. We know the entire century-plus story of goofiness, and that’s actually how Maddux meant it Saturday — with no hint of malice or cruelty, only a touch of a smile at the corners of his mouth. Things went badly for the Cubs that season because they always do. Shrug.

That probably won’t make Maddux’s Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday, but some things are just fact. He pitched in 35 postseason games, of which only two were for the Cubs (both in 1989). There has been enough written about Maddux’s departure from Chicago after the 1992 season to fill up about 10 Baseball Encyclopedias. Tribune Co., the owner of the Cubs at the time, went the cheap route in negotiations with him, and Maddux took the fastest route to Atlanta.

But it wasn’t just about money, he said Saturday.

‘‘One of the big reasons for going to Atlanta in the first place was to have a chance to get a World Series ring,’’ Maddux said.

Oh, that.

Maddux’s Chicago and Atlanta dual citizenship will be a big part of his speech. He was so good in both places that each city claims him as its own. That says something about the man, his impact and the sheer breadth of his accomplishments. He won 355 games, including 133 with the Cubs. Of his four consecutive Cy Young Awards, one came with the Cubs — his first in 1992. And he won a World Series ring in 1995 — not with the Cubs.

For years, herniated Cubs fans have lugged around feelings of what-might-have-been because of Maddux. It’s called ‘‘self-abuse.’’ He will go into the Hall with a cap with no logo. That’s not indecisiveness. That’s just a nod to the obvious: He was very good in two places.

‘‘I think I spent 12 years in Chicago, if you count the minor leagues, and 11 in Atlanta,’’ he said. ‘‘So I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t play in Chicago, and I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t play in Atlanta. So to pick one over the other, to me, it just didn’t feel right.’’

Maddux isn’t the kind of person who lives in the past, at least the part of the past that had him on a pitcher’s mound. There are other things that make him stop and pause about his career. A golf game with John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. A card game with teammates on an airplane.

There are specific pitches he remembers, but he doesn’t gaze into the distance, lost in thought about the way he got Mike Piazza with a fastball away in a big moment. When he talks about pitching, it always seems to be about common sense. Keep pitches low. Make the batter pound the ball into the ground. It sounds so easy.

He knew the wind was his friend at Wrigley Field. Apparently, an observant Cubs pitcher should be able to read the surface of Lake Michigan.

‘‘Smooth is bad, rough is good,’’ Maddux said, smiling.

You walk away wondering why there aren’t more of him, then you remember that only one person was blessed with that kind of precise control. Yes, he had the retention skills of a scholar, but he could put the ball wherever he wanted.

He also stayed healthy. More pitchers have arm issues these days because they throw harder and because they throw more pitches growing up, he said. I wish parents of young athletes would read the following quote and heed Maddux’s advice. I know they won’t.

‘‘It’s OK if you play other sports,’’ he said. ‘‘Everybody thinks you’ve got to play year-round now. Just the last couple of nights, talking to some of the other Hall of Fame guys, they all played different sports. Everybody thinks now your kid has to play club ball and then he’s got to get lessons from this guy and then he’s got to get in this league. It’s OK to play other sports and be a kid and have fun.’’

Common sense. We could use more of that and fun.

Maddux was asked if he thought he was the only player to have been fined for sliding on the tarp during a rain delay.

‘‘I don’t know,’’ he said. ‘‘It’d be cool if I was.’’

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