Baseball / Sports

Greg Maddux always had fun, on and off the field

One lesson Greg Maddux tried to impart on younger players throughout his career had nothing to do with how to throw a baseball.

It was all about enjoying yourself at work.

"Have fun and appreciate the game," Maddux said. "The game is fun. There is plenty of time to screw around and have a good time and pick on your teammates and all that. And it just takes a little bit of effort sometimes during the day to try and get better for your next game."

Maddux -- who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y. -- went all out during games, but he was also a notorious prankster and thoroughly enjoyed messing with his teammates.

Former Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston said one game Maddux came up to him and catcher Joe Girardi, who were batting seventh and eighth in the lineup, and asked them to take some pitches before his at-bat.

"Before you know it, we were out on six, seven pitches, and then he swings at the first pitch," Dunston said. "I said, 'What are you telling us to take pitches for?' He said, 'Because I wanted to swing at the first pitch.'

"I said, 'Wow, that's Greg Maddux.' That's the kind of teammate he was. He never took things too seriously, yet he was a competitor on the field."

When charting pitches during games, Maddux would come up with nicknames for the starter and relievers, some of which were unprintable. He was politically incorrect before the term became a cliche, and no one was spared from his barbs.

"His sense of humor came out more off the field than it did on it," former Cubs pitcher Glendon Rusch said. "And he did pick his proper spots to do it, so he wasn't in the public eye."

Girardi, who caught Maddux on the 1989 "Boys of Zimmer" team, said Maddux was one of the most competitive people he ever met.

"He was the ultimate competitor in everything, whether it was pitching, golf, video games or whatever," Girardi said. "He never wanted to lose. And he was really a student of the game.

"He taught me a lot in the early years with him, just watching the way he goes about his business, how he set up hitters and how he had a plan of what we wanted to do, and it really helped me."

A defining moment in Maddux's career came in 1987, his first full season in the majors, when the Padres' Eric Show hit Andre Dawson in the face with a pitch. Maddux's teammates told him not to retaliate until after the fifth inning so he could get credit for the win if he got ejected.

Maddux ignored them.

"He drilled the (third) guy and they threw him out of the game," Dunston said. "I was like, 'Look at Maddux, he doesn't care about getting the win.' He said afterward: 'This win doesn't mean anything to me. Andre Dawson means everything to our team.'

"He was struggling at the time but didn't care about the victory. It was an unselfish move, and he could've used the win to build his confidence. Right then I knew this guy was going to be great. Just an outstanding teammate."

Rusch said the best part of being Maddux's teammate was being able to hang around him during batting practice or on the bench, listening to him talk about the nuances of the game.

"You always listened to what he was thinking, how he might pitch somebody," Rusch said. "He was so fun to be around and a class act on and off the field. A fun guy and one of the best pitchers of our era, hands down. I'm so excited he's finally going in the Hall of Fame."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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