Baseball / Sports

With Greg Maddux, what you saw is what you got

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It was a surprise to many that Greg Maddux will enter the Hall of Fame without designating a team on his cap.

Maddux may have begun his career in Chicago, but he became a superstar with the Braves and pitched for them in every postseason from 1993 through 2003.

But Maddux said there was never an issue over which team to choose because they both meant so much to him over his terrific career.

"I don't think it's a secret," he said Friday at a reception the Cubs gave for him. "It was 11 years in Chicago, including the minor leagues. It was kind of equal time in both places. Without the 11 years in Chicago or 11 years in Atlanta, I wouldn't be standing here."

Few figures in Cubs history carry as much clout as Maddux, who left them crying in their beers when he departed in 1992 and made them ridiculously optimistic when he returned in 2004. He was the yin and yang of Cubs players, causing so much anguish after his first go-around and providing so much hope in the second.

"I'm still hurt he's not a Cub," former teammate Shawon Dunston said. "That still hurts. Going in without (a designated cap) shows how much the Cubs meant to him. Everybody knows we're proud to be Cubs. Yeah, we never won, but the fans always treated us nice, even if we were in last place by 30 games. And out of those teams, we do have Hall of Famers. You can't have everything, but Maddux not going in with the Cubs or Braves (cap), that's a lot of respect for both organizations. Very classy."

Maddux's prime, of course, was spent with the Braves, where his dominance became run-of-the-mill. He won between 16 and 20 games in 10 of his 11 seasons in Atlanta, posting an amazing winning percentage of .688 (194-88).

It was a far cry from his first full season, when Maddux went 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA with the Cubs, giving no signs that he would turn into a Hall of Famer.

"He got hit around," Dunston said. "But he took it like a man."

Former teammate Darrin Jackson saw Maddux's early struggles as a reminder that even the greats go through a learning curve.

"He was unhittable at Triple A, and that showed me how tough the jump was to get settled in at the major league level," Jackson said. "I realized as good as he had been, he was going to be fine, but it surprised me it wasn't instant. His style of pitching, it just took him a little while to adjust to the hitters."

Maddux adjusted, and the lessons eventually paid off. In 1989, he helped lead the Boys of Zimmer to the National League East title, winning 19 games and finishing third in the Cy Young voting. The late Don Zimmer, Maddux's manager, said in January it was obvious he would figure it out.

"It didn't take long to know he could do what he wanted with the ball," Zimmer said. "A lot of people confused him with throwing spitballs. He just knew what to do with the ball. He was something."

Maddux won the first of his four Cy Young Awards with the Cubs in 1992, the year he left as a free agent.

"His last year with us was his first 20-win season," former Cubs catcher Joe Girardi said. "And you could just see that he had it, and he was going to be successful for a long time."

That's exactly what happened. Maddux's 1.56 ERA with the Braves in 1994 is still the third-lowest since 1920, after Bob Gibson (1.12 in 1968) and Dwight Gooden (1.52 in 1985). The following year he posted a 1.63 ERA while going 19-2, leading the Braves to the only World Series championship of their long run of playoff appearances.

That stretch helped make Maddux richer than he ever expected, and he wound up making more than $150 million in his career.

"You knew he was going to be special," former Cubs pitching coach Dick Pole said. "When he got information, he had the ability to listen to it all and sift out of it what he needed."

Everyone has a story to tell about Maddux, some of which are printable. Pole recalled the time he rented a spring training house on a golf course and saw Maddux pull up to his place in a golf cart.

"Maddux and I think (Kerry) Wood and (Ryan) Dempster were all golfing, and Maddux asked me if I had any beer," Pole said.

Being a Cubs pitching coach, Pole was always well-stocked, and he gave them a 12-pack.

Pole handed over the beer to Maddux and said, "Don't they have a beer cart out there?"

"Do you know how much they charge for a beer from the beer cart?" Maddux replied.

Pole scratched his head.

"I'm thinking, '$16 million and it's kind of tough to buy a beer on a golf course,' " he said.

Maddux wound up paying back Pole the next day, but Pole still reminds him of his thriftiness to this day.

With the numbers he put up in his career, some speculated Maddux might be the first unanimous pick in Hall of Fame history. But he was not named on 16 ballots, leaving him at 97.2 percent. Former Mets great Tom Seaver holds the all-time record of 98.84 percent when elected in 1992.

"In my opinion he deserved 100 percent of the vote," former teammate Glendon Rusch said.

Perhaps, but Maddux didn't care.

He got everything he wanted out of his career and more. And now he tries to impart the same lessons he learned from Zimmer, Pole and others to modern-day players.

"You always stress to the kids today that you have to be a good teammate," Maddux said. "Anybody can be a good player, but you have to try to be both."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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