Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring. Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.
Of course Greg Maddux is retiring tenth on the all-time strikeout list (3371). Still, when I think back on Maddux in twenty, thirty years from now, my guess is what I’ll remember the most about him is a dinky ground ball to second base. That was the signature out of his prime, a crappy grounder, a squibber that rolled harmlessly to a waiting infielder. Or maybe a little jam shot pop-fly. Or yeah, even a strikeout, the late-breaking fastball tailing back over the plate leaving hitters with their asses out, hands up and bats still on their shoulder.
In his prime, you rarely saw good swings or heard solid contact against Maddux.
There will be a host of tributes to Maddux this week. Here are the early birds.
I never presumed to think with Maddux or have a deeper understanding of why he was so good. I just loved watching him pitch, loved the whole scene, loved seeing the frustration batters would show, loved the way umpires over the course of a game became willing co-coconspirators, loved the way catchers would just let the ball tumble into the glove without moving, loved the way Maddux would fidget when he didn’t have all of his stuff working, loved it all. He was Mozart, I was Salieri, and no I couldn’t reproduce it, no I couldn’t get close to it, but I felt like I could hear the music.
Over at SI.com, Tom Verducci writes:
The magic show is over. I dislike absolutes, but of this I am sure: Greg Maddux is the most fascinating interview, the smartest baseball player and the most highly formed baseball player I have encountered in 27 years covering major league baseball. There is no one alive who ever practiced the craft of pitching better than Maddux.
…I will miss watching him pitch. In his prime, Maddux never received enough credit for the quality of his stuff. Too many people equate power with stuff, but Maddux’s fastball, at least back when he was throwing 90 mph, had ridiculous movement — late, large movement. Think about this: he dominated hitters with no splitter and a curveball that was no better than high-school quality.
That’s how good were his fastball and changeup. It wasn’t just location.
Here is Verducci’s 1995 feature profile on Maddux for SI.
The Mad Dog won 355 games and if he’s not the best pitcher since World War II then he’s in the conversation writes Rob Neyer.
What makes Maddux so great is not only the depth of his career, but also the breadth. Since World War II, only one pitcher (Warren Spahn) has won more games than Maddux. Since World War II, no pitcher has more 15-win seasons. And perhaps most impressively, in his entire career Maddux has spent only two weeks on the disabled list; if not for the player strike that marred 1994 and ’95, Maddux would almost certainly have made at least 33 starts in 21 straight seasons. No other pitcher has done that; no other pitcher has come close to doing that.
In historical context, Maddux has certainly been one of the greatest pitchers ever, and he has been perhaps the most durable pitcher ever. Given that combination, I believe it’s fair to suggest that he’s one of the two greatest pitchers since World War II.