Pitcher perfect

Greg Maddux debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

December 03, 2013
2014 Hall of Fame candidate Greg Maddux. (Brad Mangin/NBHOF Library)

At times, Greg Maddux’s mastery of the strike zone truly seemed effortless. 

Fastball down-and-away – on the black – for strike one. Fastball in on the hands for strike two. Change-up away for strike three. 

Pitch after pitch, strike after strike for the average-looking right-hander who elevated “control” to a new definition in the 1990s. 

Now, the winningest pitcher of his generation stands at the cusp of Cooperstown. 

Maddux debuts on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame ballot this fall, one of 36 players on the 2014 BBWAA ballot for the Class of 2014. 

BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 8. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 27 in Cooperstown. 

Gregory Alan Maddux was born April 14, 1966 in San Angelo, Texas. He spent some of his childhood in Madrid, Spain – following his father on his Air Force assignment – before graduating from high school in Las Vegas. Maddux’s father, Dave, taught Greg and his older brother Mike the fundamentals of the game – and Mike was drafted by the Phillies in the second round of the 1982 MLB Draft. 

[Scouting reports on Greg Maddux]

Two years later, Greg – who had not yet reached his full size of 6-foot, 170 pounds – was taken in the second round by the Cubs. 

After winning a combined 27 minor league games during the 1985-86 seasons while demonstrating a pitching intelligence beyond his years, Maddux struggled as a 21-year-old in 1987 with the Cubs – going 6-14 with a 5.61 earned-run average. It would be more almost two decades later before Maddux posted another losing record. 

In 1988, Maddux improved to 18-8 – the first of his 17 straight seasons with at least 15 victories, the longest streak by any pitcher in big league history. Maddux also earned the first of his eight All-Star Game selections that year. 

In 1989, Maddux went 19-12 with a 2.95 ERA, leading the Cubs to the National League East title while finishing third in the NL Cy Young Award vote. He won 15 games in 1990 along with the first of his record 18 Gold Glove Awards, and led the NL in innings pitched in 1991 with 263 – the first of five straight seasons in which he led the league in that category. 

Then in 1992, Maddux went 20-11 with a 2.18 ERA, earning the first of four straight Cy Young Awards – a record that went unchallenged until Randy Johnson tied it from 1999-2002. 

After the season, Maddux became a free agent and eventually agreed with the Braves on a 5-year, $28 million contract. It would become one of the best bargains in big league history. 

Maddux went 20-10 in 1993, leading the Braves to their third straight NL West title and topping the league with a 2.36 ERA – the first of four ERA crowns he would capture. During the next two strike-shortened seasons, Maddux was practically untouchable – going 16-6 with a 1.56 ERA in 1994 and then following that with a 19-2 mark in 1995 that included a 1.63 ERA. 

“Imagine the pressure,” said former teammate John Smoltz, “of knowing that, in every start for two years, if you give up two runs in a complete game your ERA is going to go up. But he has this way to constantly deflecting the attention and pressure off himself.” 

In 1995, Maddux and the Braves won the World Series – topping Cleveland in six games. Maddux was 3-1 in the postseason. 

During his four-year stretch of Cy Young Award dominance, Maddux was 75-29 with a 1.98 ERA. And his control improved almost every year. In 889.1 innings from 1994-1997, Maddux walked just 102 batters – including 23 intentional passes. 

“People think the strike zone is 17 inches wide because that’s what home plate is,” Maddux said. “But the ball is three inches wide, and if any part of the ball gets the plate, it’s a strike. That means, counting both sides of the plate, you really have 23 inches to work with.” 

Maddux used every edge he had and continued to dominate the batters as the Braves continued to amass NL West titles. From 1993-2003 – his 11 years in a Braves uniform – Atlanta won the division crown in each completed season, advancing to the World Series three times and winning the 1995 Fall Classic. In that time, Maddux went 198-88 with a 2.63 ERA. 

As age chased him, Maddux adjusted – regularly topping the 200-inning mark while keeping his ERA around the 3.00 mark. But as his ERA rose, Maddux never questioned his strategy or tactics on the mound. 

“I don’t have excuses,” Maddux told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci during a rough patch in the late 1990s. “It’s execution. That’s all there is to it.” 

In 1998, Maddux won his 200th game at the age of 32 – putting him on track for the elusive 300 mark. 

“Honestly, I don’t expect my pace to stay the same,” Maddux said at the time of his 200th win. “I would have to pitch the same in my 30s that I did between 26 and 29. It’s not impossible, but you’ve got to be realistic.” 

Maddux’s reality, however, proved much better than most pitchers’ fantasy. He returned to the Cubs via free agency in 2004, winning his 300th game in 2004 and leading the NL in starts in 2005 with 35 at the age of 39. 

In 23 big league seasons, Maddux spent only 15 days on the disabled list – a two-week stint in 2002 with an inflamed nerve in his lower back. 

His durable arm never produced a fastball of much better than 90 miles per hour, but his impeccable control – and ability to analyze hitters and their tendencies – made Maddux one of the game’s most prolific pitchers. 

“He’s able to notice things in the course of a game that no one else can,” said former teammate Tom Glavine. “The way a hitter may open up a little, move up in the box an inch, change his stance. I don’t know how he does it.” 

He retired following the 2008 season with 355 wins and only 227 losses – a .610 winning percentage. His victory total is the eighth-best of all-time, and his innings pitched total of 5,008.1 ranks 13th. 

Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO
1986 20 CHC 2 4 .333 5.52 6 5 1 1 0 0 31.0 44 20 19 3 11 20
1987 21 CHC 6 14 .300 5.61 30 27 2 1 1 0 155.2 181 111 97 17 74 101
1988 22 CHC 18 8 .692 3.18 34 34 0 9 3 0 249.0 230 97 88 13 81 140
1989 23 CHC 19 12 .613 2.95 35 35 0 7 1 0 238.1 222 90 78 13 82 135
1990 24 CHC 15 15 .500 3.46 35 35 0 8 2 0 237.0 242 116 91 11 71 144
1991 25 CHC 15 11 .577 3.35 37 37 0 7 2 0 263.0 232 113 98 18 66 198
1992 26 CHC 20 11 .645 2.18 35 35 0 9 4 0 268.0 201 68 65 7 70 199
1993 27 ATL 20 10 .667 2.36 36 36 0 8 1 0 267.0 228 85 70 14 52 197
1994 28 ATL 16 6 .727 1.56 25 25 0 10 3 0 202.0 150 44 35 4 31 156
1995 29 ATL 19 2 .905 1.63 28 28 0 10 3 0 209.2 147 39 38 8 23 181
1996 30 ATL 15 11 .577 2.72 35 35 0 5 1 0 245.0 225 85 74 11 28 172
1997 31 ATL 19 4 .826 2.20 33 33 0 5 2 0 232.2 200 58 57 9 20 177
1998 32 ATL 18 9 .667 2.22 34 34 0 9 5 0 251.0 201 75 62 13 45 204
1999 33 ATL 19 9 .679 3.57 33 33 0 4 0 0 219.1 258 103 87 16 37 136
2000 34 ATL 19 9 .679 3.00 35 35 0 6 3 0 249.1 225 91 83 19 42 190
2001 35 ATL 17 11 .607 3.05 34 34 0 3 3 0 233.0 220 86 79 20 27 173
2002 36 ATL 16 6 .727 2.62 34 34 0 0 0 0 199.1 194 67 58 14 45 118
2003 37 ATL 16 11 .593 3.96 36 36 0 1 0 0 218.1 225 112 96 24 33 124
2004 38 CHC 16 11 .593 4.02 33 33 0 2 1 0 212.2 218 103 95 35 33 151
2005 39 CHC 13 15 .464 4.24 35 35 0 3 0 0 225.0 239 112 106 29 36 136
2006 40 TOT 15 14 .517 4.20 34 34 0 0 0 0 210.0 219 109 98 20 37 117
2006 40 CHC 9 11 .450 4.69 22 22 0 0 0 0 136.1 153 78 71 14 23 81
2006 40 LAD 6 3 .667 3.30 12 12 0 0 0 0 73.2 66 31 27 6 14 36
2007 41 SDP 14 11 .560 4.14 34 34 0 1 0 0 198.0 221 92 91 14 25 104
2008 42 TOT 8 13 .381 4.22 33 33 0 0 0 0 194.0 204 105 91 21 30 98
2008 42 SDP 6 9 .400 3.99 26 26 0 0 0 0 153.1 161 80 68 16 26 80
2008 42 LAD 2 4 .333 5.09 7 7 0 0 0 0 40.2 43 25 23 5 4 18
23 Yrs 355 227 .610 3.16 744 740 3 109 35 0 5008.1 4726 1981 1756 353 999 3371

 

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum