Maddux often gets lost in shuffle
Updated 6/27/2006 1:47 PM ET
By Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY
He may be the greatest living right-handed pitcher alive, but hardly anyone notices.
He has won 300 games like you-know-who in Texas. He also has 3,000 strikeouts. He, too, likely will be heading to Cooperstown as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Yet, strangely enough, it's as if baseball has forgotten about Greg Maddux.
"That's OK, he's more of a story," Maddux says of Roger Clemens. "He's the Rocket. He has an aura about him that I've never experienced. I'm happy he's back.
"I was rooting for him the other day (in his 2006 debut), even though the Astros are in our division."
Maddux was the flavor of the month in April when he opened the season going 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA for the Chicago Cubs. Everyone wanted to know his age-defying secret. Now that he has won only two of his last 11 starts, the only time he hears his name is in trade rumors.
"I don't think anybody wants to be traded," says Maddux, 7-8 after losing Monday to the Milwaukee Brewers. "But I'm only a player. I don't make those decisions. I lost my no-trade clause when I came to Chicago.
"It's funny how everyone was saying I was winning because I was in such great shape. No, I was winning because I was making my pitches. I'm just not making as many good pitches now."
And nobody seems to care whether he plans to continue pitching, let alone debate whether Maddux, and not Clemens, is the greatest pitcher of our generation.
One of the top two
"It's one of the damnedest things I've ever seen," says Baltimore Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who coached Maddux for 11 years in Atlanta. "We all know that Roger Clemens is good. Real good. But the real baseball world knows that Mad Dog is right there with him. You can argue all you want who is better, but your argument starts and stays right with those two guys.
"As far as someone with the precision of his pitches, being able to locate his fastball and change speeds with terrific movement, nobody in the history of the game is better than Greg Maddux.
"I'll go to my grave believing we will never see another pitcher like him."
And Mazzone says there will never be anyone — owner, general manager, manager or player — smarter in the game of baseball.
"I don't care who I offend," Mazzone says, "he is the smartest man in baseball. He picks up things that nobody can. I remember one time (Braves manager) Bobby (Cox) wanted to walk Shawn Green with first base open. Bobby goes to the mound and Mad Dog says to him, 'Give me two pitches. Then I'm going to get him to pop up the third one to third base.
"Bobby comes back to the bench and I say, 'What are we doing?' Bobby says, 'Wait 'til you hear this!' And you know what, Green popped up to third base."
Maddux, 40, hardly looks like a guy whose résumé includes four Cy Young awards, 325 career victories, 3,108 strikeouts, 4,504 innings and 15 Gold Gloves.
Maddux, who failed to win Monday night against Milwaukee, needs just one more victory to tie Eddie Plank for 12th place on the all-time victory list, two to tie John Clarkson for 11th, and four to tie Steve Carlton for 10th.
"It's kind of cool to see the names," Maddux says. "It was nice having your name associated with guys like Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan. And my brother (Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux) pitched with Steve Carlton. But guys like Eddie Plank and Walter Johnson, those were standards set a long time ago. It's hard to relate to them."
Particularly when his fastball, clocked consistently in the mid-80s, can be found on many high-school diamonds.
"If I was in high school, I wouldn't even be drafted," Maddux says. "They want guys who can throw in the mid-90s. That's just the way it is. They want guys like Roger Clemens, not me."
Finesse vs. flash
Ah, Clemens. The guy has won 16 more games in his career, but has lacked Maddux's uncanny consistency. Maddux is the first pitcher in history to win at least 15 games in 17 consecutive seasons. Maddux has pitched at least 199 innings the last 18 years, making at least 33 starts in all but the strike-shortened seasons since 1987. And if he wins 13 games this season, he'll join Cy Young as the only pitcher to accomplish the feat in 19 seasons.
"I've played with Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas and Carlos Delgado," Cubs reliever Scott Eyre says, "but the greatest player of them all is Greg Maddux.
"I can't believe when people say, 'Yeah, he's good, but he's not a power pitcher.' Uh, he's got more than 3,000 punch-outs doesn't he?
"People say they'd rather see Roger Clemens pitch 97 mph.
"Me, I'd rather see Greg Maddux carve 'em up."
Says Astros starter Andy Pettitte: "He's in a league of his own. His velocity isn't like it used to be, and he doesn't have a dominant pitch, but his moment and location are like nothing we've ever seen."
Maddux, an eight-time All-Star who needs four more strikeouts to tie Bob Gibson for 12th on the all-time strikeout list, frankly doesn't care how you view him. Compare him to Clemens? It should be an honor, not a debate.
"It doesn't bother me at all," Maddux says. "Personally, I've never seen a better pitcher. We get pretty much the same results, but he's been more impressive doing it. He's dominating guys. I just try to squeak by.
"So, if I have to take a backseat to him, hey, I can handle it."
'Like a big kid'
Maddux is sitting in front of his locker in his underwear, reading the sports page, sipping on coffee, and ever so deviously glancing toward the table in the middle of the clubhouse.
He stopped by the local McDonald's early in the morning, grabbed some breakfast sandwiches and put them out on the clubhouse table for everyone to enjoy.
And then sits back and laughs hysterically when unsuspecting players open their sandwich and realize that Maddux has already taken a bite. Out of each one.
"He's like a big kid," Chicago Cubs coach Benny Cadahia says. "He's always the first one to the clubhouse. He gets his work in before anyone gets there. And by the time they show up, he sits back and enjoys all of his pranks.
"That's why I laugh when people talk about whether he'll retire. You kidding? He loves being here. He couldn't do this stuff at home."
Maddux has never retired. He doesn't plan on starting now.
"I remember earlier this year, I just got my brains beat in pitching in San Diego," Maddux says. "I stunk. I was embarrassed. I was humiliated, and all of that.
"But you know what, I still had a great time because I was out there competing. I have the greatest job in the world. I play golf on my off days, and I get to pitch in the major leagues on the days I work.
"Doesn't get any better than that."
And as long as Maddux still believes he can be effective, providing that someone still will give him a uniform, he'll continue to pitch.
"I want to play as long as I'm good enough to play," he says. "It's like playing bad golf is better than no golf. It's the same as pitching. Why would I want to give that up?"