Saturday, December 06, 2008

Farewell, Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux is calling it a career. There will be dozens, if not hundreds, of comments and stories on this in the coming days (most of which will be far more eloquent than this one), all of which will rightly proclaim the greatness of Maddux. For my money, Maddux is simply one of the 5 best pitchers ever, period. People more generally ranted and raved about the gretness of Clemens and Johnson over the bespectacled Maddux (like the offensive counterpart, the homerun, people are just crazy about the strikeout; the ground-out, not so much). But while debates about Clemens' greatness raged, Maddux just quietly went out to the mound and did ridiculous things like throw 70+ pitch complete games or 90-minute games or tell his catcher how he was going to get the next 3 guys out ("groundball to short, fly to right, groundball to first,") and then go and do exactly that. Certainly, his control slipped a little, but he still could just blow your mind even in the past few seasons. And when Maddux fielded a ball, it was often another thing of beauty. Games Maddux pitched were one of the few games I'd almost rather see on television than in person, just so you could watch the way he'd make the ball move.

His legacy is in no doubt - 355 wins, a career ERA of 3.16 (and this in the steroids era!), and, always most impressive to me, the 17 straight seasons with 15+ wins. His entrance into the hall of fame is guaranteed in 2013.

To me, though, for all the remarkable stats, I'll always remember him most fondly for his simple, pure ability to pitch, rather than "throw." An acquaintance of mine some years ago (I don't even remember who, now) and I were talking about pitching, about how underappreciated Maddux was even with all the respect he got. In the course of this conversation, this acquaintance was talking about how much he enjoys a good pitcher's duel, but how his wife always preferred the home run slugfests. One day, they watched a game Maddux pitched on television, and about halfway through, his wife turned to him and said, "I get it. Now I get why pitching can be so great."

That, to me, will always be what Maddux was - plainly, simply, the greatest pitcher there ever was.