Maddux to Retire

It’s official. Or at least it will be on Monday.

Maddux is my favorite baseball player of all time. Despite this, I have only seen him pitch in person one time. This is a near-contemporaneous account of that one time I saw him, related in an email to my buddy Ethan in the still-drunk hours following the game:

From: Craig
To: Ethan
Date: Friday, August 4, 2006 at 12:31 AM
Re: Maddux

So we took all of our summer clerks down to Cincinnati tonight for the Reds-Dodgers game. We’re on the way back in the big custom bus now. Fabulous night. Maddux gets traded to L.A. last weekend. Tonight is his first start for them. The stars align, and I get to see my favorite player tonight. I buy a Dodgers hat and wear it down just to support Maddux, and, I’ll admit, to be a bit annoying to Reds fans.

Maddux has a huge fork in his back. He is done. Kinda hard to watch him the last year or two, but I still root. I expect little or nothing from him.

Game starts. He gives up an early walk and I think it will be a long night. Then he starts throwing bullets. One. Two. Three. Five innings of no-hit ball. It’s 1994 all over again. Sixth inning starts. Long fly . . . caught. Another . . . caught. Lightening in a bottle. Third batter comes up and he mows him down too. I’m alone in a ballpark screaming at the top of my lungs. No-hitter in effect. I know it won’t last. Even in his prime Maddux never threw a no hitter because he’s around the plate too much. He can’t not throw strikes, even when he doesn’t have his best stuff. He gets hit. That’s what he does. Still, I think how nice it would be to not see him give up a hit.

As the top of the seventh begins, the skies open up and a deluge falls on Great American Ballpark. Lightning. Thunder. The Dodgers bat, and the half inning ends just as the umps call for a delay and the tarp comes out. Forty minutes. I know that there is no chance that Maddux is coming out for the bottom of the 7th. He’s 40. His arm will be tight. He’s a Hall of Famer already. He doesn’t need the no-no to make him happy. They got him for the stretch run and they need to save his arm. Still, part of me hopes.

The game resumes with some kid I’ve never heard of on the mound [note: it was Joe Beimel. I’ve since heard of him]. He gives up a hit to the first batter. Never send a boy to do a man’s job.

Dodgers win 3-0. Maddux gets the win. I get to see him pitch like he was in his prime again, and got to see him leave before anyone remembered he didn’t have it anymore.

I was almost too old for heroes when Maddux came up. I’m definitely too old for heroes now. He will be the last.

Thanks, Greg.

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  1. TC said...

    I saw Maddux pitch, live, probably about as much as I’ve seen any non-Phillie pitch.  Him and Glavine were the twin destroyers of my summers.  That said, I’ve always liked watching him pitch on TV better than live.  Maybe it’s just because it’s genuinely hard to appreciate a nuanced pitching performance when you’re 12 years old and sitting in the upper deck, a quarter mile above the field. 

    But, there was always something comical about Maddux—every game seemed like 7 innings, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts, and about one-hundred thousand infield popups and grounders to corner infielders.  Like he was doing it by accident.  Brilliant pitcher. 

    Part of me hoped he would keep putting around in the big ballparks in California, just keep racking up 10 wins per season, just to see how high he could get.  I haven’t watched him pitch quite so often in the past few years I did when I was younger, and he was better, so maybe I haven’t felt the pain of his decline the way some have, and that’s why I think that way.  But it would’ve been cool to see him hit 400 wins.

  2. Seth said...

    I got to see him pitch *against* the Dodgers in San Diego a couple of years ago.  My wife took some photos of him, and the coolest thing was, you could overlay image after image of him coming out of his windup, and there wasn’t the slightest difference between them.

    I’m glad to say I saw him in person.

  3. Daniel said...

    I grew up watching baseball on TBS on WGN, so a lot of my baseball watching involved Maddux, even though I was an Angels fan living in SoCal.  He was always memorable in that he was so ordinary.  Of course he used to throw harder than he does now, but he was never a power pitcher. 

    It seems like there are a lot of righties nowadays throwing heavy sinkers with a ton of movement on their pitches, but I will always remember watching Maddux’s two-seamer trail back over the inside/outside corner and wonder how the heck he made a baseball do that.  And the catcher would never move his glove.  I hope he gets unanimous HoF election.

  4. Jeff Girgenti said...

    In a mostly self-indulgent email to my friends earlier this year, I re-capped my Top 20 Yankee Stadium memories. One entry was summed up very tidy:

    Greg Maddux. Complete game shutout. 2:09. It was impressive.

    For the record, not all of my Top 20 were gems. In fact the next Yankee Stadium game I highlighted was this clunker:

    Hideki Irabu. 5-1/3, 9 runs. 4:22 (the longest 9 inning game in history (at least at the time)). It was not impressive.

  5. Craig Calcaterra said...

    I read that he’s announcing at the meetings at the Bellagio (Maddux lives in Vegas) so it may be a literal line of actual baseball GMs.

  6. Zach Sanders said...

    Right there with you Craig. Maddux is by far my favorite player of all time, but I never had the chance to see him in person.

    I can still see the look in the hitters eye when that running fastball flies over the outside corner. Priceless.

    Maddux will undoubtedly be the best pitching coach of all time if he wants to be. I just want to see him in the dugout a few times a year to remind me of his presence around baseball. It’d be a good reminder that everything is right with the world.

    -Zach Sanders

    Maddux Article:

  7. blaze said...

    D’oh! The Yeungling! Craig, I think my Dodgers-Pirates game was ‘06, in which case I’m sorry I missed the poetry on the mound.

  8. lar said...

    I only saw Maddux pitch twice, and not until after I moved out here to Milwaukee in 2005. I saw him pitch for the Dodgers exactly one month after you, Craig, on Sept 4, 2006, and then again in 2007, pitching for the Padres on Sept 28.

    They were not pretty games. He gave up 6 runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 in that first game, and 3 runs and 6 hits in 5 innings for the Padres. That Padres game was big, though. They were fighting the Rockies’ hot streak in the last weekend of the season that game, and they needed to keep winning to force that playoff game (the back-breaking Tony Gwynn Jr. game-winning basehit off Hoffman in the 11th was the next day). It also was the last chance for the Brewers to get into the playoffs that year. So even though he no longer had his 1995 stuff (1.63 ERA!!!), he still knew how to bring it when he needed to. It was a disappointing day as a Brewer fan, but it was nice to see Maddux still doing what it took.

    I remember when my childhood hero, Cal Ripken, retired. It felt weird even though it was expected for a long time. Of course, he had a 6-month long retirement tour, and I made the trips up and down the California coast once or twice to take part in that, so it wasn’t quite as sudden as Maddux (the Angels gave out “tickets” commemorating his final games in Anaheim). Still, I know the feeling. (and Mussina was my second favorite player growing up, so I’m even seeing it somewhat this offseason too).

    All we can do, though, is think back on that amazing career and realize just how lucky we were to be a part of it, even if we were only able to see him in the late stages of his career. It’ll be a while before we see someone with Maddux’s abilities to win, to shut down the offense, to keep players hacking, to finish games quickly, and all while hardly ever walking someone.

  9. Vinny Fazio said...

    I really became a Maddux fan when he was aquired by Atlanta. I was 13 at the time. I spent much of Jr. High and High School days living and dying with every pitch he threw. I would be physically nervous every time he started.

    I enjoyed watching him pitch when he was the most dominant pitcher alive. I enjoyed him just at much in recent years. I think what he did after his 37th birthday is as impressive as what he did before. From about age 37 on he was unable to throw harder than 83 or 84 mph. Yet he still won 10-15 games almost automatically and but for the fact that he played on a horrible Padre team last year, would have done it again.

    What Craig said really made sense to me. I was just at the perfect age for a Hero when Maddux came around. Now that he leaves, I am too old for heroes. I’m glad he was mine.

  10. Preston said...

    It’s a selfish desire, but I hope the sports networks executives are in that line as well – he would probably make a fascinating analyst.

  11. Ernie said...

    @vinny fazio ( I am ripping off jason here)

    (nodding head approvingly)  I have the same feelings man.  But growing up a red sox fan, I’m going to have to say that Pedro had the more dominating peak than maddux.  FJM said it best.  All he did was dominate the DH Steroid laden AL East for 7 years.

  12. Scott Bermingham said...

    I’m a Braves fan from the land down under.  Back in the early 90’s the only baseball we got here was one game a week, shown around 2AM, the occasional highlights on a weekly sports show and delayed broadcasts of the LCS and world series.  I chose the Braves over the Twins for no good reason and then spent the next dozen or so years going without sleep to see Glavine, Smoltz (and then Maddux) almost do it every year.  The year cable came to my city, Maddux went to Chicago and the Braves went in search of mediocrity.

    Watching those amazing braves pitchers, led by the incomparable Maddux,  has given me a great love of your game (not to mention grief from my wife …“Not another baseball book!”).

    Farewell to a great champion who helped spread the game to far corners of the globe with class, skill and a kind of modesty that other ‘legends’ of his era somehow failed to show.

    If the HoF voters don’t get him in 100% first year then they should give up their voting rights.

  13. APBA Guy said...

    From 1988 with Chicago and a 3.18 ERA to 2002 in Atlanta with a 2.62, including a 5 year stretch from 94 to 98 when he averaged an ERA under 2.10, there was no finer pitcher. Only Pedro and Randy Johnson approached him for dominance in their peak years, and neither could match this length of superb performances.

    This year Ricky Henderson will go into the HoF as the greatest leadoff man of all time.

    In 5 years, it will be Maddux. 355 victories in a game of increasingly specialization is a record that will stand a very long time.

  14. matt said...

    Like the first poster, I’ve seen Maddux beat the Phillies live more times than I care to count.  That being said, he’s probably my favorite non-Phillies pitcher of all time.

    He had tremendous talent, but it always looked like he was getting by on guts and guile.  How many times have we looked in the dugout at Maddux wearing his glasses and thought, “That could be me?”  I know I’ll never be a beast like Clemens or have the athletic body of Pedro Martinez, but Maddux looked like another schlub on the street who was probably a bit nerdy.  That’s me!  I could be a multiple-time Cy Young award winner!

    The other great thing is that despite his conservative appearance, apparently Maddux had a fairly bawdy sense of humor.  He’ll be missed.

  15. EricJohn said...

    Here is why Greg Maddux was the best….

    Longtime BRaves fan here, grew up in Atlanta and saw Maddux pitch dozens of times. 

    When me and my buddies would go to games that Maddux pitched, you had to drink so fast to get a buzz because there was always the chance that the game would be over before you could get down three beers.  No joke.

    Greg Maddux…makes you drink faster.

  16. DTro said...

    Maddux is probably my favorite non-Met of all time, and my dad’s favorite current player. I saw him pitch once, in 2005, when he was on the Cubs. Jae Seo outdueled him in a 1-0 game at Shea. I was pumped that the Mets won, my dad was bummed that Maddux lost when he really pitched a great game. Knowing how 05 and Jae Seo turned out, I’m kinda bummed now too.

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