With Greg Maddux's name on the Hall of Fame ballot this year, stories have been coming out of the woodwork about just how amazing "Mad Dog" was.
We have two more for you.
At 6-foot, 170 pounds, Maddux didn't have the same physical dominance of a Jeff Samardzija (6-5, 225). He didn't dial his fastball up to 98 mph to blow people away. His curveball didn't break 18 inches like Barry Zito's in his heyday.
But that was the point. He didn't need any of that stuff. He was just smarter than everybody else, as Thomas Boswell's column at the Washington Post proves.
As Boswell tells it, Maddux was convinced no batter could determine the exact speed of a pitch, but rather just differences in spin.
Because of this inherent ineradicable flaw in hitters, Maddux’s main goal was to “make all of my pitches look like a column of milk coming toward home plate.” Every pitch should look as close to every other as possible, all part of that “column of milk.” He honed the same release point, the same look, to all his pitches, so there was less way to know its speed — like fastball 92 mph, slider 84, change-up 76.
And it worked, as Boswell sums up perfectly:
The final pitching product was one of the most elegant, intelligent and fierce self-creations in American sports. Maddux left hitters with an “I-am-stupid, kick-me” sign on their backs. He pitched complete games in much less than two hours without ever throwing one eye-popping pitch. Hundreds of pitchers could do it — in theory. No one else ever has. The sequence, the mind, the command, the intuition, the hauteur was all.
Maddux was a control freak. Nine times, he led the league in walks per nine innings. He finished his career (the final 16 years) walking just 544 batters in 532 starts, good for a 1.4 BB/9 ratio. In 1997, Maddux walked only 20 batters all season, spanning 30 starts and 232.2 innings.
In that light, Yahoo's Tim Brown tells a tale of Eddie Perez, Maddux's most popular catcher. When Perez caught and Maddux was on the mound, the battery went against the grain, with the Hall of Famer -- not the catcher -- calling the pitches from the mound.
When Perez returned the ball to the mound, he said, Maddux would designate the next pitch by the way he caught the ball, or the way he held his right hand, or touched his cap. And Perez would follow along. It went on like that for months, until Perez decided he knew the opposing hitters – and Maddux – well enough to take over.
"I got it," he told Maddux one afternoon. "Let me call tonight's game."
Maddux nodded and went along with it, shaking off Perez only two or three times. They won the game. Perez was elated.
"How'd I do?" Perez asked proudly.
Maddux looked up at Perez and said, "Those two or three? That's too much."