Beyond all the numbers – 355 wins, 3,371 strikeouts, 18 Gold Gloves – here’s another way to measure his career: The outrage over Greg Maddux not getting 100 percent of the Hall of Fame vote.
For all the tortured decisions, passive-aggressive guessing and Internet trolling, Maddux became a slam dunk for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Maddux will headline the 2014 class unveiled Wednesday after being named on 555-of-571 ballots (97.2 percent), the reward for smashing all expectations.
Maddux looked more like a guy who should be sitting in the Wrigley Field bleachers, and yet he still dominated hitters during the era of “Chicks Dig The Long Ball.” He certainly wasn’t built like former Auburn University tight end Frank Thomas, the White Sox slugger who also got in with 83.7 percent of the vote.
Maddux developed a mystical reputation as a pitching genius, the round glasses only reinforcing his cerebral image. But he also had the “Mad Dog” nickname and competitive streak, an absurdly sophomoric sense of humor and a love for practical jokes that still keeps Cubs people laughing all these years later.
Maddux, the son of a Las Vegas card dealer and Air Force veteran, played the odds and made himself into what Sports Illustrated called “The Greatest Pitcher You’ll Ever See” for the cover of its Aug. 14, 1995 issue.
At that point, Maddux was closing in on his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award and a World Series ring. He had walked away from the Cubs after winning his first one in 1992, signing with the Atlanta Braves and becoming a foundation piece for a franchise that won 14 consecutive division titles between 1991 and 2005.
“I did everything possible to stay there after the ‘92 season,” Maddux told reporters on a conference call. “Things didn’t work out and I was fortunate to go back 11 years later. I loved the city of Chicago. I came up a Cub. I figure if you count the minor leagues, I was in Chicago for about 11 years and I was in Atlanta for 11 years. I kind of split up my time with the two teams. Chicago is a special place and I’d love to see them win a World Series here shortly. It would be awesome.”
Tom Glavine (91.9 percent) – who starred alongside Maddux in that classic Nike commercial – will also be honored at the July 27 induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. So will former Braves manager Bobby Cox, who was elected by a special committee. Together, they won the World Series title the Cubs have chased for more than a century.
Maddux became an unlikely superstar in Atlanta, but he got his start with the Cubs, who selected the skinny Valley High School teenager with the 31st overall pick in the 1984 draft.
By September 1986, Maddux had made his big-league debut at age 20 inside Wrigley Field, where the Cubs eventually retired the No. 31 he shared with Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins.
But a precision pitcher who excelled with absolute control – 999 career walks in 5,000-plus innings – couldn’t quite time it right on the North Side.
Maddux signed back with the Cubs in spring training 2004, joining Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano and a team that couldn’t live up to the enormous expectations after being only five outs away from the World Series.
The Cubs traded Maddux to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31, 2006, in the middle of a last-place season, months before a Tribune Co. go-for-it spending spree would produce back-to-back division titles.
In retirement, a close relationship with former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry brought Maddux back to the organization as a special assistant in January 2010. But after Hendry got fired and the Theo Epstein administration took over in 2011, Maddux decided to join his brother Mike and take a similar job within the Texas Rangers front office.
Maddux, 47, has so far resisted the idea of becoming a full-time pitching coach, so he can spend more time at home with his family in Las Vegas. But whatever comes next, he will be introduced as a first-ballot Hall of Famer for the rest of his life.