“This is Greg Maddux?” a new Cubs employee wondered years ago in spring training.
Perception didn’t always meet reality with Maddux, a Hall of Fame character who didn’t look the part but still won 355 games, throwing more than 5,000 innings and collecting 18 Gold Gloves.
Maddux wore glasses that gave him a serious look, but he was more like “South Park.” “Mad Dog” pranked his teammates with gross-out humor while generously sharing all his insight into the game. The son of a Las Vegas card dealer and Air Force veteran could be a shark on the mound and a goofball off the field.
Maddux isn’t the type to give a speech, but he’ll have to say something at Sunday’s induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. His friends still crack up telling stories about “Doggy.”
Like how Maddux used to challenge himself with trick shots and show off his pinpoint control.
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“We blindfolded the catcher,” San Diego Padres manager Bud Black recalled. “So he had a mask, everything on (and Maddux) would throw a pitch. There would be another coach right by him and he would say, ‘Now!’
“Squeeze the glove, here comes the ball. Sure enough, he hit the glove a lot with a blindfolded catcher. I love that one.”
Black — who played against Maddux and managed him near the end of his career in 2007 and 2008 — kept rolling.
“There was another one where (Maddux) would be on the rubber and the catcher would be facing away from him,” Black said. “If there was a cement wall behind the catcher, he would throw over the catcher’s shoulder and have it ricochet back and the catcher would catch it like that.
“He loved doing s--- like that.”
Kevin Towers — the San Diego GM at the time and now an Arizona Diamondbacks executive — remembered the exclamation points Maddux would put on his bullpen sessions.
“Doggy had this thing (where) he wanted to throw a ricochet strike,” Towers said. “In Wrigley, he’s sitting there and he goes, ‘OK, my last pitch, I’m going to hit the brick and then the right corner of that chair and into the catcher for a strike.' On his second f------ time, he did it.
“Bing, bing, boom!
“How the hell do you do that?”
Maddux lived for the competition in a big-league career that stretched from 1986 to 2008, at a time when chicks dug the long ball and hitters juiced up on steroids.
Maddux essentially pitched another season in the playoffs, putting up a 3.27 ERA in 198 postseason innings and winning a World Series ring with the 1995 Atlanta Braves.
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“It’s like no heartbeat: ‘Hey, just another game,’” Towers said. “I never saw the guy tense. I never saw the guy like: ‘Boy, I’m stressed about this start.’ Just so confident in anything he does.”
That could be poker, golf or bowling. Wait, bowling?
“He’s good at anything,” Towers said, remembering the time the Padres had a rainout in Tucson, Ariz., and the staff decided to go to a bowling alley. “We’re trying to pick teams and I said, ‘How are you at bowling?’ He goes, ‘F---, I don’t bowl.’
“Two-sixty! Two-sixty! He didn’t even put his fingers in the (holes). He just wrapped it right here (in the crook of his arm and threw) a big curve. He just grabbed any ball (and put up) 260.”
Google Maddux for some more urban legends. But it wasn’t a good idea to eat the chili sitting in the clubhouse, because Maddux might have altered it. And make sure to inspect that towel sitting in the clean laundry basket before drying off after a shower.
“Flicking boogers on guys,” Towers said, and it only escalated from there. “One of the funniest dudes I’ve ever been around.”
“Sick dude,” Cubs reliever James Russell said. “Always having a joke for everything. It’s funny, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to play with him.”
But Russell did get to pick his brain when Maddux worked as a special assistant to former Cubs GM Jim Hendry in 2010 and 2011. Russell and Jeff Samardzija would sit on the bench next to Maddux in spring training, trying to soak up all the information.
“We’d (just) kind of BS with him,” Russell said. “I know he helped Jeff quite a bit. Jeff would go and play catch with him sometimes in the offseason and stuff like that. I know it did wonders for Samardzija, just helping him kind of turn into an actual pitcher.”
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Keeping it simple became the genius of Maddux.
“He acts like a regular guy,” Russell said. “He acts like, ‘Yeah, it could have been you doing this, instead of me.’ Like anybody can do it. And it’s funny because it’s the complete opposite. Nobody can do the stuff he did. He’s one of a kind.”