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updated: 12/15/2010 10:22 PM

Maddux likes Phillies' high-powered rotation

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  • Former Cubs greats Ferguson Jenkins, left, and Greg Maddux wave to fans as they celebrate at Wrigley Field having their No. 31 retired by the team in May 2009.

      Former Cubs greats Ferguson Jenkins, left, and Greg Maddux wave to fans as they celebrate at Wrigley Field having their No. 31 retired by the team in May 2009.
    Associated Press

 
 

As a fan of great pitching, Greg Maddux can't wait to see Cliff Lee join a Phillies rotation that already includes Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.

But he can wait to crown that group the best rotation of all time, at least until they pitch together for a few months or years.

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Intergalactic arguments have already begun regarding the finest rotations of all time, and many of those discussions surround the Braves of the '90s.

"Obviously, on paper they're as good as we were, maybe better,'' Maddux said Wednesday from his home in Las Vegas. "I think you have to let them pitch together for two or three years and see what happens.

"They have a chance to be one of the best of all time, absolutely. You start matching guys up, (shoot) they're all in their prime. They could be something very special.

"Hopefully, they keep them together and they stay healthy.''

From 1993-2003, also known as the Maddux era in Atlanta, the Braves made the playoffs every year, averaged 99.44 wins in nonstrike seasons, and in the two shortened years were on pace for 97 and 101 victories.

For the first seven years, Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were the Big Three, taking home five of seven Cy Young Awards, and all three are future Hall of Famers.

The first few seasons, Steve Avery joined the Big Three. In 1993, the Braves went 104-58 as the top four starters averaged averaged, mind you 19-8 with a 3.02 ERA in 36 starts and 243 innings pitched.

Their average age was 26, which meant they were going to be together for a while.

The Phillies' top four now has an average age of 31.

"That's probably not that big a deal, not as much as it sounds,'' Maddux said. "So many guys pitch until they're 40 now, and once you get to 32 or 33, you have a pretty good idea of how to take care of yourself and stay away from injury.''

Denny Neagle replaced Avery near the end of the decade, and in 1998 the top four were joined by Kevin Millwood. That five-man rotation averaged 18-7 with a 2.97 ERA in 31 starts and 207 innings, as the Braves finished 106-56.

Maddux believes that throughout the years they were able to elevate their game as a result of being in the same rotation.

"I always thought that when you're around the best pitchers, it makes you better,'' Maddux said. "It's hard not to get better, not so much because of what you see on the mound, but because of what you see in clubhouse and what you see between starts.

"You see the way guys handle certain things and their routines and preparation and how they throw between starts. You steal a little of this and a little of that. You tweak what you do and it makes you better.''

And Maddux says that will have an effect in Philadelphia.

"As a fan of pitching and guys who really know how to pitch, I think it's going to be really fun to watch the Phillies next season,'' Maddux said with a forbidding chuckle. "I'm looking forward to seeing how they do because it could be one of those very special baseball things that comes around only once in awhile.''

That would pretty much describe Maddux's involvement in pro baseball these days, and probably forever.

So those holding out hope that he would someday be the Cubs' pitching coach, well, that's not likely.

"I can't see it. Not full time. Not even when the kids are gone,'' said Maddux, whose children are 17 and 13. "I'm enjoying what I'm doing with the Cubs now, trying to help a little bit here or there and learning a little bit more about the game.

"But I'm catching up on raising my kids and enjoying a limited involvement in the game, and Jim (Hendry) has been good enough to give me that opportunity while I still get to be home a lot. It's pretty cool.''

As for major-league pitching coach, Maddux is more interested in his son's high school team.

"I like the part-time thing,'' Maddux said. "Besides, when you're working with pros, they're pretty much set mechanically and there's not a lot to do.

"Mentally is where guys need help, like with the routine between starts. Some guys throw a shutout and aren't ready to pitch five days later. It's easier when they don't get out of the fifth (inning) the start before.

"But mechanically, people can tell you something until you're blue in the face, and until you feel it coming out of your hand, you don't get it. It's like your golf swing.''

Yeah, it always comes back to that, which is another reason Maddux probably will never work full time in baseball.

He's made enough money for any 10 lifetimes for 10 generations, and he'd much rather strike the rock than talk to a pitcher who's probably not that interested in what he has to say.

"Broke a sweat this morning hitting balls,'' Maddux said, laughing at our miserable Chicago weather. "Had to shed a layer before the first tee.''

And while he studies over putts, baseball fans study age-old questions, like which is the best rotation ever.

In the midst of it all, one scholar referred to Maddux as the best pitcher of all time, a proposition that Maddux in typical Maddux fashion wouldn't even engage.

"Well, I felt like I was pretty consistent for a long time,'' said Maddux, who wound up eighth all time with 355 career victories. "Was I ever the best? No. I was never that guy, that elite guy that people pointed at.''

Of course, that's not true, but that's just Maddux.

"I was pretty good for a long time and over time it all starts to add up,'' Maddux insisted. "I never thought much about it. I just loved playing the game, being with the guys, going to the park every day. That was enough for me.''

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