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updated: 1/8/2014 4:11 PM

Low-key Maddux earns baseball's highest honor

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  • Chicago Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux, shown here en route to his 300th career win, earned a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday along with Braves pitcher Tom Glavine and White Sox hitter Frank Thomas.

      Chicago Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux, shown here en route to his 300th career win, earned a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday along with Braves pitcher Tom Glavine and White Sox hitter Frank Thomas.
    Associated Press/2004 file

 
 

Greg Maddux hasn't changed much over the years.

That remained evident Wednesday after it was announced he was one of three players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Maddux will head to Cooperstown in July along with former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas and pitcher Tom Glavine, Maddux' longtime teammate with the Atlanta Braves. Falling agonizingly short was Houston Astros great Craig Biggio, who garnered 74.8 percent of the necessary 75 percent of the 571 votes cast by veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Maddux led this year's vote-getters with 97.2 percent, as his name was checked on 555 ballots.

Asked about his celebration, Maddux replied in characteristic fashion on a conference call with baseball writers.

"You know me," he said. "It was pretty low-key."

Typical Maddux. Never too high or too low.

It reminded me of a time in Houston during Maddux' second stint with the Cubs, from 2004-06. Maddux entered the dugout at Minute Maid Park before a game, and a Houston reporter wanted to interview him.

Perhaps thinking he had a great question to ask, the reporter said to Maddux: "Many people compare you to Picasso. How do you feel about that."

Looking straight ahead and remaining completely deadpan, Maddux replied: "I don't know. I never saw him pitch."

Maddux was indeed an artist in his own milieu, as he could paint the corners of home plate -- sometimes a few inches off home plate -- with the best in baseball.

Over 23 seasons with the Cubs, Braves, Dodgers and Padres, Maddux compiled a record of 355-227 with a 3.16 ERA. In 5,00813 innings pitched, Maddux struck out 3,371 while walking an astonishingly low 999.

When Maddux returned to the Cubs for his second stint, in 2004, bench coach Dick Pole told me in a spring-training interview that the secret to Maddux' success was simple.

"Location, location, location," Pole said.

Maddux always made it sound so simple whenever he talked about pitching, even though he never wanted to give away trade secrets.

It was the same way Wednesday.

"We kept the ball down," he said, referring to himself and Glavine. "The biggest reason, I think, for our success was that we were able to pitch down in the strike zone. A lot of times, it's hard (for the batter) to elevate the ball when it's down low. Usually the pitcher that does that the best is going to win that day."

Maddux, 47, came up with the Cubs in 1986. He won the Cy Young Award in 1992, when he went 20-11 with a 2.18 ERA. As he always does, Maddux again credited Pole and former Cubs pitching coach Billy Connors for his emergence.

But the Cubs' management team, including Tribune Co. ownership and general manager Larry Himes, bungled contract negotiations with Maddux in the off-season, and he signed with the Braves, for whom he went 194-88 with a 2.63 ERA over 11 years. A Hall of Fame spokesman said the Hall will announce next week which cap players will be depicted in on the their plaques, but the overwhelming likelihood is that Maddux will go in as a Brave.

Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry brought Maddux "home" at the start of spring training 2004, and Maddux earned his 300th career victory in August at San Francisco. With the Cubs hopelessly out of contention in the summer of 2006, Hendry traded Maddux to the Dodgers. He signed with the Padres before the 2007 season before going back to the Dodgers in an August 2008 trade. He finished his career with the Dodgers, who knocked the Cubs out of the 2008 division series.

He said he looks back fondly on his days in Chicago, for whom he served in the front office under Hendry for a short period after his retirement as a player.

"I did everything possible to stay there after the '92 season," he said. "Things didn't work out. I was fortunate enough to go back 11 years later. I love the city of Chicago. I actually love the Cubs. If you count the minor leagues, I was in Chicago for about 11 years and Atlanta for 11 years. I kind of split my time with the two teams.

"Chicago is a special place. I would love to see them win a World Series here shortly. It would be awesome."

As hard a worker as Maddux was, he always enjoyed the game. In an era when pitchers don't talk to the media on game days before they start and sometimes a day before they pitch, Maddux didn't mind chatting up reporters on the morning of a start.

He also could be clubhouse prankster. But he always was there if a young pitcher or position player needed advice.

"The biggest thing is for the young players to understand that this game can last a long time if they take care of themselves," he said. "The biggest thing for them is to try to have as much success as possible. Never be content with your last game and realize you're only as good as your next game, and to have fun. The game is fun."

• Follow Bruce's Cubs and baseball reports via Twitter@BruceMiles2112.

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