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updated: 7/22/2014 8:30 PM

Who knew Maddux would be such a freak?

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  • Cubs manager Don Zimmer, left, approaches pitcher Greg Maddux, right, and catcher Rick Wrona (1) with the bases loaded and San Francisco Giants Will Clark at bat during the fourth inning, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 1989. Clark hit a grand slam homer, leading the Giants to an 11-3 win over the Cubs to take the first game of the NL championship series.

      Cubs manager Don Zimmer, left, approaches pitcher Greg Maddux, right, and catcher Rick Wrona (1) with the bases loaded and San Francisco Giants Will Clark at bat during the fourth inning, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 1989. Clark hit a grand slam homer, leading the Giants to an 11-3 win over the Cubs to take the first game of the NL championship series.
    Associated Press

  • Greg Maddux threw over 5,000 innings in the major leagues, winning 355 games.

       Greg Maddux threw over 5,000 innings in the major leagues, winning 355 games.
    DANIEL WHITE PHOTO | Staff Photographer

  • Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux acknowledges the crowd's cheers as he gets is 3,000th strikeout against Omar Vizquel of the Giants Tuesday.

       Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux acknowledges the crowd's cheers as he gets is 3,000th strikeout against Omar Vizquel of the Giants Tuesday.
    Joe Lewnard photo | Staff Photographer

  • Greg Maddux had thrown 1,442 innings by the time he was 26. Who knew he'd go through a 23-year career in the big leagues and only go on the DL once?

       Greg Maddux had thrown 1,442 innings by the time he was 26. Who knew he'd go through a 23-year career in the big leagues and only go on the DL once?
    STEVE LUNDY PHOTO | Staff Photographer

 
 

Sunday will encapsulate 106 years of Cubs futility.

Greg Maddux, this generation's Lou Brock -- who was a previous generation's Greg Maddux -- will join Brock in baseball's Hall of Fame.

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These are the two most prominent Cubs that got away.

Full disclosure: It didn't bother the media much when the Cubs traded Brock in 1964 and it didn't bother me much when the Cubs allowed the Braves to sign Maddux as a free agent after the 1992 season.

Maddux had just won 20 games, the Cy Young Award and the hearts of Cubs' fans forever.

So why didn't it devastate me that Maddux escaped?

Essentially, I didn't recognize that we were talking about not only a pitching savant but also a physical freak.

Maddux was 26 years old and had thrown 1,442 innings under big-league stress, including 531 the previous two seasons alone.

Combine that with Maddux standing 6 feet, weighing 170 pounds and looking like the "Batboy" nickname some teammates hung on him.

Pitchers fortunate enough to avoid injuries usually are helped by big thighs and bigger butts. Maddux's looked as skinny as mine.

That could have made Greg Maddux a Tommy John elbow surgery waiting to happen or a rotator cuff waiting to tear.

Freakishly, neither injury occurred.

Maddux pitched 5,008 major-league innings over 23 years ... and spent all of 15 days on the disabled list.

Maddux's durability is even more remarkable than his 355 career victories, .610 winning percentage and 3.16 earned run average.

Seriously, this is the stuff of Walter Payton, who missed one game in 13 NFL seasons as a running back and always insisted he could have played that day if the Bears let him.

Baseball isn't football, of course. Baseball players don't take the pounding that football players endure play after play, game after game and season after season.

Except, a pitcher's arm is at risk pitch after pitch, game after game and season after season.

Throwing a baseball is said to be an unnatural act. A healthy arm is unsustainable. A healthy 23-year career minus 15 days is unimaginable.

Oh, maybe someone like Nolan Ryan can hold up as well as he did for as long as he did, still smoking his mid-90s fastballs into his mid-40s.

There aren't many Nolan Ryans walking this planet, however, which is why there's skepticism that White Sox pitcher Chris Sale can hold up over time.

Sale is another pitcher with a lower body that looks like a ping-pong ball resting on matchsticks.

Maybe Sale will have a long, healthy, meritorious career. There's precedence. His name is Greg Maddux, though Sale's delivery isn't as impeccable.

Just the Cubs' bad luck -- and the Braves' good luck -- that Maddux was a freak happening rather than that debilitating injury happening.

(By the way, isn't there little doubt that if Maddux remained with the Cubs he would have resided on the DL?)

Maddux's endurance often is attributed to the flawless mechanics that he repeated for all those years.

But isn't that what was said about Mark Prior? Watch him throw, they said. The motion is perfect. The future is secure.

Yet Prior kept suffering injuries to various body parts, among them his arm. He was on side mounds performing dreaded towel drills as often as on game mounds throwing baseballs.

Prior had freaky calves the size of Maddux's waist yet finished his career with 313 fewer victories.

How would Cubs history have been different if Maddux turned out to be what Prior became and Prior turned out to be what Maddux became?

The question is moot.

The Cubs still would have been the Cubs and they still would have spent a century betting on the wrong freaks.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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