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updated: 7/25/2014 8:20 PM

Maddux reflective as Hall induction nears

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  • Atlanta Braves fan Mark Fuller snaps a photo of the Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Friday, July 25, 2014, in Cooperstown, N.Y.

      Atlanta Braves fan Mark Fuller snaps a photo of the Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Friday, July 25, 2014, in Cooperstown, N.Y.
    Associated Press

  • Greg Maddux talked about the art of pitching with Barry Rozner on Friday afternoon in Cooperstown, N.Y.

      Greg Maddux talked about the art of pitching with Barry Rozner on Friday afternoon in Cooperstown, N.Y.
    Associated Press

  • Greg Maddux appreciates how lucky he was to be mostly injury-free over a 23-year major-league career.

      Greg Maddux appreciates how lucky he was to be mostly injury-free over a 23-year major-league career.
    Daily Herald file

 
 

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Though a mere gap wedge from Otsego Lake, Greg Maddux could not see his mirror image Friday night while on the East Verandah at the stunningly ornate Otesaga Hotel.

But with the sun having set over the rolling green hills of upstate New York, the 48-year-old Maddux was suddenly reflective.

The young man who arrived on the North Side of Chicago as a 20-year-old in 1986 was as surprised as anyone at this unnaturally introspective moment, but not at all uncomfortable.

"I think it's hard to be in this position and not think about how you got here," Maddux said with a sheepish grin. "And you don't get here alone."

In 23 years in the big leagues, not to mention three years in the minors, Maddux had hundreds of teammates, coaches, managers and executives who directly impacted his career, teaching him not just the intricacies of pitching, but also how to survive, compete and win in the big leagues.

"You could start thanking people and it would take hours," Maddux said, noting he has a maximum of seven minutes to deliver his Hall of Fame speech Sunday. "I won't have enough time for everyone. There's just a lot of different things that go into a long career."

As he looked around the hotel the last 24 hours, running into Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer, seeing the likes of Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver, Maddux was struck by the comparison.

He never threw 97 mph, like all of the above, and he never employed the frightening breaking pitch that could leave hitters buckled and beaten. He merely learned the art of the circle change and mastered the simplicity of the cutter, while outthinking hitters with command of a mediocre fastball -- or forcing them to outthink themselves.

"There's a lot of help there for you if you take it," Maddux explained. "The hitter tells you a lot about what he's thinking by what his feet are doing right now, by how he's swinging the bat, by how he's reacting to your pitches.

"There's a lot of information for you, too. There's a lot of numbers, but those numbers don't tell you anything about this at-bat on this day. It changes from pitch to pitch.

"I mean, video is great. You want to look back at how you pitched certain guys on certain teams based on certain situations. Video can tell you a lot, and it can tell you nothing.

"Your approach has to change based on their approach, based on the time of the game and the score and all those things."

For example, Maddux might have thrown a certain pitch to a certain hitter in July -- even purposely allowing a basehit -- wanting the hitter to expect that pitch in that situation should they meet in October.

And even in October, a pitch in the third inning with nobody on in a scoreless game would be different from a pitch in the seventh inning with two on, two out and his team ahead in the NLDS.

And that pitch in a Game 1 situation would be different from a pitch in Game 5. It's all part of the equation, something Maddux would work on between starts when he threw a bullpen session.

"I thought that was a good chance to prepare for the next start, so I tried to make pitches I would need to make against certain hitters," Maddux said. "I thought that put me in a pretty good spot when it was time to make that start."

Still, with all he did, with all he learned, with all his preparation, Maddux believes one thing played as much a role in his Hall of Fame election as anything.

"I look around and see all these great players, and I think I was lucky in some ways," Maddux said, as he pointed toward Andre Dawson. "Look, there's a guy who was Willie Mays, but he hurt his knees playing football in high school and never had the right medical care as a kid.

"Maybe Andre Dawson would have been considered among the best two or three players ever if he had 600 homers and 600 stolen bases and all those Gold Gloves, and that could have been him, but his knees cost him a lot.

"I was able to pitch for what, 26 or 27 years as a professional? I was able to stay healthy and stay on the field, and I was able to play with so many good players on so many good teams. There's some luck involved in all that, no question about that."

Maddux -- who played golf here with his brother, Mike, and son, Chase, Friday morning, and will do the same Saturday in the big Hall of Fame outing -- hardly considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth, but there's something to be said for hitting a perfect 8-iron to the number and having it take just the right kick toward the hole.

"Sometimes you hit a great shot and get a bad bounce. Sometimes you hit a bad shot and get a great bounce," Maddux said. "But in the long run you probably get what you deserve."

Sunday afternoon in front of a very large crowd on the hallowed grounds of the Clark Sports Center, in the shadow of Hall of Fame ghosts and Hall of Famers very much alive and behind him on stage, Maddux will get precisely that.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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