The greatest of Maddux was that he would not give in
It was December 1992 and Greg Maddux was in his car when he heard on the radio that the Cubs had signed free-agent pitcher Jose Guzman.
Maddux stopped at a pay phone and called Cubs GM Larry Himes.
"I asked him what it meant for me," Maddux recalled Wednesday morning. "He said, 'We're out of money. We can't sign you.' So that was it."
And then Maddux chuckled.
It wasn't a "well, Himes got what he deserved" kind of chuckle, but more a, "oh well, time to move on" kind of chuckle.
That's what he did. That's what he does. Always. That's the essence of Maddux. Whether as pitcher, golfer, coach or father, he moves on to the next at-bat, next pitch or next putt.
So even after winning 20 games and a Cy Young, something that in July 1992 the Cubs challenged him to do, his services were no longer required in Chicago.
"It was hard. It hurt at the time," Maddux said. "I didn't want to leave, but when they say you have to go, you go. So I went."
And in Atlanta he became a Hall of Fame pitcher, elected Wednesday with 97.2 percent of the vote, the eighth-highest total ever, and more than Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Ted Williams, to name just a few considered the greatest ever at what they did in baseball.
But when the Cubs kicked him out of the house, he was forced to leave behind the injury and anger at being rejected.
"When I got to Atlanta, I had to learn that pitching with something to prove didn't work. I just had to do my job," Maddux said. "It worked out pretty good for me. Made a lot of new friends. Won a World Series. The weather was a lot better. We had some good golf matches down there.
"And then I got to come back to Chicago at the end. That was a great thing for me and I'm happy I got to do that. I got to put all that stuff from before in the past. Things have a way of working out the way they're supposed to."
It worked out well for Maddux, who will be inducted in July along with teammate Tom Glavine, White Sox great Frank Thomas, Tony La Russa and two managers for whom Maddux pitched, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.
That's going to be some party, though Maddux will no doubt enjoy the golf Saturday morning of Hall of Fame weekend as much as any part of the weekend, and his love for links explains much about his mastery on the mound.
Both require the ability to marry the mental with the physical, and the insistence on perfect repetition. The truly great can stay in the moment, control their breathing and somehow replicate that motion thousands of times during the course of a season.
That's what I think of when I remember Greg Maddux, though there are thousands of stories I could tell.
What makes me smile and shake my head was his refusal to give in, whether on the mound, at the plate or in the field.
There was the day at Wrigley Field in 1995 when Steve Trachsel had retired the first eight Braves before Maddux came to the plate in the top of the third. Trachsel got Maddux to 2 strikes, but Maddux fouled off fastball after fastball until he bounced a 10-hopper through the left side.
The Braves sent six more to the plate and knocked Trachsel from the game, as the Braves and Maddux cruised to a 7-2 victory.
There was the 1992 season in which Frank Castillo had the best year of his career -- with Maddux calling Castillo's pitches from the bench.
There was John Smoltz telling me that Maddux -- twice in two days -- predicted a foul ball into the Braves' dugout, just before a pitch was thrown.
There was the time I asked him if he kept a book on hitters. Maddux said there is no book. There is only what the hitter is doing right now, his bat speed, footwork and how he's reacting to the pitches Maddux is throwing at that moment.
There was the time he told me he intentionally gave up a hit so he could use that against the same player, setting up the batter for an important moment that would come a few months later.
There were the 18 Gold Gloves that came from being prepared to field his position on every play. They allow you nine defenders on the field, he once told me, so why would you play with eight?
There were the final 3 starts of his career, when he pitched 18 innings without issuing a walk, thus finishing his career with 3,371 strikeouts and 999 walks. He's one of four pitchers ever with 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks (Fergie Jenkins, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling).
There was the time in San Francisco when he wouldn't throw Barry Bonds a strike with a full count, the bases loaded and the tying run on third. Bonds kept fouling off balls out of the zone because he couldn't imagine Maddux would be willing to walk him.
But Maddux would not give a hitter what he wanted. Ever. He wouldn't give in. He refused to give in. He was willing to walk in the tying run before giving Bonds what he wanted.
Finally, Maddux threw a two-seamer at Bonds hands, the batter jumped back, the ball broke right over the inside corner for strike three and the game was over.
No, Maddux would not give in. He would never give in. In fact, that would be a fitting tribute to a brilliant career, and more than appropriate for his Hall of Fame plaque.
"Greg Maddux: He would never give in."
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