Maddux delivers one more brilliant outing
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- On Sunday evening at the Otesaga Hotel, a magnificent building filled with the greatest baseball players alive today, one of the newest Hall of Famers sat in a perfectly varnished, white rocking chair and took a deep breath.
Though his game was more refined in his prime than perhaps any pitcher in history, Greg Maddux never pretended to be as much off the field or in the clubhouse.
Stripped of polish and pretense, Maddux -- wearing a tie he said was still knotted from his daughter's party months ago -- was Sunday just as he always has been.
Quiet and resolute.
But after going to the Hall of Fame members dinner Sunday night, an affair attended only by Hall of Famers, the Hall president and the commissioner, Maddux confessed that he felt a different vibe as he glanced about that room.
"Look, it's just not something you can imagine when you're growing up, playing a game you love to play, a game you would have played for nothing," Maddux said, pausing frequently. "That's what I was thinking. That got me a bit.
"I went to the park every day to play games and watch games and learn something, trying to get better every day.
"Now, I'm sitting in this room and I'm the new guy on the team and it's the best team ever put together and these guys welcomed me. Crazy."
The most exclusive club in sports -- maybe anywhere -- has three new members, bringing the total to 115 men who have ever been voted in by the writers.
"You reach a point where it's kind of overwhelming, especially when you talk about a number like that," Maddux said. "Nobody in that room got there on talent alone. They all got there through really hard work.
"But still, you look around at Sandy Koufax and Hank Aaron, and you kind of say, 'How did I get here? Is this real?' It's kind of crazy. It's just not something you think about when you're playing.
"I think that's when it all hit me, what's happened here. Just really honored and humbled to be part of this. Very grateful."
As for his Sunday afternoon induction speech at the Clark Sports Center, Maddux -- despite being "very nervous" -- was as precise and clinical in thanking friends and family as he ever was on the mound.
His 10-minute speech was as efficient and lacking drama as an 80-pitch, 3-hit shutout, with a well-located two-seamer here, a cutter there, a circle-change everywhere.
"To put me in here with all of my childhood heroes, it doesn't seem real," Maddux told a crowd of 48,000. "I never really considered it work because it was so much fun."
Revealing little sentiment save a few chuckles, Maddux went chronologically and methodically through his life as if dissecting an opposing lineup, praising friends, teammates, coaches and managers, not to mention the fans in Atlanta and Chicago.
He recognized his dad, Dave, for teaching him to enjoy baseball, and his brother Mike for teaching him the intricacies of the game, including a "little trick involving methane and a lighter. I still enjoy that one today."
That got a big laugh from the crowd, and it was a Maddux nod to the clubhouse antics for which he was legendary.
He acknowledged a youth coach "who taught me that movement and location will last longer than hard and straight."
He talked about trainers and a mental-skills coach, while going out of his way to credit former Cubs pitching coaches Dick Pole and Rick Kranitz.
He took playful shots at former teammates like John Smoltz and mentioned many of his great Cubs teammates, like Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Rick Sutcliffe and Joe Girardi.
He remembered as a very young player being challenged by Billy Connors and Don Zimmer, who encouraged him to embrace greatness, to be unafraid of asking the most from himself.
He spoke of his move to Atlanta, and 11 years later a return to Chicago.
"I learned how to pitch in Chicago. I learned how to win and raise a family in Atlanta," Maddux said. "They're like your kids. You can't choose which one you like best. You love them both."
He mentioned every catcher he ever threw to in a career that spanned 23 years and four franchises in six different stops.
"I think everyone who's helped you is a little part of what you wind up being," Maddux said. "I just wanted to thank them and let them all know that. I hope I did that."
While Frank Thomas was choked up from the first moments of his speech, Maddux -- as you would suspect -- never displayed the slightest hint of emotion, not even when he thanked his wife, Kathy, for holding it all together with children Paige and Chase as they moved from city to city.
"Greg Maddux has no pulse. Look how excited he is," said Joe Torre, as he pointed at an expressionless Maddux on stage. "The man has no pulse."
Postgame, Maddux was all smiles but relatively unmoved by the day's events, glad it was over and undoubtedly thinking that a fabulous golf course nearby was painfully empty while aging men were talking about what they used to do.
"You don't think about tomorrow in baseball. You're just trying to win today," Maddux said. "I never thought about this. Then, one day you're done and you think maybe you have a chance to get here, maybe you did enough."
That's just not a Maddux thing, thinking or talking about himself, or what he's accomplished, maybe in the process giving away a secret. He'd always prefer to look ahead, talk about his kids and ponder the next 6-iron from a fairway trap with an unfair lie, playing it back in his stance, catching it clean and sticking it close.
"You know, it was all great this weekend. From start to finish this was great," Maddux said. "I think part of you doesn't really accept that your career is over, but there's a certain, um, finality to it now.
"I'm grateful. I really am. I'm grateful for everything baseball has given me."
And with that, Maddux got up and disappeared into the night.
For what it's worth -- and maybe that's nothing for Greg Maddux -- the game is grateful for everything he gave to baseball.
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