Greg Maddux, Major League Pitcher

This is a biography originally written for a baseball website, but before any contracts were signed, they decided to go in a different direction creatively. So, I was left with a really long biography that reads like a wikipedia page. Feel free to critique this article, or praise it, or whatever. It’s here because otherwise it wouldn’t see the light of day.

Greg Maddux was born on April 14th, 1966, and is the younger brother of another former major league baseball player, Mike Maddux. Though his brother was drafted before him, he reached the major leagues just a few months after him. Born in Texas, Maddux spent some of his youth in Spain before attending high school in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The younger Maddux was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2nd round of the 1984 draft, and after two seasons toiling in the lowest levels of the minor leagues powered his way through the minor leagues to reach the majors by 1986. After starting the season with the Single A Pittsfield Cubs, he compiled a 14-4 record between Pittsfield and Iowa before being called up to the big league club.

On September 2nd, 1986,  Maddux entered the bottom of the 17th inning of a tie game against the Houston Astros as a pinch runner. Failing to score, he came on to make his pitching debut in the top of the 18th inning, facing the bottom of the Astros’ batting order. After retiring Craig Reynolds on a groundball to second base, pinch hitter Billy Hatcher welcomed the 20 year old right hander to the major leagues with a home run that gave the Astros the lead they would not relinquish. However, the home run didn’t rattle Maddux. In his next outing, his first major league start, he threw a complete game victory over the Cincinnati Reds, his first of 109 eventual complete games.

As the youngest player in the major leagues in 1986, Maddux had a few ups and downs during his first season. With 14 losses to go along with 6 wins in 1987 that included a brief demotion to Triple A Iowa, his erratic success continued into his sophmore year. This includes his July 1st, 1987 start in which he threw a complete game 4 hit shutout against the Montreal Expos, and wound up finishing just three innings against the same team three weeks later.

Whatever changes “Mad Dog” Maddux made between 1987 and 1988 seemed to click. The 22 year old emerged as the ace of the Chicago Cubs, winning 18 games, with 9 complete games and 3 shutouts en route to his first of eight all-star nominations.

Maddux improved upon his 1987 campaign with a 19-12 season in 1988, for which he garnered a third place finish in the National League Cy Young Award voting and had his first taste of postseason baseball when he helped propel the Cubs to just their second division title ever, putting them in the playoffs against the San Francisco Giants. He failed spectacularly in his first career postseason start, allowing 8 runs on 8 hits in just four innings of work in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Years later, he would claim that during a discussion at the mound prior to giving up a grand slam to Will Clark that Clark read his lips. As a result, Maddux made a point to always cover his mouth with his glove during meetings at the mound. The young righty struggled again in Game 4 of the NLCS, failing to get out of the fourth inning after giving up 3 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks en route to a 6-4 loss and an eventual 4-1 series loss.

Though the Chicago Cubs slid to fourth place in 1990 and 1991 after their impressive push to the 1989 NLCS, Maddux continued to rise among the ranks as one of the best pitchers in the National League. In addition to winning 15 games in both 1990 and 1991, he earned the first two of his eventual eighteen Gold Glove Awards. During these seasons, he led the league in games started, and in 1991 led the league in innings pitched. Over the next five seasons, nobody would throw more innings than Greg “Mad Dog” Maddux.

The 1992 season was truly a benchmark going forward for the 26 year old starting pitcher as he registered a 2.18 ERA while racking up 268 innings pitched, more innings than any season in his career. He won 20 games for the first time en route to his first Cy Young Award, to go along with his second all-star nomination and his third Gold Glove Award. His incredible season also marked the end of his 7 year career in Chicago. Due to contract negotiations deteriorating between the Cubs and his agent Scott Boras, Maddux signed with the Atlanta Braves in December of 1992.

Coupled with 1992, the next four seasons of Maddux’s career were not only his greatest stretch, but it is easily among the greatest periods of pitching by anyone in Major League Baseball history. In addition to winning an unprecedented four straight National League Cy Young Awards, Maddux won 75 games while losing just 29 with an earned run average over the four year span than stood at 1.98. In addition to 37 complete games that included 11 shutouts, Maddux allowed just 746 hits in 946.2 innings of work. During this span, he also lowered his already incredible Walks/Hits Per Inning ratio from 1.011 to .811

The Maddux signing by the Atlanta Braves in the winter of 1992 proved to be one of the final pieces to a starting rotation that ranked among the best in all of baseball even before he joined the team. Maddux slid into a rotation that included 15 game winner Tom Glavine, 1991 Cy Young Award Winner and perennial 20 game winner John Smoltz, and a rising star in the left handed Steve Avery. In Maddux’s debut season in 1993, the foursome won a combined 75 games en route to their third straight NLCS birth.

In his first postseason start since his 1989 matchups against the San Francisco Giants, Maddux stifled the Philadelphia Phillies, limiting them to just 2 runs on 5 hits over seven innings in Game 2 of the 1993 NLCS. He did not have the same success in Game 6, the deciding game of the series. Unable to finish the sixth inning, he allowed 6 runs(5 earned), on 6 hits and 4 walks to lead the way to a 6-3 loss that pushed the Phillies into the 1993 World Series.

During the strike shortened 1994 season, Maddux led the league with 16 wins and an ERA of 1.56, the lowest of any pitcher since Dwight Gooden’s 1983 campaign that included a 1.53 earned run average. Coincidentally, 1994 was also his best season at the plate to date. His .222 batting average was higher, informally speaking, than his ERA of 1.56. In addition to his Cy Young and Gold Glove Awards, he finished 5th in voting for the National League Most Valuable Player.

At 29 years old, the four time Cy Young Award winner arguably had his best season in 1995, from the beginning to the very end. In addition to leading the league in victories, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, and WHIP while sporting a 1.63 ERA, during the dog days of the 1995 summer he threw 51 innings between June and July without issuing a single walk. Maddux also rose to the occasion when the Atlanta Braves reached the 1995 postseason. In two starts against the Colorado Rockies in the National League Division Series, Maddux earned a victory in two starts limiting the Rockies offense to 7 runs in 14 innings. In his one NLCS start against the Cincinnati Reds he threw eight innings of 1 run ball as the Atlanta Braves swept the Reds in four straight games. Though he lost game 5 of the 1995 World Series, he started and won Game 1 of the World Series in a fashion that set the tone for the series. He threw a complete game, allowing just 2 runs on 4 hits in a 3-2 victory. The Braves went on to win their first and only World Series championship during Greg Maddux’s tenure with the team.

When a pitcher’s earned run average rises more than a run from one year to the next, it typically is a cause for concern. With Maddux’s ERA rising more than a run in 1996, it meant a slight return to mortality, and the end of his streak of consecutive Cy Young Awards. However, his 2.72 ERA to go along with 15 wins still garnered him a 5th place finish in Cy Young balloting, and the veteran righty saved his best performance of 1996 for the Braves postseason. In five starts during the postseason, he held the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees to a combined .232 batting average with a 1.70 earned run average. He allowed just 7 earned runs in 37 innings. Despite his dominance, he was the tough luck loser in a 3-2 series loss in Game 6 to the New York Yankees despite limiting the Yankees offense to 3 runs in 15.2 innings in two World Series games.

The 1997 and 1998 seasons saw a return to the norm, at least with regard to the Maddux standard. Despite a combined record of 37-13 and an ERA of 2.21 over the two seasons that included the ERA title in 1998, Maddux finished 2nd and 4th respectively in National League Cy Young balloting. In addition to securing his 200th career victory, and his 100th victory as a member of the Atlanta Braves in 1998, he earned his only postseason save against the San Diego Padres. In fact, the postseasons of 1997 and 1998 were among his most dominating, but the final numbers don’t show precisely how good the righty was. Despite winning 2 games and losing 3, Maddux had a 1.80 earned run average over 6 appearances, allowing just 7 runs in 35 innings. Two of his losses came when the Braves offense mustered to score just a single run in both games.

Maddux won 19 games in 1999, despite his highest earned run average since his second year in the big leagues. It was also a season during which he allowed 258 hits in 219 innings, more hits than any season before or after. However, much like the two season prior, Maddux saved his best for the postseason with almost the exact same results. Despite a 2-3 record, he allowed just 7 runs in 28 innings pitched, good for a 2.25 ERA over four starts. Though the Atlanta Braves reached the World Series for the first time since 1996, they were no match for New York Yankees, suffering a 4 game sweep at the hands of the reigning champions.

Maddux had a slight return to his earlier dominance in 2000, his final season that he would receive a vote in the Cy Young balloting. His 3.00 ERA and 19 wins would become the level of consistency over the next three seasons. Between 2000 and 2002, his era hovered around or just below 3.00 to go along with 52 wins.

At the same time the Atlanta Braves were continuing to reach the postseason, and were regularly bounced from the postseason.  They reached the National League Championship once between 2000 and 2003, winning one game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 NLCS. In six starts over this time, Maddux again pitched better than his 1-4 postseason record over this time indicates. In four of his six starts, he allowed just 2 runs and pitched at least 6 innings in each contest. His final postseason start for the Atlanta Braves came against the Chicago Cubs in the 2003 National League Division Series. Allowing just 2 runs in 6 innings, Maddux and the Braves lost Game 3, and went on to lose the series in 5 games.

At the age of 37 years old, 2003 was Maddux’s final season in a Braves uniform, and it was also the final time his earned run average would be below 4.00 for a season. Maddux managed to win 16 games and start 36 games, the most since starting the same number of games in 1993. 2003 was also the end of an impressive 13 year streak of winning the Gold Glove Award.

Following the season, the Atlanta Braves and Greg Maddux could not come to an agreement to re-sign the veteran and in March of 2004, the righty returned to the Chicago Cubs. The signing proved to be a great move for the Cubs, as he complimented the rotation that included 23 year old Carlos Zambrano as each starter won 16 games. 2004 was a year of an incredible milestone for Maddux, when he earned his 300th win in August of that year against the San Francisco Giants.

As he entered his late 30s and early 40s, Maddux settled in as an anchor of the Cubs rotation in 2005 and 2006. Though 2005 saw the end of his incredible stretch of 15 wins per season when he won just 13 games, the year was still memorable for the milestones he reached. In April of 2005, he faced off against Roger Clemens in the first pitching matchup between two 300 game winners in 113 years. Later that season, he joined the 3,000 Strikeout Club, becoming just the ninth pitcher with 300 wins and 3,000 career strikeouts. He also became the fourth pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks issued.

His return to the Chicago Cubs came to an end at the trade deadline in 2006 when he was traded for the first time in his career to the Los Angeles Dodgers. As the Cubs were on their way to a season with more than 90 losses, the trade put Maddux back in the middle of a pennant race, a familiar place for the 40 year old. After starting the season at 9-11 with the Cubs, Maddux finished the season strong with the Dodgers, ending with an overall 15-14 record. In what would be his final postseason start, Maddux allowed 4 runs in 4 innings against the New York Mets, who swept the Dodgers 3 games to none.

Following the 2006 season, Maddux signed a 1 year deal with the San Diego Padres for $10 million, and the contract included a player option for the 2008 season. In addition to reaching a few more milestones, the 2007 season was a success for Maddux as he shored up the back end of the rotation behind Jake Peavy and Chris Young and managed to win 14 games with an ERA of 4.14 in just under 200 innings pitched. The 14 wins pushed him passed Cy Young for the most consecutive season with at least 13 victories at 20. Maddux became just the third pitcher to pitch 20 seasons with at least 10 wins, tied with Nolan Ryan and behind Don Sutton with 21.

Following the success of his first season with the San Diego Padres, Maddux picked up his player option for the 2008 season. Though his season record was 6-9 with the Padres, his 3.99 ERA indicated that he was still able to get out major league hitters. The Los Angeles Dodgers also believed this, as they made a mid-August trade to reacquire the future Hall of Famer that had helped them down the stretch in 2006.

Though his return to the Los Angeles Dodgers wasn’t as successful as his first go-round with the team, he reached a milestone in late September nonetheless. Maddux threw his 5,000th career inning as a Dodger, and won his 355th game in his final start of the season, putting him 8th all time for wins. The other difference from Maddux’s 2006 season with the Dodgers was that the team almost reached the World Series in 2008. Dodgers manager Joe Torre opted to go with a three man rotation for the postseason and had Maddux work out of the bullpen. He responded well in his new job, allowing no runs in 4 innings of work. The Dodgers would go on to lose the 2008 NLCS against the eventual World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. After the season, he was awarded his final Gold Glove award, and announced his retirement from baseball soon after.

Greg Maddux will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest pitchers of his generation, and in all major league baseball history. He will be eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2014, and will likely be a first ballot nominee. He currently works in the Chicago Cubs front office.

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