Commentary

Everything Maddux wasn't

Updated: December 8, 2008, 8:52 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Am I going to miss Greg Maddux? Are you kidding? I couldn't stand the guy.

First of all, he wasn't greedy enough. He signed for only $75,000 after the Chicago Cubs selected him with the 31st pick of the 1984 amateur draft. No messy holdouts. No nothing. And get this: He actually reported to Pikeville of the Appalachian League that season. For $175 a week. Loser.

He wasn't brash enough. The guy made his major league starting debut near the end of the 1986 season. The Cubs stunk, but the 20-year-old Maddux threw a complete-game victory. Hadn't been done by a Cub that young since 1966. He also got two hits and ended a seven-game Cubs losing streak. Instead of popping off about his big day, Maddux told reporters, "I'm kind of awestruck now."

[+] EnlargeGreg Maddux
AP Photo/Denis PoroyMaddux was the complete pitcher. In addition to his 355 wins and four Cy Youngs, he won 18 Gold Gloves.
He wasn't intimidating enough. When the dinky Maddux first reported from Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs didn't know whether he was a player or there for Father-Son Day. "He's a good competitor and he's fun to watch," minor league coach Jim Colborn told the Chicago Tribune, "especially knowing he's just finished his paper route a couple of years ago."

He wasn't quotable enough. You can list the number of great Maddux on-the-record quotes on the back of a Sweet'N Low packet. He was polite. He was pleasant. But mostly he shrugged his shoulders a lot.

He wasn't controversial enough. Would it have killed him to get caught carrying, say, a semi-automatic weapon, just once? Some sort of drug charge would have been nice. And is it asking too much to maybe oversee a money-laundering ring? But, no, not Maddux.

He wasn't narcissistic enough. Even when he was winning four Cy Young Awards in a row or walking into the clubhouse the day after his 300th career victory, you never saw Maddux with a posse, entourage or security detail. Wait! There were those times when he brought his two kids to the ballpark.

He wasn't ill-prepared enough. In 1996, just before Maddux and the Atlanta Braves faced the New York Yankees in the World Series, pitching coach Leo Mazzone met with his starters and relievers and read them the detailed scouting reports. Maddux raised his hand after Mazzone read the report on Yankees slugger Bernie Williams.

"That report is not correct," Maddux said. "I've been watching film of Williams for two weeks, and that report is not correct."

"Did everybody hear that?" Mazzone said.

The Braves pitchers nodded.

"Well, then the hell with this report," Mazzone said. "We go with what Mad Dog says."

Williams hit .167 in the Series.

He wasn't serious enough. Jimmy Farrell, who was the longtime umpires room attendant at Wrigley Field, told me about the time he asked a young Maddux to wiggle his ear if he reached base on a hit. The Cubs went on the road, so Farrell and his wife, Eleanor, watched the game at home that night. Sure enough, Maddux got a hit.

"He's not gonna do it, Jimmy," Eleanor said.

"You watch," Farrell said.

Maddux stood at first base. And then wiggled his ear.

"We just about fell off the couch laughing," Farrell told me.

He wasn't aloof enough. You'd think a guy with more wins than any living player (355) would keep to himself. But when I saw him this past March at spring training with the San Diego Padres, Maddux was doing his usual thing: working the clubhouse, cracking wise with vets and rookies, recruiting players for one of his golf pools. Same sort of thing happened when I saw him near the end of the season. He was a Los Angeles Dodger by then, but he was sitting in the dugout trading jokes with teammate Derek Lowe.

He wasn't one-dimensional enough. After a while you really got tired of watching him earn Gold Gloves (18 of them -- nobody has more), lay down perfect sacrifice bunts, or even steal bases. The nerve.

He didn't listen well enough. Colborn said back in 1986: "He's not a strikeout pitcher, and he probably won't ever win 25 or 30 games in the big leagues. But he should have a good big-league career." Maddux, who just had to make Colborn look bad, finished his career ranked 10th all-time in strikeouts.

He wasn't buff enough. Didn't he get the memo about steroids? Sammy Sosa had nose hairs with more muscle tone than Maddux. Maddux had a bit of a paunch. I'm not sure he could bench press a fungo bat.

He wasn't flashy enough. After Maddux won No. 300, reporters asked how he'd celebrate. "I don't know," he said. "I'll do something." What, take the family to Pizza Hut?

He wasn't into legacies enough. He once said he actually valued pitching 200-plus innings per season more than the wins. And if you asked him about the Hall of Fame, you usually wouldn't get much on the subject. But his former teammate Glendon Rusch once told me, "In my opinion, he's a first-ballot, 100-percent-of-the-votes Hall of Famer."

He wasn't unprofessional enough. Maddux probably could have squeezed another season and paycheck out of that 42-year-old right arm of his. Others would have taken the money. But not Mr. Integrity.

Nope. Won't miss him at all.

Until spring training 2009.

Gene Wojciechowski is a senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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