Maddux issues one last heartfelt pitch
LAS VEGAS -- When Greg Maddux's contribution to baseball is assessed in its entirety, one prominent mistruth will endure: Lots of people will remember him as a squinty, undersized righty who relied on guile and his innate baseball IQ because his fastball was too meager to make a dent in a radar gun.The part about smarts and game awareness is true. But as a teenager in Las Vegas in the mid-1980s, Maddux threw hard. It wasn't uncommon for him to hump it up at 92 or 93 miles an hour. Gary Hughes, a longtime scout who watched Maddux as a high schooler, vividly remembers those outings. He finds it amusing that every 6-foot right-hander who has come out of the Vegas area in the past decade has struck a chord with scouts who think they've unearthed the next Maddux. "You can lose a job projecting guys -- saying, 'This kid is going to be a Roy Oswalt or, God bless him, a Greg Maddux,'" Hughes said. "Those guys don't come around very often. [Maddux] is a freak in that way." Call him a freak, an anomaly or, as some breathless acolytes are wont to do, a baseball genius. Or feel free to contemplate the words of Don Sutton, who once observed, "Hands down, he's the best pitcher I've ever seen." Just make sure to call him retired. As agents and executives trolled the lobby of the Bellagio hotel in search of common ground at Major League Baseball's winter meetings Monday, the game paused briefly for a reality check and a formal tribute. Maddux, the master of control and best of his era, dropped by the proceedings to deliver a heartfelt and graceful goodbye. With 355 victories, 18 Gold Gloves, 5,000 innings and four Cy Young Awards in the bank, Maddux is joining Mike Mussina as the latest star to call it quits. Lots of people think he'll make a wonderful pitching coach or manager down the road, but his short-term future will be filled with tee times, family cookouts and watching his son, Chase, progress as a ballplayer.
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