No detail too small for Maddux

Most pitchers don't watch opponents take batting practice. For Greg Maddux, it's a mandatory study session.

Originally Published: July 31, 2004
By Phil Rogers | Special to ESPN.com

Before there were computers, there were eyes and ears.

Greg Maddux, a throwback who would have fit in pitching alongside Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts, gets the full benefit out of everything he was given.

He relies as much on his experience and his wisdom as he does his ultra-sturdy right arm and ability to make a baseball move at his direction. He knows hitting outside-in, in exactly the same way that Tony Gwynn knew pitching.

Greg Maddux
Greg Maddux usually knows every hitch, loop or hole in each hitter he faces.

But while Gwynn was famous for his tape study of pitchers, building a library that he studied at home and carried with him on the road, Maddux is not as electronically inclined. He trusts his own eyes more than he does the camera.

When the Cubs met Houston for the first time this season, there was only one Cub who sat in the visitor's dugout the entire time the Astros took their batting practice. Jimy Williams, then the Houston manager, saw him sitting there.

"Did you see the one guy who was watching our hitters?'' he asked a reporter a little later.

It was Maddux.

He had faced hitters like Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent and Lance Berkman scores of times but he wanted to see firsthand how they were swinging the bat. Perhaps there was a pitch Bagwell couldn't get to him quite as well because of his bad shoulder. Perhaps Berkman had developed a little hitch in his swing from the left side of the plate.

Why was Richard Hidalgo suddenly swinging the bat so well again? And, for that matter, just what kind of a hitter was Andy Pettitte? It wouldn't be good to get beaten by an American League pitcher.

Those were the thoughts that drew Maddux into his solitary study that night in late May, just like thousands of nights over the last 19 seasons. It's one thing to have a scouting report, generated from advance scouts, and another thing again to see it with your own eyes, especially when you know hitting the way Maddux knows hitting.

Adam Everett might have opened his stance up just a bit since the last time Maddux saw him. If so, maybe the cut fastball would be even a better pitch than it was the last time around.

These are the subtleties that have helped Maddux win 299 games. Through it all, he discussed them with his pitching coaches, the most notable being Atlanta's Leo Mazzone, and his teammates, the longest running being Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. He also ran up phone bills talking to his secret weapon, his older brother.

Mike Maddux, now Milwaukee's pitching coach, was in the major leagues for the first 15 years of Greg's career, all but three also in the National League. They were never hesitant to share their knowledge, talking about the tendencies of hitters on teams they had just faced, especially if the other would soon be facing the same team.

Even though teams in the same division employ them, they still put their knowledge into a family pool for mutual benefit.

"Yeah, we do, why not?'' Greg told the Chicago Tribune's Dave Van Dyck a couple weeks ago. "But we never discuss each other's teams.''

Mike Maddux says he'd be foolish not to continue the running conversation that started in 1986, when Greg was a rookie with the Cubs and Mike with Philadelphia.

"Blood runs thicker than water,'' Mike said. "Nobody better to get (a scouting report) than from the master.''

For three of the last five seasons, Maddux has had a co-conspirator in Paul Bako. The 32-year-old catcher, a seven-year veteran with a .239 career average, will be behind the plate when Maddux faces the Phillies on Sunday.

They have meshed well since their days together in Atlanta, when Maddux developed an aversion to having Javy Lopez call his games. He's never criticized Lopez, he's too professional for that, but was drawn to catchers who studied hitters as intently as he did -- the likes of Charlie O'Brien, Eddie Perez, Henry Blanco and Bako.

Dusty Baker has had Bako catch 20 of Maddux's 21 starts this season. "Bako has caught him before and I have to play Bako sometime to rest Michael Barrett,'' Baker said. "This is the perfect situation to do that and get Bako some at-bats. And it gives Greg a certain confidence and comfort level.''

Bako says there was no one moment when he and Maddux clicked. "It just kind of happened in Atlanta a few years ago, and then weren't playing together for a couple of years,'' Bako said. "When Greg came over here, it became just a natural thing, I guess. Nobody spoke about it. It just kind of happened.''

Really? Nothing seems to happen by accident with Maddux. His preparation, as much as his arm, is what has brought him such a long way from that rookie season in 1986.

If you want proof, check out the Cubs' dugout when the Phillies take batting practice this weekend. Maddux will be there, taking mental pictures and storing them in his mainframe.

Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com.

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