CHICAGO -- Dick Pole sent a text message to Greg Maddux on Tuesday, trying to beat the rush of congratulatory messages. Maddux's former pitching coach didn't need the Baseball Writers' Association of America voters or anyone else to tell him what he already knew.
On Wednesday, the BBWAA confirmed Pole's early assessment that Maddux is a Hall of Fame pitcher. In his first year on the ballot, Maddux was on 97.2 percent of the ballots and will join Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas in Cooperstown in July. Maddux was the leading vote-getter, with 555 votes of the 571 ballots, including one blank ballot.
Although Maddux won his first game as well as his 300th with the Cubs and struck out his first batter and his 3,000th for Chicago, he will most likely go into the Hall wearing a Braves cap. A second-round Draft pick in 1984, he pitched for the Cubs from 1986-92, winning the first of four National League Cy Young Awards in '92, when he posted a 20-11 record, a 2.18 ERA and an NL-leading 268 innings.
Maddux broke Cubs fans hearts when he left after the 1992 season via free agency and signed with Atlanta, where he pitched for 11 seasons, winning three more NL Cy Young Awards and 194 games. Whether the Cubs did enough to keep Maddux depends on who you talk to. Larry Himes, the general manager at that time, tried to make up for the loss by signing Jose Guzman, Greg Hibbard and Randy Myers. It wasn't enough.
"I did everything possible to stay there after the '92 season," Maddux said Wednesday on a conference call. "Things didn't work out. I was fortunate enough to go back 11 years later. I love the city of Chicago. I actually love the Cubs. If you count the Minor Leagues, I was in Chicago for about 11 years and Atlanta for 11 years. I kind of split my time with the two teams.
"Chicago is a special place," he said. "I would love to see them win a World Series here shortly. It would be awesome."
Maddux did return to the Cubs in 2004, and he posted his 17th straight season with at least 15 wins, including No. 300 on Aug. 7 in San Francisco. He didn't go onto the field to celebrate after the final out. Maddux, who had given up four runs over five innings in the 11-7 win, was in the clubhouse, watching.
"It was just business as usual for him," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said after the game.
Pole was Baker's bench coach in '04, but their relationship began in the Minor Leagues. The two were together in 1986 at Triple-A Iowa when Maddux was 10-1 with a 3.02 ERA. The right-hander was called up that September and made his Major League debut on Sept. 3, 1986, as a pinch-runner in the 17th inning of a game which had been suspended the day before after 15 innings because of darkness. Wrigley Field didn't have lights then.
Maddux stayed in to pitch the 18th, and he served up a one-out home run to the Astros' Billy Hatcher and took the loss. He most likely shrugged it off. Four days later, Maddux picked up his first win on Sept. 7, throwing a complete game against the Reds at Riverfront Stadium.
When he first began pitching professionally, Maddux tried to throw as hard as he could. What made him change his approach?
"The hitters make it click with you," Maddux said. "When you start throwing it and they start whacking it, that's what makes it click."
That had been Pole's message, and it sunk in during a stint in winter ball. Cubs general manager Dallas Green wanted Maddux to work with Pole there, and he sent the pitcher, coach and catcher Damon Berryhill to Venezuela. It worked.
"I knew he was going to be good when I saw him when he was young," Pole said, "but I didn't know how good he was going to be. If you want to find the definition of pitcher, it's going to be Greg Maddux. It's not stuff with him. It's location, pitch selection, changing speeds."
After his playing days ended in 2008, Maddux returned to the Cubs in 2010 as special assistant to general manager Jim Hendry, and he would visit the Minor League teams. On one of those days, Cubs pitcher Chris Rusin found himself next to Maddux in the dugout.
"I only asked him one thing and it was how he gets the same two-seam movement on both sides of the plate, and he gave me an example," Rusin said. "He said, 'If you're going to pick up a ball and throw it at a pole in front of you, you're going to line up and throw it at the pole.'
"He said, 'If you're going to throw a ball at a pole 20 feet to the right, you're going to pick up the ball and aim it at the pole 20 feet to the right.' He said it's the same thing on the mound. If you want to throw your two-seam on the right side of the plate and have the same movement on the left side of the plate, you angle your foot a little bit to where you're more lined up with the right side of the plate. A little adjustment moves your body to throw to the target."
The lesson paid off for Rusin last July when he threw seven shutout innings against the Giants. None of his pitches topped 90 mph.
Pole remembered a day in June 2004 when Todd Walker got his 1,000th hit, and the ball was thrown into the dugout so Walker could have the souvenir. Maddux asked Pole why no one saved balls from low points in their careers.
That season, Pole found a ball in his locker, signed by Maddux, to signify the 300th home run the pitcher had served up. Pole also has Maddux's autograph on a ball to commemorate the right-hander's 200th loss.
The Cubs did honor Maddux at Wrigley Field on May 3, 2009, when the team retired No. 31 in honor of him and Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, who also wore the number. Now, the two are together in Cooperstown. Pole wasn't sure if he'd attend the ceremony July 27.
"Knowing you were a part of [his success] is good enough," Pole said.
Pole's text message to Maddux was a simple congratulations. The response: "Thanks Coach Pole for all the tips."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.