Happy 54th birthday, Greg Maddux. Here’s to possibly the most interesting player in Major League history.
Don’t believe that? Settle in today and check out a full slate of Greg Maddux programming beginning at 10 a.m. ET on MLB Network.
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First, there’s his 300th victory from Aug. 7, 2004, the opener of five Maddux gems wrapped around MLB Network’s documentary on the 1990s Braves.
Strange how people sometimes mischaracterize this guy. Because his game was built around location and movement rather than velocity, people think he overachieved.
He did not overachieve. He pitched 23 seasons and won 355 games and four Cy Young Awards because his physical gifts were enormous, and his pitching aptitude was off the charts.
If you’ve covered the game long enough, you collect a storehouse of Greg Maddux stories. That’s because almost everyone who ever played with him, managed him or got to know him has a couple.
Here are seven of my favorites:
1. He’s watching batting practice.
Astros manager Jimy Williams summoned me to his side while he was hitting grounders during his team’s batting practice during the 2003 season.
“When you get a chance, look over in the other dugout and tell me what you see,” he said.
Sitting in the visitors' dugout at Minute Maid Park was that night’s starting pitcher, Greg Maddux, intently watching the Astros take batting practice.
This almost never happens. But Maddux, looking for an edge, any edge, was focused on where the Astros were hitting the ball and checking out who was feeling comfortable at the plate and who wasn’t.
I looked at Williams and smiled.
“There’s a reason he's going to the Hall of Fame,” he said.
2. He appears to remember every pitch he’s ever thrown.
Maddux had two brief stints with the Dodgers, one in 2006 and another in '08. During one of those, the Dodgers transferred their pitching game charts to a database.
One day, Maddux approached a Dodgers front-office executive and held up a printout of his pitching logs.
“I’m not sure these are right,” he said.
Former Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said Maddux ran a finger down one of the sheets representing thousands of pitches and points to one pitch in a game years earlier.
“This one right here,” he said, “It says I threw [Tony] Gwynn a fastball. I’m pretty sure it was a changeup.”
As Jimy Williams said, there’s a reason a guy wins 355 games.
3. "Have you checked the all-time win list?"
Maddux, 42 at the time, wasn’t scheduled to make another start in 2008 as the Dodgers fine-tuned for the postseason. But after what was supposed to be Maddux's final start, he approached Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and asked to make one more.
Maddux didn’t say why he wanted to pitch again, and no one asked. But one day, a member of the front office entered a meeting of coaches and said, “I think I may know why he wants to pitch. Have you checked the all-time win list?”
Maddux and Roger Clemens were tied at 354 wins at the time. So in Game 161, in what would be the 740th and final start of his career, Maddux allowed the Giants one run in six innings for win No. 355.
4. We might have to call an ambulance.
This one has become part of Maddux folklore, although it’s not clear whether he was pitching for the Braves or Cubs at the time. As the story goes, Maddux watched a couple of infielder Jose Hernandez’s swings and then noticed he’d made an adjustment in his stance.
“We might have to call an ambulance for the first-base coach,” Maddux said.
On the next pitch, Hernandez ripped a foul ball that hit Dodgers first-base coach John Shelby in the chest.
Hall of Famer John Smoltz said there were four occasions one season when Maddux, sitting in the dugout, said: “This guy is about to hit a foul ball in here.” Three times, the hitter did just that.
5. Don’t let him near your rental car.
Maddux, a noted prankster, would leave the rental-car lot following a teammate and then trail the guy to a red light, where he would bump the other car once, twice, progressively harder until the light changed.
“He once knocked a bumper off the other car,” Smoltz told Dan Patrick in 2017.
• Maddux pranks Kris Bryant
6. Pop up to third.
Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox once visited the mound to suggest an intentional walk. According to Cox, Maddux ticked off the next three pitches he would throw and then said: “And on the last one, I'm going to get him to pop up foul to third base."
You can guess the rest.
7. Everything was calculated.
Only after he’d thrown the last pitch of his career did Maddux become a great interview. Before that, his interviews were a lot of mumbles, broken sentences and partial thoughts.
In the years since, his interviews are nothing short of brilliant, filled with insight and humor and thoughtfulness. Prior to his Hall of Fame induction, he gave advice every young pitcher should memorize.
“In high school,” Maddux said, “I learned that movement was more important than velocity, and I learned that location was more important than velocity, and I learned that the ability to change speeds was more important than velocity.
“You gotta have velocity to get drafted, but to get here you have to be able to locate your fastball and change speeds. If you can do that with movement, it’s more of a bonus.”
As Smoltz said, “Believe me, everything he did was calculated. Calculated to a T. No one you’ll ever meet is more calculating, whether it’s golf or pitching or cards, whatever.”
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.