Maddux, Glavine exuded greatness early on
Braves' new Hall of Famers painted masterpieces on pitcher's mound
It's finally happening. The two pitching wonders I dubbed Cy Maddux and Cy Glavine when I worked as a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution will be among those sharing the stage Sunday in Cooperstown. Just so you know, I'm patting myself on the back, and here's why: During all of those seasons I watched Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux audition for the Baseball Hall of Fame on a regular basis with the Braves, I never took them for granted.
Never. Not once. Whenever they took the mound, I always realized greatness was in my presence. So did nearly everybody else with a pair of eyes and a dose of common sense.
Maddux had that distinctive strut, which I once described as his way of telling the world, "I'm Gregory Alan Maddux, and you're not." In a flash, he would use that strut to transform his smallish figure below his soft-looking face into something huge and ferocious in the minds of the hitter, along with those watching from afar. Then Maddux would produce that slow, easy, tantalizing windup that spent each game delivering pitches within a centimeter of their intended target.
"I really believe that if you're mechanically perfect, it's impossible for the ball not to go where you're aiming it," Maddux told me during his prime, and he practiced what he preached -- again and again.
Maddux was baseball's Picasso by using his right arm to paint masterpieces with his pitches, and each of those pitches landed with precision across the canvas that was the location of the catcher's mitt.
I know. I regularly shook my head in awe of No. 31, while trying to stay focused on the pitcher's mound at all times. You hadn't a choice. If you blinked, you not only would miss one of Maddux's pretty pitches, but his entire start. He worked quickly. Then again, Picassos don't need much time, because they know exactly what they need to do.
Which meant that since Glavine also had his share of masterpieces as a pitcher, he wasn't into dawdling, either. And, like Maddux, he also projected so much confidence through his style of walking that it made you think he was more than the thin-framed left-hander that he was. Glavine was fearless, by the way. You knew as much courtesy of his ability to grind through games no matter what, and it all started with his eternally stoic face. That face represented consistency and a sense of professionalism on and off the field. In addition, that face pushed the mostly soft-spoken Glavine toward becoming the hidden sparkplug and unofficial spokesperson for those Braves teams that began their record string of 14 consecutive division title during the early 1990s.
Braves future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones told me recently, "Tommy was so reserved that, when he did say something, it was like the gospel is being spoken."
Speaking of which, the Braves organization will be represented in Cooperstown this weekend in biblical proportions, at least by baseball standards. Bobby Cox will join Maddux and Glavine as a Cooperstown inductee, and he was their manager during the decade they all joined together to produce five pennants and a World Series title along the way to those consecutive division titles. They had help, of course. There was a David Justice here and a Fred McGriff there. Still, much of that rise out of nowhere for the Braves back then was attributable to Cox's expertise in the dugout and Cy Maddux and Cy Glavine joining Cy Smoltz for one of the most prolific rotations in baseball history.
Cy Smoltz, otherwise known as John Smoltz, will get his bronzed plaque next year. That's why I'm concentrating on Cy Maddux and Cy Glavine for the moment. So back to Cy Glavine.
Two years before Maddux joined the Braves in 1993, Glavine already had the first of the two National League Cy Young Awards in his trophy case. He also had made a couple of All-Star Game appearances, won a Silver Slugger Award and contributed in a mighty way to the Braves winning consecutive NL pennants through 1992 after suffering through the franchise's dreadful days of the mid-to-late 1980s.
The point is, Glavine was pretty good before Maddux ...
Then Glavine became pretty great after the guy they called Mad Dog walked into his baseball world. More specifically, Glavine evolved into the left-handed version of Maddux, whom legendary Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone often called the greatest pitcher on the face of the earth without fear of upsetting Cy Glavine and Cy Smoltz.
That's because Cy Glavine and Cy Smoltz knew the truth, especially Cy Glavine. Without Maddux around, well, Glavine would have to pay for his trip to Cooperstown this weekend as a spectator.
"I think Greg's greatest influence on me was the way he would go have a game plan and execute that game plan or change that game plan based not only on what he wanted to do, but what hitters were telling him, how they were reacting," Glavine said earlier this year to a group of reporters, suggesting he went from a thrower to a thinker with Maddux whispering in his ear. "There's no question that the guys who I ultimately was surrounded with made me a better player. Being around guys like John and Greg and so many others, guys that were here over the years -- people always talk about that competition we had on the pitching staff, and we had it. But it was always in a fun way, always in a respectful way, always in a way that we honestly drove each other to be better."
Unlike Glavine, Maddux wasn't an original Brave. He started his career with the Cubs, where he already owned one NL Cy Young Award. Maddux got three more with the Braves, when I began getting those Hall of Fame vibes from Maddux whenever he was in my vicinity.
The same went for Glavine.
The same went for Smoltz, but that's another column.