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Balsley fondly recalls Maddux's Padres tenure

Pitching coach says Hall of Famer didn't rest on laurels toward end of career

SAN DIEGO -- By the time Greg Maddux pulled on a Padres uniform in 2007, the penultimate stop in his illustrious career, he was already an eight-time All-Star with 333 career victories.

And, as it turned out, not much pretense, as Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley discovered quickly in Arizona when Spring Training commenced in '07.

For all that he had accomplished in what is now officially a Hall of Fame career, Maddux didn't arrive with any pomp and circumstance, nor did he rest on his credentials, according to Balsley.

"He was just one of the guys," Balsley said. "He loved baseball and he loved to compete. And I know that's a blanket statement, but not everyone who played loved the game like he did. He wanted to know everything about it. He wanted to know more about baseball than anyone else."

On Wednesday, Maddux -- who pitched parts of two seasons for San Diego -- was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame along with pitcher Tom Glavine and first baseman/designated hitter Frank Thomas. Maddux received 97.2 percent of the vote, the second-highest mark for a first-time eligible player.

Pitcher Tom Seaver received 98.8 percent of the vote when he was elected in 1992.

"It was an honor and privilege to have Greg as a Padre in my first year as a manager in 2007," Padres manager Bud Black said Wednesday after the voting results were announced. "Greg has one of the most astute baseball minds I've ever been around. This is a much-deserved honor for someone who is definitely a first-ballot Hall of Famer."

Following Maddux's election, the Padres released a statement:

"The San Diego Padres would like to congratulate Greg Maddux on his well-deserved election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame today. The Padres are fortunate to have had Greg play parts of the final two seasons of his amazing 23-year career in San Diego."

Maddux was 20-20 with a 4.07 ERA in 2007 and part of '08 with San Diego, with the bulk of his Major League career -- and his 355 victories -- coming during his 11 seasons with Atlanta.

The Padres signed Maddux to a one-year contract in December 2006, with a player/club option for the '08 season.

Then-Padres general manager Kevin Towers wanted a starting pitcher with experience to pair with other starters low on service time -- Chris Young and Clay Hensley. Jake Peavy, also a member of the rotation, went on to win the National League Cy Young Award in 2007.

"The addition of a pitcher of the caliber of Greg Maddux will strengthen what is clearly a young starting core already in place," Towers said after the deal was completed. "… Maddux is certain to contribute on the mound, in the dugout and in the clubhouse."

As it turned out, Towers had pushed hard for Maddux twice before in free agency without success. But during the winter of 2006, Towers got his guy.

Maddux went 14-11 with a 4.14 ERA in 34 starts for San Diego in 2007. He also picked up the 17th of his 18 Gold Gloves. Balsley marveled at his ability to field his position.

"He could do just about anything that you asked him to do," Balsley said. "I think what is overlooked is what a good athlete he was. I think his athletic ability was overlooked. He had unbelievable hand-eye coordination and excellent body control. That's why he was such a good fielder."

The Padres reached a deal with Maddux for 2008, essentially splitting the difference between the player and club option, for $10 million. He was 6-9 with a 3.99 ERA in 26 starts before he was dealt to the Dodgers on Aug. 18 for two Minor League players who never reached the big leagues.

Maddux might have padded that victory total had he not gone 14 consecutive starts without a victory in 2008, as the Padres' offense didn't exactly provide him much in the way of run support.

Maddux won his final start with the Padres on Aug. 8, allowing two runs over six innings in a win over the Rockies. In that game, he had his first bunt single since 1998, one that allowed a run to score in a big inning that helped the Padres to victory.

Maddux's stay in San Diego was short, but Balsley enjoyed every minute of it.

"He was a pitching coach's dream to work with. And even though he came here and was already one of the best, he still wanted information," Balsley said. "He wanted to know everything about the game as far as strategy, relay throws, why certain managers do certain things. He was always in the game even if he wasn't pitching."

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter.

San Diego Padres, Greg Maddux