Greg Maddux will become a member of Baseball's Hall of Fame this Sunday in Cooperstown, New York. Famously, he announced last winter after his election that he would have a cap with no logo appearing on his plaque. That's a tip of that honorary cap to Cubs fans, because Maddux had his best years and got a World Series ring with the Braves. But Greg clearly felt the connection to the Cubs and Cubs fans. He often stated how much he enjoyed playing in Chicago and playing at Wrigley Field.
If not for Larry Himes, Maddux might have stayed in Chicago and become one of the all-time greatest Cubs. If he'd pitched his entire career in Chicago, he'd have been, by far, the greatest Cubs pitcher of all time. Even having played his best years elsewhere, Maddux's 33.8 WAR as a Cub ranks 11th in franchise history among pitchers (and eighth among pitchers whose careers began after 1900). His 133 wins rank 13th (ninth among post-1900 pitchers) and his 1,305 strikeouts are sixth-most in team history.
So, clearly, Cubs fans have as much of a claim to Maddux the Hall of Famer as Braves fans do, given his importance to Cubs history. I thought I'd share, rather than a list of Greg's career achievements, a few personal memories I have of watching him pitch, both for the Cubs and the Braves.
Maddux made his major-league debut September 2, 1986... or, more correctly, he first played in a Cubs game September 3, 1986, because the September 2 game had been suspended for darkness and was completed the next day. And his debut wasn't on the mound, but as a pinch-runner. He was sent in to run for Jody Davis in the bottom of the 17th inning, after a three-run homer by Keith Moreland had tied the game 7-7. Maddux was stranded on the basepaths and then was left in to pitch the 18th inning. After he had retired the first big-league hitter he faced, Craig Reynolds, on a groundout, ex-Cub Billy Hatcher homered off him for the game-winner.
I remember Maddux looking like a skinny high-school kid when he took over on the bases from Davis, even younger than his age at the time (20). There was nothing that said "future Hall-of-Famer" about him in that debut game.
By the time Maddux started Game 1 of the 1989 NLCS at Wrigley Field, he'd overcome a rough rookie season (during which he was demoted) to have a breakout, All-Star year in 1988 and a 19-win season that helped lead the Cubs to the division title. But he got pounded all over the yard in that playoff game, allowing eight runs in four innings, including two homers to Will Clark. It's said that Clark claims he could read Maddux' lips when Greg and catcher Rick Wrona met on the mound and thus knew what pitches were coming, and that this event is one of the things that has led to pitchers and catchers covering their mouths with their gloves when talking on the mound, so that lip-readers can't figure out what they're saying.
I was at Wrigley Field September 30, 1992, when Maddux shut out the Pirates on seven singles, striking out nine, for his 20th win of the year. It was exciting -- no Cubs pitcher had won 20 games in a season in 15 years, since Rick Reuschel -- but at the same time worrisome, because everyone in the park knew that Maddux was a free agent after the season and might leave. I recall the ovation at the end of the game being more mournful than thrilled, knowing what might come, and eventually what did come. Note also the attendance for that game: 11,547. Can you imagine such a small crowd for such an event today? (It should be noted that 1992 was the last year the National League announced actual turnstile counts instead of tickets sold.)
The photo at the top of this post is from that 1992 game.
So Maddux left, heading on to multiple playoff appearances in Atlanta. He came back to Wrigley right away, as in a cruel schedule-maker's twist, the Braves were scheduled to open the 1993 season in Chicago. Maddux got warm applause when he returned, because fans knew his departure wasn't his fault. He threw 8⅓ shutout innings in a 1-0 Braves win April 5, 1993, but that isn't the Wrigley game he started as a Brave that I remember most.
Instead, it was the first game of a doubleheader July 22, 1997. The pitch count is what'll get your attention: Maddux threw 76 pitches (63 strikes) in throwing a complete-game, 5-1 win. Even with that incredibly low pitch count, the Cubs got five hits and a run off him that day, apparently because they'd decided before the game that since Maddux was always around the strike zone, they'd try to put the first hittable pitch in play. It worked reasonably well, but the 1997 Cubs weren't very good and the Braves, headed to another postseason, won easily. Since pitch counts began to be reliably kept in the early 1990s, only four other pitchers have thrown complete games with 76 or fewer pitches.
Maddux finished off the Cubs in NLDS Game 3 in 1998 at Wrigley Field, although his future teammate Kerry Wood matched up with him pretty well for five innings. Wood gave up one run and Maddux none over those five innings, and it was the Cubs bullpen that got hit hard in the 6-2 loss.
Six years later, Maddux returned to the Cubs at age 38, and the rotation of Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Clement and Maddux was supposed to return the Cubs to the playoffs. Let's not talk about that, but instead, Maddux' 300th win, which happened August 7, 2004 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. It was his second attempt at Win No. 300 after a no-decision in front of a packed house at Wrigley the previous weekend, and, truth be told, Maddux wasn't real sharp in that game against the Giants. The Cubs had taken a 6-3 lead in the top of the sixth and Maddux was taken out after he allowed a pair of singles leading off the bottom of the inning. One of those runners scored after Maddux left the game, so it was up to the pen to preserve the lead and the win for Greg.
Moises Alou hit a two-run homer in the ninth to make it 8-4, and LaTroy Hawkins was on the mound to retire the Giants 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning (oh, if he could have only done that well later in the year!) and Maddux had his 300th win.
Another milestone was set the following year, also against the Giants, this time at Wrigley Field when he struck out Omar Vizquel in the third inning July 26, 2005 for his 3,000th strikeout. The game itself was a bizarre affair that was delayed more than two and a half hours by rain and ended after 1 a.m. because it went 12 innings.
The following year, when the Cubs collapsed from contention due to poor performances and injuries, it became clear that Maddux would be traded, somewhere, at the July 31 deadline. Thus his start against the Cardinals, July 29 at Wrigley Field, was seen by nearly everyone as his final appearance in a Cubs uniform. At age 40, Maddux pulled out his vintage form one last time for Cubs fans, throwing six innings, allowing four singles and a double and one run, with no walks and six strikeouts.
When Scott Rolen doubled to lead off the seventh, Dusty Baker came out to replace Maddux with Michael Wuertz. The ovation for Maddux was deafening, one of the most memorable in recent Wrigley Field history.
If only Jim Hendry could have been able to get more in return from the deal than Cesar Izturis.
I've got one final memory of Greg Maddux and the Cubs, and it isn't about him in a Cubs uniform. Instead, it involves a rain-shortened, five-inning, 1-0 Cubs loss to the Padres in spring training, March 22, 2007. Maddux showed his prime form one last time to Cubs fans -- five shutout innings, two singles and a double allowed, no walks. He did start four times for the Padres against the Cubs in 2007 and 2008, but never again flashed that form, at least not when I saw him throw. The last time he pitched against the Cubs was the final inning of the Game 1 NLDS loss to the Dodgers in 2008, a game perhaps best forgotten.
Greg Maddux might have had his greatest success in Atlanta. But there are enough great memories of him in a Cubs uniform to last a lifetime, and Sunday, he'll no doubt be remembering some of them himself as he speaks to an upstate New York crowd that will include many Cubs fans.