07/22/2004 3:20 PM ET
Maddux's impact still felt in Atlanta
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- When the Braves acquired Greg Maddux in December 1992, they knew they had landed one of the game's finest young pitchers.
|Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, in addition to John Smoltz, comprised Atlanta's Big Three in the 1990s. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Soon after, they found that the young right-hander not only had dazzling, pinpoint precision, he could dazzle the mind with his insight and knowledge of the game that he has dominated for most of the past two decades.
"He was unique in so many ways," said Maddux's former Braves teammate Terry Pendleton. "If guys just sit around and listen to him, they'd learn an awful lot. Of course, the thing with 'Doggie' is, he's never going to give away all of his secrets."
It didn't take long for Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone to learn that Maddux was more than just some 27-year-old who had won 20 games and a Cy Young Award with the Cubs a few months before.
In fact, it was during Maddux's second-ever bullpen session with Mazzone when the pitching guru realized the depth of his new right-hander's shrewdness. It quickly became apparent that the marksman's skills included an advanced thought process.
During their first bullpen session, Maddux barely missed his target. The next day he purposely did so.
"He was testing me to see what my reaction would be," said Mazzone. "He wanted to see if I was a coach who would just say, 'Everything went fine,' or if I would tell him the truth."
After learning that Mazzone was going be critical of such performances, Maddux reverted to his customary pinpoint ways the next afternoon, then asked his pitching coach to critique him once again.
Mazzone's jovial response: "Well, it looks like it only took one day for me to get you squared away."
Looking back, Mazzone said he knew from the moment he saw Maddux's near flawless bullpen sessions that he was blessed with a prized pitcher who would simply strengthen a stable that already included some guys named Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
"[Maddux] is the greatest right-handed pitcher I've ever seen," said Mazzone. "The greatest left-handed pitcher I've ever seen is Tom Glavine. But you can't leave Smoltz out of that [right-handed] category, either. There's no way I can mention one without mentioning the others."
The acquisition of Maddux gave the Braves one of the greatest starting rotations of all time. Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz combined to win every NL Cy Young Award presented between 1991 and 1996; Glavine added another in 1998.
"[Former Braves president] Stan Kasten once asked me, 'Of all the great pitchers here, Leo, who do you think you've done the greatest job with?'" said Mazzone. "I said, 'Greg Maddux, because I didn't mess him up. He was good when he got here, and I didn't mess him up.' "
Maddux, who won 194 games and posted a 2.63 ERA in 11 seasons with the Braves, was the most dominant of Atlanta's Big Three. He won the Cy Young Award after each of his first three years in Atlanta, making him the first pitcher to capture the coveted honor four times in a row.
After going 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA during the Braves' 1995 World Series championship campaign, Maddux became the first starting pitcher since Walter Johnson (1918-19) to record an ERA of less than 1.70 in two consecutive seasons. He was 16-6 with a 1.56 ERA in 1994.
"He could get out of trouble easy because he never got into trouble," said Eddie Perez, Maddux's longtime personal catcher. "He was a smart guy. He knew what he was doing."
In addition to his mound dominance, Maddux had an invaluable clubhouse presence. Pendleton often picked the hurler's brain in hopes of getting a better understanding of how pitchers thought.
Maddux often talked shop with his fellow pitchers, and his wisdom and insight were readily accepted by both young and experienced teammates.
"I don't know exactly how he helped some of the other guys," said Smoltz, who won the Cy Young Award in 1996, "but when I was going through my great season, he told me, 'Take time to remember what you're doing. Because when it's going bad, you're going to need to know.' That has certainly helped."
Though stingy on the mound, Maddux is nothing but generous with his teammates. In 2001 he helped rejuvenate John Burkett's career, and even declined an All-Star invitation so that Burkett could claim that roster spot.
Then last year, after surpassing Cy Young and becoming the only pitcher to win at least 15 games over 16 consecutive seasons, he gathered all the game-used balls from that record-setting contest, signed them, and gave them to his teammates and coaches, and other Braves personnel.
"I just miss him," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "I miss seeing him out there on the mound, and I miss seeing him every day in the clubhouse. I just miss being able to talk to him about baseball and so many other things."
Though it would have been fitting for Maddux to claim his 300th win as a Brave, the game's financial realities made that impossible. So he's back in Chicago, where his career began, ready to appropriately immortalize his career by reaching that hallowed milestone.
When Maddux becomes the 22nd pitcher in history to record 300 career wins, a celebratory mood will take over the Braves clubhouse. But at the same time, such men as Cox, Mazzone, Smoltz and Perez will feel slightly cheated that they weren't able to share the moment with their good friend, who created nothing but fond memories during his days in Atlanta.
"It's going to be a special moment for me because of who he is and what he's done for this organization," said Mazzone. "Then, after I smile a little bit, I'm going to go puke because he's not wearing a Braves uniform."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.