08/07/2004 8:18 PM ET
Maddux's craft paved road to 300
Never overpowering, righty used mind to gain edge
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
Greg Maddux may not be the best pitcher of his generation. He may not even be the best right-hander of his time. But there is no debating the fact that Maddux is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and the most consistent starting pitcher of his era.
Greg Maddux revolutionized the way pitchers use off-speed pitches. (Pat Sullivan/AP)
In an age where bulk and blazing fastballs command attention, Maddux is an anachronism, a wiry six-footer who doesn't blow batters away, and instead beats them the old-fashioned way: With pinpoint control and using every pitch in his arsenal effectively.
Comparing Maddux to some of the other greats of this era, like Houston's Roger Clemens or Arizona's Randy Johnson, is an unfair exercise. Maddux isn't a power pitcher or an intimidator. He isn't an imposing figure on the mound, and his fastball isn't going to frighten most Major League hitters.
His nickname is "Mad Dog" and yet Maddux is a thinking pitcher and a strategist. You don't win 15 or more games 16 years in a row without talent, but Maddux is also an overachiever. Knowing he didn't have the best fastball, Maddux early on worked hard perfecting his other pitches, and the result has been greatness.
He is also something of an innovator.
"He was the first guy that started throwing those changeups in(side) to right-handed hitters," Houston's Craig Biggio said. "A lot more guys do it now, but he was doing it earlier."
Biggio also pointed out that Maddux has another huge advantage over most pitchers, and that's his outstanding defense. Maddux has won 13 Gold Glove Awards for fielding excellence.
"Even on those rare occasions when you think you've got a hit off him, it's just hard to get the ball by him," Biggio said. "You don't get many opportunities to get a shot at him, and when you do, having that ninth (defensive) guy on the field is a very big thing."
Many veteran National Leaguers say Maddux has improved with age. Part of the reason may be because Maddux didn't have the overpowering velocity to lose and his knowledge of hitters is better today than it was 10 or 15 years ago. He knows precisely what he can and cannot do and uses every advantage he's gleaned from almost 20 years in the game.
"Probably the most amazing thing about him now is that he's probably a better pitcher now than when he first came up," Biggio said. "You learn more when you get older, and sometimes experience goes a lot longer than sometimes speed. You go back and look at (film) of him when he first came up and you'll see he hasn't made any drastic changes or lost anything."
Arizona's Luis Gonzalez agreed.
"Some guys lose some (velocity) as they get older, but he's one of those who really hasn't," Gonzalez said. "But it's not (the velocity) that makes him so successful. He doesn't give you the same pitch twice in a row, or at least not until you're sure he won't, then he does.
"It's a cliche that hitting is all about timing, but it's true, and he really knows how to mess up your timing."
That Maddux doesn't throw 100-mile-an-hour fastballs only adds to the frustration factor.
"When you first see him throw, you think you can (hit him) but it's awfully hard to center anything from him -- there's just too much movement," Gonzalez said.
Maddux seldom has bad days, another important consideration in his streak of success that is approaching two decades. He has been able to produce considerable movement on his pitches, yet still maintain that amazing control.
There are a number of pitchers who can control their repertoire for a start, a series, a month or a season. Maddux has been doing it since he was a 20-year-old rookie in 1986.
Now he becomes the 22nd pitcher to win 300 games and only the second since Nolan Ryan reached that plateau in 1990. Roger Clemens reached 300 wins last season.
Maddux has stayed the course and continued to crank out winning season after winning season through numerous changes that have tripped up scores of other pitchers, including different mounds, shorter fences and bulked up hitters with body armor.
He has kept his unprecedented streak of success going despite shrinking strike zones and a new wave of hitters who have claimed the inside part of the plate. Offense is up and parks have gotten smaller, and Maddux keeps on rolling.
"I think it's the work ethic, it's his ability to adapt and adjust as he goes along," Biggio said. "He may not throw as hard (as other great ones) but he gets good movement on the ball and he has that incredible control, and that speaks volumes in itself."
So does Maddux's record.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com based in Houston. MLB.com site reporters contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.