Maddux officially announces retirement
Legendary righty earned complete admiration from colleagues
LOS ANGELES -- It's not normal for a mopup reliever to finish off a fifth inning and ask the plate umpire if he can take the ball home.
But Greg Maddux is no normal mopup man. And at age 42, when Maddux's work in relief of Chad Billingsley in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series was finished, he got the OK from plate umpire Mike Winters to leave with one last souvenir from a career that officially ended Monday when Maddux announced his retirement at the Winter Meetings.
Maddux has been Colletti's go-to guy from the Dodgers' past two postseason bids. Colletti acquired Maddux from the Cubs in 2006, when the right-hander went 6-3 down the stretch, and again this year to replace the injured Brad Penny, when Maddux was 2-4 after going a tough-luck 6-9 with 11 no-decisions for San Diego.
"It's a rare player who has the combination of talent, recall and execution, wrapped up in competition," said Colletti, who was an official with the Cubs when Maddux broke in with them in 1986. "I saw his first pitch and his last pitch. I love the guy. We knew he was special when he showed up. The player development guys said, 'Wait till you see this guy.'
"The word on him was Kershaw-ish," Colletti said, drawing a comparison to current Dodgers young gun Clayton Kershaw. "He had a knack for pitching and memory like nobody else. He adds a real steadiness, a successfulness you can trust, to a team. I told him he'll always have a spot when I'm around."
Colletti had a long history with Maddux from their days with the Cubs, when Maddux was just starting his career. At the Trade Deadline in 2006, Colletti sent infielder Cesar Izturis to the Cubs for a 40-year-old Maddux, who nearly threw a no-hitter in his first game for the Dodgers.
This year, Colletti obtained Maddux for a pair of Minor Leaguers to be named, who turned out to be Michael Watt and Eduardo Perez. Maddux not only was acquired to pitch, but to lead. Derek Lowe often talks about the positive effect Maddux had on him in 2006. Lowe went 8-1 over the final two months of that season. After Maddux's acquisition this year, Lowe went 6-2.
"I definitely pitched a lot better once he got here," Lowe said after this year's acquisition of Maddux. "He helped me in so many ways. I can't say exactly which ways, but we spent a lot of time watching video and he helped me understand how to attack hitters. He will stabilize the rotation. We all know what he can do, but especially with a young staff.
"It's not even so much what he does the day he pitches but what he does the other four days that he doesn't pitch. You watch the game with him and he talks about the game. You pick his brain about how he pitches to certain hitters. That's invaluable. So there's more than his wins and losses. There's his knowledge and just the presence of having him.
"He's the most prepared pitcher I've ever played with. He pays attention to even the smallest detail. He gets more out of watching video of hitters than anyone. He saw the game like a chess match. His mind is his biggest strength, knowing what guys are looking for and never throwing it."
Lowe said the secret to Maddux's success was pretty simple.
"He never considered himself a superstar," he said. "Just an everyday guy trying to get better every day. The first day he joined the club, he's talking to Rick [Honeycutt, pitching coach], and having Maddux come in can be intimidating for a pitching coach, and the first thing Greg says to Rick is that he doesn't know everything, so if Rick sees something, to tell him. See, he never felt he knew everything. He was willing to listen and experiment. It's a quality not many guys of his stature have. He's beyond humble."
Maddux earned more than $150 million and loves to play golf, but Lowe predicted that baseball hasn't seen the last of the four-time Cy Young Award winner.
"He loves to teach, so he'll come back in two or three years," Lowe said. "He loves the game and to be around it. He'll leave for a couple years, do what he does, then he'll get right back in whatever capacity he wants."
Rookie Clayton Kershaw credited Maddux with improving his grip on the changeup. Billingsley said Maddux has been a valuable counselor.
"I've talked to him a lot about what you throw certain hitters in certain situations, what he sees from the swings of hitters as far as what he thinks the hitter is looking for in certain counts," Billingsley said. "If you can't learn from someone like Greg, you're not trying. He's been great to be around and listen to. I grew up watching him throw with Atlanta on TBS through the 1990s when I was young. I tell him that and he says it makes him feel old. He was drafted in 1984. I was born in 1984."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.