One final great performance for Maddux
Future Hall of Famer rides off into the sunset with usual class
Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox walked out of the Major League Baseball media room at the Bellagio in Las Vegas on Monday and applied the perfect summary to what he had just witnessed.
"He pitched a shutout," said Cox.
Cox had seen this many times before -- Greg Maddux delivering a great performance just when the spotlight found him front and center.
In 11 seasons with the Braves, Maddux had posted 22 shutouts in a manner that seemed almost effortless.
At baseball's Winter Meetings, Maddux was in attendance with his family and friends to say goodbye to the game as an active player.
It was a bit of a strange setting in that Maddux was introduced not by an official of MLB but instead by his agent, Scott Boras.
Boras and his group had even prepared a snazzy bound brochure to highlight the many accomplishments of Maddux. It was a fitting touch in that events at the Bellagio usually come with a certain amount of flair.
One might have thought under different circumstances that the brochure was a product to attract the interest of Major League teams in a free agent player.
That phase was part of the past of Maddux's career, and this was a day to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of 23 seasons.
Those seasons, as the cover of what Boras termed a "pictorial essay" noted, produced 355 career wins, a World Series championship with the Braves in 1995, 18 Gold Gloves and four Cy Young Awards. It is an automatic passport to the Hall of Fame.
Just as impressive as the accomplishments was Maddux's performance on stage, as his former manager had noted. Maddux began and closed his comments with the same theme.
"I'm just here to say, really, thank you to everybody," he said. "Everybody in baseball, from teams I've played for, GMs, hitting coaches, pitching coaches, teammates, clubbies, people that work in the ballparks that you see every day in baseball. Everybody has always treated me great, and the friends I made, I really just came out here today to say thank you."
The opening statement came with warmth but with a steady voice. There was no sign of being tense and there was nothing that resembled tears.
This was Greg Maddux in control and dealing free and easy as he answered questions from the media. The veteran pitcher who could smooth out every bad hop hit back to him showed the ability to take every question and make it meaningful with his answers.
He talked about starting his career with the Cubs and termed Chicago a "special city," He praised his first pitching coach, Dick Pole, and gave him a significant credit for his successful career.
He said he thought about retiring as far back as two years ago but wanted to be sure and comfortable.
"I didn't want the big show or whatever, you know, dog and pony show going on the last couple of months of my career."
That is Greg Maddux, smart and thoughtful.
Maddux termed his time and success in Atlanta "very special."
"I remember [manager] Bobby [Cox] talking about it in Spring Training," Maddux said. "We were getting ready for postseason. We were not getting ready for the season; we were getting ready for postseason."
When asked if he thought anyone will ever get to 355 wins again, the veteran pitcher replied: "I think somebody is probably going to win that many games again. You know, there might be some kid in the seventh or eighth grade right now who will do it."
Maddux reflected his modesty and his enjoyment of the game as he patiently fielded every question.
Asked about what he would miss the most, he replied: "I'll miss all of it. I think I'll miss hitting, running the bases, and I'll miss sitting on the bench trying to guess what pitch is coming next and where it will be hit and those types of things. I'll miss the four days off in between and hanging out with the guys."
It was a summary that had to make those in the game feel good about having a player truly enjoy his experience.
Maddux made a point to thank his wife, Kathy.
"I think when everyone asks, you know, 'how do you have so much success on the field,' you know, for me, everything was easy. Everything was made very simple for me at home."
One member of the media tossed Maddux the statement question of: "At the end of his career after he retired, Joe DiMaggio used to revel in the idea that people called him the greatest living ballplayer. If someone wants to now refer to you as the greatest living pitcher, how will you handle that?"
Maddux replied quickly to the long inquiry. "You know, it will be a nice compliment," he said.
It also will be a fact.
Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice president and general manager. His book -- Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue -- was published by SportsPublishingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.