It's been said that if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. If that's true, then Greg Maddux was basically unemployed for over two decades. The superlatives of his career have been laid out before and will surely be recited ad nauseam during this, his Hall of Fame Induction weekend.
There will also likely be talk of his tireless work ethic, of the way he studied hitters, compiling stacks of notebooks on tendencies and abilities. They didn't just call the guy "Professor" because of his unassuming appeance; it's because he was a baseball scholar, the pitching equivalent of Tony Gwynn in his pursuit of knowledge of his craft.
I heard that Maddux once had a hitter so well pegged that he told his right fielder before the at-bat that he'd get the batter to fly out to the track to end the inning. Sure enough, Maddux used his pinpoint accuracy to place a pitch such that the batter followed through with the plan.
Perhaps belying his academic tendencies, Maddux was also an infamous practical joker, known for frequently giving teammates a hot foot in the dugout. He had an easy smile and seemed like a big kid out there. All things considered, he was the kind of guy you wanted on your team, and not just for his dominance on the mound.
But to truly describe Maddux's love, or better, his passion for the game of baseball, I turn to a story once told by his Cubs teammate Mark Grace. Ah yes, the Mayor of Wrigleyville, man of a million stories. I can only imagine what it must have been like to play alongside a duo like Maddux and Grace.
I'm going to paraphrase this a little, but I think I'll get the gist of it through pretty clearly. Maddux was on the mound and was cruising along in the game as per usual, when he suddenly turned into Steve Trachsel. And I don't mean that he became painfully mediocre, but rather that he turned into a human rain delay.
Maddux seemed unsure of himself as he dawdled on the mound, glove held low. Knowing that his pitcher always had a game plan, Grace immediately sensed that something was wrong, so he headed out to the bump to see what was the matter. Maddux looked at his teammate sheepishly, belying his typical confidence and control.
By the time he got to the mound, Grace's curiosity was piqued. What could possibly have thrown Maddux so thoroughly off his game? That's when Mad Dog shifted his low-held glove to reveal to the first baseman that he was, well, somewhat arroused, thus explaining his odd behavior.
Grace, chuckling, just looked up at Maddux and said, "Man, you must really love to pitch."
While Grace's comment was clearly a witty double entendre, it's meaning is true either way you look at it. As a baseball fan, Maddux was a joy to watch, as his love for the game came through so clearly. Even watching him as a Brave, mowing down the Cubs in Wrigley in what has to be the shortest game I've ever seen, I couldn't be mad.
Greg Maddux will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame for the statistics he compiled, but he has been indelibly etched on the hearts of fans for years already. Thank you, Greg, for letting us see and take part in your love for the game.
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