Posted: Monday May 1, 2006 12:54PM; Updated: Monday May 1, 2006 3:33PM
Along with a host of other accomplishments, Greg Maddux boasts 15 Gold Gloves.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Things are different now in Atlanta. Maddux is gone, Tom Glavine is gone, Leo Mazzone is gone, the Braves are up for sale, the Mets won't friggin' lose and Fox has managed to infuriate the entire Braves fan base by getting rid of the Braves' longtime announcers. (Check out the comments section here.) And yet, Maddux is still Maddux, maybe moreso than he's ever been.
On Friday afternoon, the Cubbies squared off against the Brewers, and Maddux was in trouble in the early going. Top of the first, bases loaded, one out, the lefty Prince Fielder at the plate. First pitch was an 85-mph called strike on the outside corner. Second pitch was a fastball up and in that surprised Fielder so much he swung about two seconds late. (That pitch was clocked at a blistering 84 mph.) And with two strikes on the lefty, Maddux did what he's always done, with the same crafty pitch he's been using since his rookie year in 1986: He threw that little cutting fastball (this one 84 mph) that comes directly at the lefties and then, at the last possible second, zips back across the corner of the plate. The lefty batters always end up jumping out of the way, raising their arms to avoid a beanball that never comes, which is inevitably a called strike three. It's consistent, it's predictable, and yet nobody has ever figured out a way to hit that pitch.
All those guys I mentioned at the beginning of this article are not only guys I admire as athletes, they're also guys I've interviewed or been around in locker rooms during my career as a sportswriter. So why shouldn't I interview Maddux, try to get to the bottom of who he is?
Two reasons. First, because Maddux never says anything interesting. Even during his decade in Atlanta, the most compelling quotes from Maddux were after his LASIK surgery, when he raved about being able to wake up in the middle of the night and see the TV without having to put on his glasses. He's always been forthcoming with his pitching philosophy: location and changing speeds. That's it. He's just better at them than anyone else.
Second, I don't want to interview Maddux because, for once, I want this athlete to remain what he is to me: a myth, a hero, an inspiration. Sure, it's fun to have guys like Deion ranting and raving about being the best alive, or to hear Ozzie Guillen mumbling like Fenster in The Usual Suspects.
But I'm going to let Maddux be, to watch him from afar, to read his mundane quotes in the game stories. And most of all, I'll smile every time a lefty hitter reaches for the sky as strike three busts back across the inside corner of the plate.
Game of the Week
This is another in a long line of simple yet infinitely frustrating games. Keep the ball in the air, don't touch the walls and get to the silver square. Simple? Just try it.
Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com.