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Old faithful

Without flash or flare, Greg Maddux continues to roll

Posted: Monday May 1, 2006 12:54PM; Updated: Monday May 1, 2006 3:33PM
Although he has never overpowered hitters with explosive stuff, Greg Maddux has been consistently dominant since the late '80s.
Although he has never overpowered hitters with explosive stuff, Greg Maddux has been consistently dominant since the late '80s.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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A large part of why I watch sports is because I enjoy watching people do things I'll never be able to do. LeBron James storming toward the rim through a seemingly impenetrable defense, for instance. Andruw Jones yanking an inside pitch 20 rows into the stands. Ronaldinho's elastico move. Deion Sanders returning a punt. The way Dominique Wilkins used to rise above a crowded lane to slam home a rebound.

Which does nothing to explain why one of my favorite athletes of all time is Greg Maddux. After all, he stands maybe six feet tall, weighs a pedestrian 175 pounds, and I'm guessing he'd be about the last guy you'd single out of a lineup as the guy who's 15th on baseball's all-time wins list. Even his headshot on MLB.com looks like an exhausted businessman getting his company I.D. photo taken -- mouth slightly ajar, eyes glazed over.

Maddux's stats are mind-boggling: 15th all-time in wins, 13th all-time in strikeouts, one of two pitchers ever with 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks (the other is Fergie Jenkins), four Cy Youngs, 17 consecutive seasons with at least 15 wins and, my favorite, an incredible 15 Gold Gloves.

There's so much to talk about with Maddux, who has had a magical and much-documented start to the season (5-0, 1.35 ERA). But what I love about him is that he's just a brilliant, consistent, old-school winner. I like that Maddux refuses to pitch at Wrigley in anything but the regular white Cubs jersey. I like that in a league where steroid accusations fly at the drop of a fitted hat, the only 'roids connection you could ever make to Maddux is that perhaps he looks like a chemist who could have formulated the Clear. Twenty seasons into his career, his body is still nondescript and he still curses like a sailor on the mound when a pitch doesn't do what he wants it to do. (This used to be picked up by the TBS microphones when he was on the Braves, and I still catch a few foul blurts from WGN's field mics.)

My favorite Maddux story is not his striking someone out or jamming a slugger; it's from the 1999 season, when Maddux was off to a slow start. Maddux is allergic to contact lenses, so when he was pitching he'd wear the contacts for an hour or so, then go back to those wire-rimmed glasses he always wore. As he explained, "I had bumpy eyes." He wasn't named to the All-Star team that season, so Maddux used the break to have LASIK surgery. During the season. Without telling anyone.

Selfish? Maybe. But Maddux said he knew golfing buddies who'd recovered quickly, and he figured he wouldn't miss a start. Before anyone could get upset about it, in his next start he allowed one run in eight innings against the Red Sox, and went on to win nine of his next 10 decisions. That's Maddux.

In fact, between 1994 and 2000, Greg Maddux went 125-50. I went to so many Braves games to watch Maddux start during that period that I feel safe in saying that after two years of writing this column for SI.com, my bi-weekly Time Warner checks are still not even close to reimbursing me for all the tickets I bought.