While National League pitchers had a combined 4.21 earned run average—the worst in 41 years and the fifth-highest since 1912, when the league started keeping such statistics—Maddux's ERA was smaller than a peso. He finished the strike-shortened season at 1.56. The 2.65 differential between his ERA and that of his league was the greatest ever.
Tom Seaver had Steve Carlton, and Jim Palmer had Catfish Hunter, but Maddux has no peers (box, page 114). No pitcher has been this much better than his contemporaries since Los Angeles Dodger great Sandy Koufax, whose reign concluded with his retirement in 1966, the year Maddux was born.
"He's as good as it gets," says Dick Pole, the San Francisco Giants' pitching coach, who tutored Maddux for six years in the Cub organization. "We've seen pitchers go on rolls, like Orel Hershiser [59 consecutive shutout innings for the Dodgers] in the second half of '88. But Greg's been automatic for three years, and he's liable to stay in it for another five years. He's almost mechanical in the way he goes about his job."
"Sometimes," says Philadelphia Phillie leftfielder Gregg Jefferies, "I swear he must be laughing out there when he has his back to the plate. That's how much control he has over hitters."
And yet Maddux can walk down any street in America and barely turn a head, unless maybe someone mistakes Maddux for his or her tax accountant. With his round spectacles (for off-field use only) and a pinch of tobacco stuffed under his upper lip, Maddux looks more like Jerry Lewis as the Nutty Professor than the greatest active pitcher.
"I'll be out with him," says teammate John Smoltz, an accomplished postseason pitcher (5-1, 1.94 ERA) with only a 78-75 regular-season record, "and people will say, 'Hey, there's John Smoltz,' and nothing else. I've seen it happen at home, in Atlanta. He can walk right through a crowd of people."
Says Maddux, "I prefer it that way."
His life is beautifully simple. He has his high school sweetheart, Kathy, for his wife; a 16-month-old daughter, Amanda Paige; two dogs; golf; movie rentals; season tickets to minor league hockey; and three more years left on a five-year contract worth $28 million, a ton more money than he knows what to do with. "The only thing I waste money on is golf," he says. This is the life that Nate Luck built.
"Luck?" he says. "Dude, I'm a firm believer in making your own breaks. If 100 guys go out and all buy lottery tickets and one guy wins, that's luck."
He has a teenager's taste for video games, junk food and slang. (He calls even his dad Dude, as in "Later, Dude," at the end of a phone conversation.) Last Christmas, Kathy figured Greg could stand to replace his Mickey Mouse golf bag. So she gave him a deluxe leather Looney Tunes model complete with a Daffy Duck headcover. He loves it.