Smoltz can't stand to sit next to Maddux on the bench during games when Maddux is pitching. "He'll have a one-two-three inning, maybe strike out two or three guys, and then you've got to listen to him in the dugout, talking like he's got no chance out there," Smoltz says. "I thought I was hard on myself. I'm nothing like him. I mean, he'll come in after an inning like that and say, 'Dude, I got lucky. Did you see that guy rake that ball foul?' So forget it. Now I've caught on to his act. No, wait. It's not really an act. His routine."
At barely six feet and 185 pounds, Maddux is not blessed with great physical tools or, by his own admission, "an overpowering fastball or a freezing-type breaking ball." What he has is an uncanny ability to deliver his pitches to precise locations with varying degrees of speed. If you asked him to take out an EXIT sign from 60' 6" away, he would probably ask if you would like him to hit the E, X, I or T.
"It's like golf," he says. "The more you learn, the better you play, the more you enjoy it. This is the way I look at it: If you can put the ball where you want it two out of three times, there's a very small percentage you're going to get hurt. Take 100 pitches in a game. Say 66 pitches I can put exactly where I want. That leaves 34. About half of those, say 17, are going to be so bad—bounced curveballs, things like that—that the guy's not going to swing. Now I'm down to 17 pitches out of that hundred that I have to get away with."
By age six, when he was supposed to be playing tee-ball, he was mowing down seven-and eight-year-olds. He threw to his father in the backyard every afternoon at 3:30, just after Dave arrived home from the base in Madrid, Spain. Dave showed Greg how to step toward the target, but the rest of Greg's mechanics seemed to come to him as naturally as breathing. It wasn't long before Dave started placing his glove on imaginary inside and outside corners up and down the strike zone, and Greg started popping it regularly.
In 1976, when Greg was 10, the family moved to Las Vegas, where Dave would finish out his military career three years later. Greg's brother Mike, who is five years older, immediately caught the attention of Ralph Medar, a retired major league scout who offered informal instruction for free to some of the city's best young players. Greg followed Mike to Medar's Sunday practices.
"After about three or four weeks," Dave says, "I said to Mr. Medar, Put Greg out there. Let him play.' Everybody said he was too small. The first time Greg threw, Mr. Medar said, I don't know where the boy got those mechanics, but let me tell you this: Don't you let anybody change those mechanics. He's going to be something.' Unfortunately, Mr. Medar died before Greg graduated from high school. Had he lived, I think he would be saying, "See, I told you so.' "
When Greg was 13, and the other kids were overthrowing their fastballs and jeopardizing their elbows by trying to spin curveballs like the big leaguers on TV, Greg learned from Medar how to throw a changeup. "I don't want you throwing curveballs," Medar told Greg. "The changeup is not going to be a good pitch against high school hitters—you could just throw your fastball and get most of them out—but down the line a good changeup is harder to hit than any other pitch."
Today, after some refinements, such as moving his thumb from underneath the ball to the side, the changeup is Maddux's best pitch. "The changeup is like putting," he says. "You're always tinkering with your putting. 'Let me open up a little more. Change my grip. Try this, try that.' The changeup is like that. You continually make adjustments. It's a feel pitch."
Maddux was only 5'11". 150 pounds when he graduated from high school, in 1984. Scott Boras, an agent who wanted to represent him but would not gain him as a client until 1990, advised him to go to college. Every team in baseball passed on him in the first round. But the Cubs drafted him in the second round and offered him an $85,000 signing bonus. Maddux took it and promised himself he wouldn't touch the money until he reached the big leagues—which he did two years later.
By 1988, at the age of 22, Maddux was an 18-game winner. It was after that season that his dad happened to be paired in a golfing foursome in Las Vegas with a major league scout. When the man found jut he was playing with Greg Maddux's father, he offered a confession. "I've got to tell you something," he told Dave. "I scouted Greg and said that he was too small and wasn't going to make it."