"I was his manager when he first came up to the Cubs," says Gene Michael, now the New York Yankees' general manager. I'll never forget this. I was standing in front of the dugout with one of my coaches, John Vukovich. And Vukovich says to me, 'Aren't you going to say hello to your new pitcher?' I said, 'Where is he?' Vukovich points into the dugout and says, Right there.' I say, 'I don't see anybody.' And he says, 'Right in front of you, in the dugout.' And I say, 'That's the batboy.' And he says, 'That's your new pitcher.'
"If anybody tells you they projected Greg as a Cy Young winner, that wouldn't be true. Not close. He was a good athlete with a just-barely-above-average fastball. And now...the guy is a magician."
Baseball people with stopwatches and radar guns increasingly prefer tall pitchers who have more leverage off the mound and have large hands to throw nastier breaking balls and split-fingered fastballs. Of the 92 pitchers to have won at least 200 games in their careers, 36 of them have been righthanders who stood no taller than six feet. But only eight of those 36 pitched in the past half century—and none since Luis Tiant put away his spikes and walked off in a puff of cigar smoke 13 years ago.
Maddux has the best chance among active pitchers to end this short shrift. His career record is 131-91, and he has 58 more wins than the next active six-foot-or-under righthander, Mark Portugal. "It seems like one of the requirements for pitching now is, What's his size?" Maddux says. "Really, what you need to do to be a successful pitcher are only two things: Locate your fastball and change speeds. It's definitely an advantage to be big. But it's not a disadvantage to be small."
A better measure of Maddux would be his competitiveness, which borders on the compulsive. It was stoked as a child by constant competition with older kids and by Greg's desire to keep up with Mike, a reliever who has pitched for four major league clubs and who signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates this spring. Boras first learned about Greg's competitive fire in 1990 when he spent three days with Greg at a hotel while studying a contract offer from the Cubs.
"I lost 26 consecutive games of Nintendo to him and watched him clean up on Jeopardy!" Boras says. "This guy is like some guru who studies National Geographic. He knew all this stuff about dams and weird animals. He's almost animalistic in his competitive nature. Hearts, Nintendo, golf—his day has to have something competitive in it so that he can go out and test himself."
This means that not even Kathy is safe from being challenged in what should be the relative comfort of their seats at Las Vegas Thunder hockey games. "You know how they play music during the game?" she says. "We try to see who can guess the artist first. He keeps score. I let him win because he can't stand to lose. He cheats."
"Do not," Greg says.
"Do too," Kathy says. "I'll go to the bathroom, and when I get back, you'll say, 'I got one.' Or you'll get one and say the score is 7-5 when it was just tied. It's true."
Maddux is at his diabolical, gleeful best when it comes to the throw-by-throw gamesmanship between pitcher and hitter. No one is better at breaking down the nuances and vulnerabilities of batters. "I rarely watch tapes of myself," Maddux says. "I watch tapes of hitters all the time."