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Drive for Show, Pitch for Douqh
Tom Verducci
May 01, 1995
As lucky as he is on the golf course, Atlanta ace Greg Maddux leaves nothing to chance on the mound, where he has won an unprecedented three straight Cy Youngs
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May 01, 1995

Drive For Show, Pitch For Douqh

As lucky as he is on the golf course, Atlanta ace Greg Maddux leaves nothing to chance on the mound, where he has won an unprecedented three straight Cy Youngs

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Maddux's economy of motion and pitches explains why, despite his size, he has led the league in innings for four consecutive years. He has been so durable because he does not tax his small frame. For instance, of the 2,631 pitches he threw last season, only 40 of them occurred after a 105-pitch threshold. He averaged 117 pitches per nine innings. The American League innings leader, Chuck Finley of the California Angels, averaged 143 pitches per nine innings. "Every pitch has a purpose." Smoltz says. "Sometimes he knows what he's going to throw two pitches ahead. I swear, he makes it look like guys are swinging foam bats against him."

The 433-yard finishing hole is a slight dogleg left with water down the left side. On the tee box, Maddux closes his stance and whacks a high, long draw that perfectly traces the bend of the hole. He hits his six-iron about 15 feet from the hole and two-putts for his par. He finishes at 70, two under, tying his personal record.

The photographer wants to snap some pictures of Maddux standing in front of his Cy Young Awards. "No way, Dude," Maddux says. "I've seen pictures like that. They always look so arrogant." The photographer tries to convince him it can be done in a classy manner; he even poses an assistant for a Polaroid to show Maddux. The pitcher grimaces when he sees it.

"Look at that," he says. "It's like, 'Look at me. I'm so great.' No way, Dude. If you want to take a picture of the wall, go ahead. But not with me in it."

Maddux knows the significance of the awards. It's just not something he wants to think about. "It's scary," he admits. "It's like golf, when you're playing well and you get that little nervousness just thinking about keeping it going."

Instead he thinks often about a message he unfurled from a fortune cookie years ago: "Underestimating your opponent can lead to catastrophe." There are times during a game in which Maddux is cruising so easily that he throws a pitch or two without purpose. Wait a minute, he'll think, and he'll back off the mound and remember what the fortune said.

And that 1.56 ERA? "Dude, that's a fluke," he says. Hardly. During a span of 294⅓ innings since July 1993, Maddux has gone 24-8 with a 1.53 ERA. In 737 innings over his Cy Young run, he was 56-27 with a 2.08 ERA. Maybe what is most phenomenal about Maddux is that he has remained unspoiled. "That kind of talent," says Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz, "usually comes with an ego sidecar. He doesn't have it. He's as easygoing as the guy next door."

As a free agent, in 1992, Maddux took $6 million less to sign with the Braves rather than the Yankees. For one thing, he didn't like the idea of having to throw away the knowledge of an entire league's roster of hitters. For another, he didn't want to play the role of star pitcher, as he would have had to do in New York. The Braves already had a Cy Young winner (Tom Glavine) and two National League Championship Series MVPs (Smoltz and Steve Avery) on their staff.

"Plus," Maddux says, "I knew the Braves treated their players right." That meant he would no longer have to duck into the clubhouse laundry room to scarf down cheeseburgers and fries, as he did with the Cubs, who banned junk food.

"With the Braves, it's like the candy aisle of 7-Eleven," he says. "Candy, ice cream, chips.... It's great."

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