Though baseball executives chirp about how championships arc built on pitching and defense, they haven't applied the philosophy to their payrolls. Hitters, who play every day and are thus regular gate attractions, typically draw higher salaries. But on Sunday the Atlanta Braves made an emphatic statement about the value of pitching: They signed 31-year-old righthander Greg Maddux (right) to a five-year contract worth $57.5 million, making him the first pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1991 to be the highest-paid player in baseball.
Maddux deserves the honor. His sustained brilliance is more remarkable than that of Barry Bonds or Albert Belle, Nos. 2 and 3 on the pay chart. So dominant has Maddux been since the beginning of '92 (through Sunday he was 105-43) that when his agent, Scott Boras, told Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz that Maddux should be the highest-paid player, the only comparable athletes Boras came up with were outside baseball: Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. Schuerholz agreed without argument.
Thanks largely to its pitching, Atlanta is the only team since the New York Yankees of 1960 to '64 to play in four out of five World Series. In the past year the Braves have locked up their top starters—Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle—through at least 2000 at an average annual cost of $33.6 million. Owners reluctant to sign pitchers to big deals for fear they're more easily injured take note: Atlanta's Big Four have made 1,099 starts while spending a total of 15 days on the disabled list.
By comparison, the Chicago Cubs in June gave outfielder Sammy Sosa what was then baseball's third-richest contract—$42.5 million over four years—even though he has never led his league in any offensive category and has made more DL's (three) than All-Star teams (one). And what of Sosa's Cubs? After allowing Maddux to leave as a free agent in 1992, they are on the way to their 17th losing season in the 22 played since the start of free agency.
He Ain't Heavy...
WBC light heavyweight champion Roy Jones, having knocked out Montell Griffin at 2:31 of the first round last Thursday, says he wants to play with the big boys. "Evander [Holyfield, the WBA heavyweight champ] is kind of big," said Jones after beating Griffin, "but I'll fight anybody." Easy, Roy. Despite the examples of Holyfield (who began his pro career at 177½ pounds) and IBF heavyweight champ Michael Moorer, who once held the WBO light heavyweight belt, boxing history is littered with the prostrate forms of accomplished light heavyweights who tried to get heavy. Here are some memorable failures—and one success:
•Philadelphia Jack O'Brien (light heavyweight champ 1905-12). The flamboyant O'Brien was slick enough to survive two 20-rounders with heavyweight Tommy Burns, who never weighed more than 184 himself. In a 1909 bout in his hometown, O'Brien faced 205-pound Jack Johnson and, on the whole, after a six-round beating, would rather have been anywhere but in Philadelphia.
•Georges Carpentier (1920-22). In 1921 the dashing Carpentier, a French war hero known as the Orchid Man, challenged supposed draft dodger Jack Dempsey in boxing's first million-dollar gate; Carpentier wilted in four.
•Tommy Loughran (1927-29). In 1934 the 184-pound Loughran lost a close 15-rounder to 270-pound Primo Camera. Asked if he was hurt in the fight, Loughran said, "Only when he stomped on my foot with those size-15 gunboats."