Brewers outfielder Geoff Jenkins says of Maddux, "He still keeps the ball down in the zone. I try to be aggressive against him and attack early in the count because the deeper you get in the count against him the more he seems to mess with you and outthink you. It just seems like he hits his spots and all of a sudden it's the end of the night and you have a comfortable O-fer."
The more Maddux's physical skills decline, the deeper he must plumb his mental well to stay sharp. At that he is unrivaled. He is, for instance, a voracious observer. He often can tell what a hitter is thinking by where he stands in the batter's box, how he takes practice swings, how he fouls off a pitch or takes a pitch.
"It's like kids at school—some pay more attention than others," Pole says. "He's on a different level from everybody else when it comes to attention."
Says New York Mets lefthander Tom Glavine, Maddux's rotation mate with the Atlanta Braves for 10 years, "That's the biggest part of what sets him apart from everybody else. It helped me. I never really paid attention to any of that stuff until Greg came to Atlanta [in 1993]. It opened up a whole new world I had never seen before. He was way ahead of everybody else in that regard."
Once while seated in the Braves' dugout as third baseman Jose Hernandez batted for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Maddux blurted out, "Watch this. The first base coach may be going to the hospital." On the next pitch Hernandez drilled a line drive off the chest of the first base coach.
Another time Atlanta manager Bobby Cox visited Maddux on the mound with runners on second and third and two outs. Cox suggested an intentional walk.
"Don't worry," said Maddux, who then spelled out to Cox the sequence of his next three pitches: "And on the last pitch I'm going to get him to pop up foul to third base." Maddux proceeded to escape the jam on his third pitch—getting a pop-up to third base that was a foot or two from being foul.
Cubs ace Mark Prior, a 23-year-old power pitcher, says he likes to sit next to Maddux in the dugout on days when neither is pitching. "He's helped me tremendously," Prior says. "I've always gone harder whenever I've been in trouble. He's got me thinking, Go softer when I'm in trouble. I never thought that way before, and it's helped me develop confidence in my changeup. As we watch games, he'll talk about what I might throw in certain situations."
Maddux prefers to downplay his reputation as a mound savant. He has told teammates, "People think I'm smart? You know what makes you smart? Locate that fastball down and away. That's what makes you smart."
"I don't surprise anybody with what I throw anymore," Maddux says. "You just have to mix your pitches up. And even if the hitter is guessing right, if you locate it, you won't get hurt. You might give up a single or a double, but it's not the end of the world. Yeah, the hitters are stronger, the balls are harder, some parks are smaller and the strike zone's smaller. Still, for me, it's all about movement and location. If you have those, you're going to have success."