Fabulous at 40
a subpar season, the Cubs' venerable Greg Maddux is back in shape and off to
the best start of his career
Keith Kleven, a 63-year-old physical therapist in Las Vegas, got an unexpected
phone call from his old office boy. On the line was Greg Maddux, who as a
teenager spent his summers helping out at Kleven's gym for extra cash. Maddux
had just wrapped up his 20th major league season, a disappointing year in which
he went 13-15, falling short of 15 wins for the first time since 1987. The Cubs
righthander told Kleven about his off-season workouts. "Keith, I have to
start doing more than I'm doing," Maddux said.
And so it was that
in early November--two months before Maddux typically begins to get in shape
for the season--the two men began meeting at Kleven's Physical Therapy
Institute at 7 a.m. for 90-minute workouts three or four times a week. Maddux's
three months of training with Kleven, who has worked with Tiger Woods and Mike
Tyson, is a big reason why the master changeup artist is enjoying an
astonishing rebirth at age 40. "Greg wasn't satisfied with his season [in
'05]," says Cubs bench coach Dick Pole, who has known Maddux since the
pitcher was in his first tour with Chicago in the late 1980s, "so he was
absolutely going to do something about it."
Last Friday at
Wrigley Field, befuddling the Brewers with an array of floating changeups and
sinking fastballs, Maddux improved to 5-0 for the first time in his career. He
also lowered his ERA to 1.35, the second-best mark in the majors, and his
opponent batting average to .197. "He's as good as he's ever been,"
says Milwaukee manager Ned Yost, who was bullpen coach in Atlanta when Maddux
pitched for the Braves in the '90s. "When you're not overpowering to begin
with and you do it all on savvy and pinpoint control, that stays with you. But
now he also has himself back in tip-top shape."
Tom Glavine (3-2, 2.29 ERA at week's end), 37-year-old Mike Mussina (4-1, 2.31)
and 39-year-old Curt Schilling (4-1, 2.88, league-leading 40 strikeouts),
Maddux has turned back the clock this spring. The always understated Las Vegas
resident downplays his off-season training--"Everyone works out, that's
part of the game," Maddux says--but acknowledges that better conditioning
helps him be more precise about his craft. "I have to be better than I was
before," he says. "The stuff's not as good, so I can't make as many
mistakes. I have to locate better. You don't get away with the same pitch you
got away with when you had more life on the ball. If you can locate and change
speeds, you'll still have a chance, and that's all I'm doing."
From the end of
last season to the start of spring training, Maddux doubled his upper-body
strength, tripled his lower-body strength and lowered his body-fat percentage
from 18.8 to 15.3. "You could see right away [in spring training] that he
was in a lot better pitching shape," says Cubs catcher Michael Barrett.
"He's throwing harder. Where he was throwing 83 to 86 on his fastball
before, he's throwing 86 to 88. Overall, the stuff is a lot more crisp than the
last couple years. But the biggest thing is that he's recovering better from
start to start. After every start he's gotten better, and stronger."
resurrection could not have come at a better time for the Cubs, who were 13-10
at week's end. Righthanders Kerry Wood (recovering from right-shoulder surgery)
and Mark Prior (right-shoulder strain) have yet to make a start, and first
baseman Derrek Lee (broken right wrist) is out until June. "Without
[ Maddux] at 5-0, boy, we wouldn't be close to where we are now," says
manager Dusty Baker.
Of course Maddux
remains as masterly at the mental game (and as reluctant to tip his hand) as
ever. Last Friday, after he allowed two runs over six innings to win the 323rd
game of his career, a reporter asked him about his strategy in pitching to
Milwaukee's young slugger Prince Fielder, whom he struck out twice, once with
the bases loaded. Maddux, who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of hitters,
replied with a wry smile, "I don't remember."
Some things never