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Not too long ago, Bill Madlock was known, if he was known at all, as a troublemaker and sorehead. In fact, last Sunday—May Day—marked the third anniversary of the infamous glove facial that Madlock administered to Umpire Jerry Crawford. Long after the red on Crawford's nose faded, the incident marked Madlock as a villain and gave deeper meaning to his nickname, which was and still is Mad Dog.
Time heals all wounds. Today Mad Dog is one of the most respected players in the game and one of the better paid, with a guaranteed $850,000 a year. He's Willie Stargell's successor as captain of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the only active athlete serving as an advisor to The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Madlock is also a collector of clocks, a fledgling restaurateur and a loving father of four, the fourth having arrived on April 21 in the nine-pound person of Jeremy Jacob.
As Lucius Seneca (not to be confused with Lew Fonseca) said some 1,900 years ago, "Time discovers truth." Time may have discovered the truth about Madlock, but the world at large hasn't as yet discovered Madlock—a third baseman with an incredibly compact swing who's one of three players in baseball history to have more batting titles (three) than invitations to the All-Star Game (two).
His lifetime batting average of .316 is the highest of any righthanded hitter in the majors, but also the highest overall in the National League, which unfortunately for Madlock happens to be the league in which Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt plays third and Pete Rose once starred at that position. Madlock is also the only righty to win the National League batting title in the last decade.
He hits not only for average but with power as well. While finishing second in the batting race to Montreal's Al Oliver last year (.319 to .331), he had career highs in home runs, with 19, and RBIs, 95. His career totals stack up quite favorably with the much more famous George Brett, who broke into the majors a month before Madlock did, in September of 1973. Based on a 600-at-bat season, the Kansas City third baseman hits .31633 with 15 homers, 87 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. Madlock hits .31628 with 15 homers, 78 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. Nine RBIs a year does not seem to justify the discrepancy in publicity. "I'm actually getting used to being ignored," says Madlock. "It's nice in a way. Every year my wife, Cynthia, and I make reservations for Las Vegas at the All-Star break."
It would be one thing if all Madlock could do was hit. But he's a much better fielder than most people recognize—no third baseman in the league, Schmidt included, is better at handling bunts. When it comes to base running, Madlock not only can steal, but there isn't anyone who's better than he at breaking up double plays. He's so savvy on the field that Pittsburgh Manager Chuck Tanner entrusts him with the defensive signals.
It would be another thing if his personality were bland or dull. Madlock is anything but. He's eminently quotable: honest, forthright and humorous. For instance, Madlock took a look at the Pirates' Opening Day roster and said, "Great. We have five catchers, one backup infielder and no defensive outfielders. But what do I know? I'm not the general manager."
Madlock, who usually gets off to a slow start during the baseball season, didn't get off to a great start in life, either. Born in Memphis on Jan. 12, 1951, he never knew his father, and before he was a month old, his mother gave him to her mother, Annie Polk, to raise. When Bill was two he and Annie moved to Decatur, Ill. There his grandmother was helped in bringing him up by his aunt and uncle, Sarah and Wardie Sain.
At Dwight D. Eisenhower High in Decatur, he earned nine letters and the heart of Cynthia Johnson, even though she went to rival Stephen Decatur High. "He was on the shy side," she says, "but essentially the same person he is now." He was an all-state halfback—he rushed for five touchdowns in a game against Mattoon, none of them covering less than 50 yards—and in his senior year more than 100 schools checked him out with an eye to offering a football scholarship. Only two wanted him for baseball. For Madlock, the choice was easy. "I didn't want to have 6'5", 250-pound guys bearing down on me, so I decided to play baseball," he says.
He and Cynthia married and moved to Keokuk, Iowa, where he attended Southwestern Iowa Community College. The St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in June 1969 on the 14th round, but Madlock didn't like the idea of playing shortstop, his primary position, behind Dal Maxvill. "I figured he'd be there forever," says Madlock, who declined to sign. Sara, his first child, was born in December, and in January of '70, the Washington Senators—time does fly—selected him in the secondary phase of the draft.