erik lundegaard

My Greg Maddux Story

My sister’s wedding took place in Atlanta in May 1999, and for the bachelor party, an inclusive affair involving both men and women, my brother-in-law Eric rented a luxury suite at Turner Field for an afternoon game between the Braves and the Pirates. Even better? Greg Maddux was starting for the Braves.

By this point in his career Maddux was generally regarded as the best pitcher of his generation. Well, you had Clemens, and then Randy, and Pedro was coming up fast, but throughout the 1990s, almost by himself, stood Maddux: bespectacled, quiet, vaguely quizzical. He looked like a professor out there. He looked like one of us. He just didn’t pitch that way.

How good was he? He led the league in innings pitched five years in a row (1991-1995) and in WHIP and ERA three years in a row (1993-1995). He also won the Cy Young award four years in a row (1992-1995).

His 1995 season was amazing—19-2, 1.65 ERA, 181 strikeouts to 23 walks—but was ’94 better? His strikeout-to-walk ratio wasn’t as good (156-31), neither his won-loss record (16-6), but his ERA was only 1.56.

How good was that? There have been 246 instances of a pitcher with a sub-2.00 ERA season in baseball history but 205 of those came from the deadball era, leaving just 41 such seasons since 1921. The pitching-friendly 1960s alone had 14. Hell, in 1968, seven pitchers had sub-2.00 ERAs, including Bob Gibson at 1.12. The next year, no surprise, the pitching mound was lowered again to give the hitters a chance.

Since then, there have been 19 seasons when a pitcher had a sub-2.00 ERA. And since 1990? Only eight such seasons, with Clemens, Pedro and Maddux with two each.

But none of them was lower than Maddux’s.

That 1.56 ERA? Since the deadball era, only two pitchers have done better: Gibson in ’68 and Dwight Gooden in ’85.  But compare their numbers with the league averages:

Year    

    Pitcher

ERA  

Avg. ERA  

1968    

   Bob Gibson

1.12  

2.98  

1985    

   Dwight Gooden

1.53  

3.89  

1994    

   Greg Maddux 

1.56  

4.92  

In 1968, the second-best ERA in the Majors belonged to Luis Tiant at 1.60, nearly a half-run behind Gibson. The year Gooden did what he did, John Tudor had a 1.93 ERA, or 4/10 of a run behind Gooden. And in 1994, the second-best ERA in the Majors belonged to Steve Ontiveros of the A’s, at 2.65: more than a run per game behind Maddux.

How can someone be that much better than everyone else?

I was aware of some of this history, not all of it, that day in late April 1999 when we went to Turner Field. The suite was near home plate, and with several rows into the stadium where you could sit with everyone else and watch the game. You weren’t stuck behind a glass partition. That’s where I was sitting when Greg Maddux came in from the bullpen after his pregame workout. So I did what we always did at the Kingdome when Randy appeared after his pregame workout: I stood and applauded.

I was the only one.

I looked around. The stands were sparse but not that sparse. No one was looking at me, standing up and applauding by my lonesome, but they definitely didn’t join in, either. But I kept doing it. Why not? That’s what you do. I applauded him and his catcher all the way into the dugout.

The Braves won that game, 8-1. It was the only time I ever saw him pitch live.

Today, Maddux was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame with 97% of the vote (eighth-best ever), along with his teammate Tom Glavine (91.9%), and the Big Hurt, Frank Thomas (83.7%). All good choices.

Craig Biggio fell just two votes short (74.8%), but he’ll get in next year. Jack Morris, in his 15th and final year, finished with just 61% of the vote. I tend to agree with that one. My man Edgar fell off to only 25% of the vote. I’ll write about that another time.

In the meantime, a final round of applause for one of the great pitchers of the era.

Greg Maddux, Sports Illustrated


Posted at 02:48 PM on Wed. Jan 08, 2014 in category Baseball  
Tags: , , ,

COMMENTS

David Budge wrote:

Erik,

I never get tired of reading your writing...especially when you write about your passions. And baseball ranks near the top of your list. Thanks for recognizing greatness.

David Budge

Comment posted on Wed. Jan 08, 2014 at 04:28 PM

Tim wrote:

I'm curious as to who turned in an HoF ballot that didn't include Maddux. I presume it would have been a calculated vote, giving a valued one of ten choices to someone else knowing that Maddux would get in anyway, which just serves as a reason to expand or eliminate the ten-choice limit, but that'd be a fun choice to justify. “I voted for Mike Mussina, sure, but Greg MADDUX? Puh-leez.”

Comment posted on Wed. Jan 08, 2014 at 05:42 PM

Erik wrote:

Thanks, Dave. Are you still in Atlanta?

Tim, I assume he didn't get some votes because some members of the BBWAA want to make sure no one gets 100%, since Ruth, Cobb, et al., didn't get 100%. Willie Mays didn't get 100%. That pretty much ends the discussion for me. Joe DiMaggio didn't even get IN on the first ballot. How about them apples?

Comment posted on Wed. Jan 08, 2014 at 09:42 PM

David Budge wrote:

Yes....for the time being I am still in Atlanta. And the hometown fair weather fans here are all excited about the impending inductions of Maddux, Glavine and Bobby Cox.

Comment posted on Thu. Jan 09, 2014 at 09:30 AM

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