Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Greatest Pitcher You'll Ever See

It was kind of sad the other day seeing Greg Maddux hang up his spikes for good. For so long Maddux was a big part of the Braves and one of the best pitchers to ever lace them up.

I always think back to the Sports Illustrated cover from 1995 saying Maddux was "the greatest pitcher you'll ever see." Being a Braves fan I got to see a lot of him, just about every fifth day.

Unlike some of the top pitchers in the past, Maddux didn't have the overpowering fast ball he could resort to if the other stuff wasn't working. Maddux wouldn't blow the ball past any one. Instead he had to out think the opposing hitters. More often than not, that is exactly what he did.

For that reason, he never had the huge strikeout numbers that some people use to judge a pitcher's career. He didn't have a no-hitter in his career either like some of the top throwers in baseball did. But he was about as efficient as a pitcher who ever took the hill.

Maddux went one season nearly having fewer walks than wins in the season, finishing the 1997 campaign with 19 wins and 20 walks. Two years earlier he put together one of the best single seasons for a pitcher going 19-2 with an ERA of 1.63 and an astonishing WHIP of 0.81. In fact, even with some down years at the end of has career, he still finished with a career WHIP of 1.14. Only Johan Santana has a better career WHIP (1.10) among active players.

His years with Atlanta were clearly his best, although he did win a Cy Young with Chicago. In 10 years he went 194-88 and twice had an ERA under 2.

I don't know how many times I saw Maddux pitch in person, but there is one game I remember specifically. It was two days after I graduated high school. Maddux went seven innings against the Astros without giving up a hit. Jeff Bagwell was leading off the 8th and I looked at my friend and said if he can get past Bagwell he has a good chance to throw the no-no. Bagwell then took him deep. Maddux then retired the next six hitters for a one-hitter. It is the closest he ever got.

Maddux will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and that will be a speech I don't plan on missing. I figure I have seen more than 200 major league baseball games and have watched guys like Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Dwight Godden, Roger Clemens, Kevin Brown, Andy Pettitte, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine toe the rubber and I still can't argue with SI, Maddux is the greatest pitcher I will ever see.

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