One of the best control pitchers in history, Greg Maddux is an anachronism in an era of intimidating flamethrowers. With a fastball that won’t hit 90 on a good day, the four-time Cy Young Award winner (a feat matched only by Roger Clemens and Steve Carlton) might be the most dominant pitcher of the 1990s. All this he has achieved without one defining or unhittable pitch, but instead with complete command and pinpoint accuracy.
His professional career began at the age of eighteen when the Chicago Cubs drafted him in the second round. The wiry 150-pound right-hander intimidated no one, and Maddux spent three years in the Cubs farm system before being called up to the big leagues in September 1986. That month, Maddux took on and defeated his older brother, Phillies pitcher Mike Maddux, marking the first time rookie brothers had ever pitched against each other. The following year, Maddux finished a disappointing 6-14 record with a hefty 5.61 ERA.
The 1988 season was an entirely different story, more representative of the brilliant success that would follow. Taking the advice of Cubs pitching coach Dick Pole, Maddux altered his focus from retiring every batter and notching wins to simply making good pitches. In the process, Maddux was the surprise of National League. His 15-3 first-half record earned him his initial All-Star appearance, although he tired down the stretch and finished 18-8.
Maddux followed up his breakthrough year with three more fine seasons for the Cubs, including the first of his four consecutive Cy Young Awards in 1992. After the season, Maddux headed for greener pastures, leaving Chicago to sign as a free agent with the Atlanta Braves. Joining a starting rotation that already included Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery, Maddux quickly became the staff ace. Ironically, the Braves opened the 1993 season at Wrigley Field with Maddux on the mound. Despite an unfavorable reception from Cubs fans, Maddux won the game and that season would earn his second straight Cy Young Award.
It was more of the same for Maddux in the strike-shortened year of 1994, as he won his third Cy Young — his first awarded unanimously. His 16 victories tied him with Ken Hill for most wins in the National League, and he also notched 10 complete games. The most impressive statistic was his 1.56 ERA, which set a Braves record and was the third best in baseball since 1919.
A strong case could be made that Maddux’s performance in 1995 bested even those remarkable numbers. Once again Maddux won the Cy Young Award unanimously, as the veteran perfectionist posted a 19-2 record with an ERA of 1.63, an almost unfathomable number in a year of ridiculously inflated offensive numbers. He led the Braves into the postseason where they faced the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS. In the first game, Maddux greeted his childhood favorites with a commanding performance, going eight innings while giving up only one run. The Braves went on to win the series and face the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
In his first Fall Classic appearance, Maddux’s Game One gem set the tone for the entire series. Allowing just two hits in nine innings, Maddux led the Braves to a 3-2 victory, while Cleveland’s much-ballyhooed lineup only managed to get four balls out of the infield. Although the Indians defeated Maddux in Game Five, the Braves clinched the series in Game Six, earning Maddux his long sought-after championship ring. If judged against his own impossible standard, Maddux fell back to earth in 1996. He won 15 games but relinquished the Cy Young Award to teammate John Smoltz. Meanwhile, the Braves made their second straight trip to the World Series but lost to the New York Yankees.
His brilliance returned in 1997. Maddux finished with a 19-4 record and recorded his tenth consecutive season with at least 15 wins. Although Pedro Martinez of the Montreal Expos grabbed the Cy Young Award, Maddux’s numbers were once again outstanding. In 232 innings pitched Maddux gave up only 20 walks, and six of those were intentional. He also posted three of the top six lowest pitch count complete games in the majors. In one performance, Maddux used only 78 pitches in nine innings to beat his old club, the Chicago Cubs.
While losing out to teammate John Smoltz and fireballer Randy Johnson for Cy Young honors, Maddux continued as the winningest pitcher of the 1990s. He led the league with a 2.22 ERA in 1998 and reached the 200-strikeout plateau for the first time in his career. Though winning 19 games in 1999 and 2000, they were off years for Maddux, whose ERA went over 3.00 for the first time since he was a Cub in 1991. He also struggled in the playoffs, getting tagged in the 2000 NLDS by the St. Louis Cardinals for five runs in four innings. But despite a subpar 2001, he became only the second pitcher in major-league history to win 15 or more games 14 seasons in a row. Only Cy Young, who did it 15 times, had more.
While it is certainly his arm that made him famous, Maddux has won the Gold Glove award eleven consecutive times. On June 14, 2000 he made his 387th putout, breaking Jack Morris‘ major league record. A decent hitter, one of his goals each year is to have a higher batting average than ERA. He accomplished this feat for the first time in 1994 with a .222 batting average versus a 1.56 ERA.