Greg Maddux: the Legend
Recently, Greg Maddux reminded all of us that he is a special piece of baseball—to be enshrined in the Hall someday.
While there are many stories of past Hall Of Famers to keep their legacy alive (Babe Ruth and Satchel Paige to name a few), I wanted to share three of my favorite Maddux stories from ESPN.COM and BleedCubbieBlue.com which I think solidify the legendary benchmarks of Maddux: Accuracy & Consistency, Pitching Knowledge, and Reading the Hitter.
1. Accuracy & Consistency-
Over the past 22 years many a catcher, coach or broadcaster has said, "I bet you could catch Maddux with your eyes closed". Sounded plausible enough and maybe coaxed a chuckle or two, but mostly it was just a cliche. It was just a matter of time before somebody decided to prove it.
It was mid-September, in the home bullpen at Petco Park. Maddux, the human metronome, was into his same hands-over-the-head windup he'd used since he was a kid in Las Vegas. As always, every pitch hit the mitt, wherever it was placed. Padres bullpen catcher Ben Risinger, bored with the perfection of it all, said to coach Darrel Akerfelds, "I bet I could catch him with my eyes closed."
That was all fine and rhetorical until Akerfelds said, "Okay, well let's go for it."
First, a system had to be put in place; Akerfelds would stand a few paces in front of the plate and to the side so he could track the path of the ball and yell "Now!" to let Risinger know when to squeeze his mitt.
Risinger, who spent some time in the minors, promised not to cheat. Maddux, in spite his long-standing commitment to the pursuit of a good laugh, was lukewarm on the exercise, citing liability concerns. "I know I don't throw very hard anymore," he said, "but I'd like to think I can still hurt a guy who's not looking." His protests were ignored; there are times when a legend must bend to the public's will to display his gifts for the amusement of others. This, apparently, was one of those times. Risinger squatted and closed his eyes. Maddux threw.
A catcher's mitt is roughly 33" in circumference. To be caught, the ball must hit an area that is roughly a third the size of the mitt. A major league baseball has a diameter of roughly 2.9". We're not talking about throwing a ball in the strike zone here; it's about hitting the palm of a hand from 60 feet 6 inches away. You can do the math or just take Risinger's word for it: "He's the only guy I'd even come close to trusting with my eyes closed."
The first pitch glanced off the top of Risinger's mitt and hit him in the mask.
"That's enough," Maddux said, walking off the mound. "One more," Risinger said.
The second pitch hit Risinger square in the pocket, but Akerfelds' "Now!"signal was too late or Risinger's mitt squeeze was too slow. The ball dropped at his feet.
"That's enough," Maddux declared yet again. "One more," Risinger said. "Please?"
Maddux wound up and threw. By now, pitching coach Darren Balsley and a few other Padres were watching the strange experiment taking place involving a catcher trying to catch without the benefit of vision. The ball left Maddux's hand, and Akerfelds yelled "Now!" and Risinger clenched his mitt around the ball.
He opened his eyes. There it was, in the mitt.
Arms were raised in celebration. It was a beautifully stupid scene: Risinger laughed so hard he fell down, Akerfelds was doubled over with laugter to the point of tears, and Maddux looked on with a wry smile, shaking his head. "That was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen" said the 45 year-old Akerfelds.
And so it was proved, once and for all: You really can catch Greg Maddux with your eyes closed.
2. Pitching Knowledge-
When Brad Penny and Maddux were teammates on the Dodgers, during the last two months of 2006, they had lengthy conversations on pitching that led Penny to reach a stunning conclusion: This guy knows my stuff better than I do.
It was eerie, really, how easily Maddux had dissected Penny's pitching repertoire and suggested ways to maximize it. Penny, figuring he'd take advantage of this consultation, decided to test it in an actual game.
He asked Maddux to call a game for him against the Cubs. And so, on the night of Sept. 13th, Penny glanced into the dugout before every delivery and found Maddux, who signaled the next pitch by looking toward different parts of the ballpark. Penny threw whatever pitch Greg called.
To no surprise, Penny threw seven scoreless innings that night with no walks and beat the Cubs 6-0. "Maddux probably won't tell you that story," Penny says; and he's absolutely right.
3. Reading the Hitter-
While with the Cubs (BleedCubbieBlue.com relates the exact same story with Greg as a Brave), Maddux once sat in the dugout on his day off and watched José Hernández of the Dodgers set up in the batter's box.
After seeing two pitches, Maddux turned to the players around him and distinctively said, "We might have to call an ambulance for the first base coach." On the very next pitch, Hernández whipped a shot that hit first base coach John Shelby squarely in the chest.
Maddux would later reveal that he saw Hernández make a slight adjustment in the box when he returned to the plate after stepping out.
Needlessly to say, those around Greg in the dugout missed this change and were overcome by the sense they were around a powerful psychic.
But they weren't. They were just in the presence of a baseball legend- the legend of Maddux.
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