Sometimes, ballplayers who don't look like they should be fantastic just are.
On the surface, there's nothing too impressive about them—no God-given gift which makes them stand out from their peers at a young age.
But when they step onto the field, they put on the show of a lifetime.
Greg Maddux is the epitome of such a player.
Maddux won four straight Cy Young Awards from 1992-1995. During that span, he posted a .721 winning percentage and a 1.98 ERA—in a hitter's era, no less.
So what has made Maddux's magnificence possible?
Before we dive into that question, let's talk about what didn't make it possible—the gifts Maddux didn't have that many Major League pitchers rely upon to win on a regular basis.
Velocity: Maddux's fastball averaged around 89-90 mph in his prime; as he's gotten older, his velocity has topped out around 85 mph.
Out Pitches: Maddux has never had Roger Clemens' forkball, Barry Zito's curve, or Randy Johnson's slider.
Intimidation: Maddux is one of the least intimidating mound presences in recent memory. At a mere 6 feet and 170 pounds, the guy makes David Eckstein look like a force to be reckoned with.
The lack of these qualities is the primary reason Maddux has never struck out 250 batters in a season. It's the reason hitters were never afraid they'd pay for crowding the plate.
But somehow, Greg Maddux was far and away the best pitcher in baseball during the mid-90s.
So how did he do it?
Maddux had better control than anyone I've ever seen. He could put that 90 mph two-seamer wherever the hell he wanted to.
Braves teammate Tom Glavine was infamous for painting the outside corner, consistently expanding the strike zone to his advantage.
Maddux, on the other hand, could turn any part of the plate into the Mona Lisa at will. At the height of his career, he'd have six extra inches to work with, both inside and out.
Maddux had a sizable arsenal of pitches, too; his circle-change was money, and his curve and slider were solid.
But on their own, none of these pitches could have won him four straight Cy Young Awards. Only by combining a variety of different pitches—and locating them with pinpoint precision—was Maddux able to dominate the mound like few in Major League Baseball history ever have.
It takes talent to strike out 20 batters in a game. Whenever a pitcher approaches this mark, fans go nuts. Years ago, when Kerry Wood K'd 20 batters, it was the first story reported on SportsCenter that evening.
But it takes even more talent to get 20 hitters to ground out in a game—to dominate your opponent not with some divinely-bestowed acumen, but by locating your pitches and outthinking each hitter who steps into the box.
The sign of a truly outstanding pitcher is when opposing batters can get wood on the ball...but can't seem to get on base.
When Maddux threw a one-hit shutout with only four whiffs, the guys at SportsCenter hardly gave a rat's ass. After all, who has the patience to watch 20 balls roll into the infield for outs?
Some fans however would enjoy that type of game—the same fans who end up writing columns about which baseball players to tell their kids about, I suppose.
I want to tell my young ones about Maddux because he was an artist on the mound. He had supreme control of both the ball and the game; every pitch he threw had a particular purpose behind it.
But even more importantly: Greg Maddux wore glasses.
A four-time Cy Young winner who dominated hitters that, shortly before the game, were injecting themselves with drugs to make their muscles pop out of their shirts.
A slinger who won 15 or more games in 17 straight seasons—more than flamethrowers like Kerry Wood and A.J. Burnett have won in a single season in their entire careers.
Glasses. Freakin' glasses!
Maddux is the least intimidating pitcher one could possibly imagine. That this four-eyed, scrawny nerdling—who looks more like a software engineer than a ballplayer—dominated the mound like he did is simply unreal.
Hell, even I probably wouldn't be scared to step into the box against him.
I'd just ground out to the shortstop, like everyone else did.
I hereby pledge to tell my children about Greg Maddux.