Greg Maddux has reportedly decided to retire from baseball (with the official announcement expected to come Monday), ending a remarkable career in which he won 355 games.
Maddux, who went 8-13 with a 4.22 ERA in 2008, finished one victory ahead of Rocket Roger Clemens for eighth on the all-time wins list.
His final season in the big leagues wasn't a banner one, though he did suffer from a lack of run support while with the last-place San Diego Padres. In one stretch covering 12 starts, Maddux was only 1-4 despite a 2.64 ERA.
Still, Maddux wasn't the same pitcher he'd been in the 1990s, when he won four straight Cy Youngs.
Six times in 2008, Maddux allowed at least six runs. He also failed to last at least six full innings 14 times and had only 14 quality starts (at least 6 IP, 3 R or less). Expected to bring veteran leadership to the Dodgers following an August trade, Maddux instead went only 2-4 and had a pair of outings in which he was bombed for seven runs each time out.
A couple of bright spots for Maddux: He ended the regular season with a 2-1 victory in San Francisco on September 27th, tossing six innings of two-hit ball, and in typical Maddux fashion, didn't walk a batter. In that victory, Maddux moved past Clemens on the all-time wins list to become the eighth-winningest pitcher in history. Maddux then pitched four innings in the postseason, posting a 0.00 ERA.
Again, not the best year for the man they called "Mad Dog", but at least he's now decided not to return for the 2009 season.
Seeing an star hurler leave the sport when it's clear he's no longer able to perform at an elite level is a lot better than seeing him hang around way too long and get battered every time out. So, let's applaud the classy Maddux for choosing to end his career now, and we'll all remember him as the best pitcher of his generation. (Sorry, Clemens.)
That brings me to this question: why can't other high profile pitchers follow Maddux's lead and walk away too?
- Randy Johnson: Yes, The Big Unit is only 5 wins away from the magical 300-mark, but like Maddux, had an up-and-down 2008 season. Johnson lost six straight starts from June 3rd to July 1st, and had a 12-game stretch where he was tattooed for a 6.13 ERA. And he wasn't exactly lights out for the final two months of the season, when his Arizona Diamondbacks collapsed. Johnson won only one game in his final eight starts--that lone win coming on the final day of the season when the D-Backs had already been eliminated from playoff contention--and finished the year 11-10.
- Pedro Martinez: Pedro just finished his four-year contract, $53-million contract with the Mets, compiling a 32-23 record in the process. In 2008, Pedro missed two months with a strained hamstring and was only 5-6 with an ugly 5.61 ERA. He went 0-3 in September with a 7.77 ERA, and the Mets again choked down the stretch for the second straight season. Like Johnson, Pedro won only once after mid-August.
- Tom Glavine: After a disastrous final start with the Mets in 2007, on the final day of the season (1/3 IP, 5 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 0 K) which eliminated New York from postseason contention, Glavine returned to Atlanta for the 2008 campaign. However, the 1995 World Series MVP was placed on the DL for the first time in his big league career during the year, made just 13 starts, and finished 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA. And Glavine pitched just once after June 10th, and didn't win a game after May 20th. His ERA in that stretch? 8.34. Yikes. And of course, the Braves lost all five games. Better than his final three starts as a Met (0-2, 14.81 ERA, 10 IP, 25 H), but still... he's done.
- John Smoltz: Smoltzie was the Braves' ace in 2007 and finished tied for sixth in the NL Cy Young race with a 14-8 record, but 2008 was also a disaster. Smoltz underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in June, but before that, he'd made only six appearances--five starts--and had been placed on the DL twice. In his final three appearances, he went 0-2 and had a blown save (after starting the year 3-0).
Like Greg Maddux, the above four pitchers have won a World Series ring.
They've all accomplished a lot in their big league careers. They've all won Cy Youngs. Their 2008 seasons didn't at all go smoothly. In Pedro and Glavine's cases, they're clearly done. For Smoltz, coming off shoulder surgery... will he even have anything left? And Johnson--yes, he's ever so close to 300 wins, but didn't we just see Mike Mussina retire despite having a shot at the milestone earlier this off-season?
Johnson, Pedro, Glavine, and Smotlz: Hopefully they'll all announce their retirements soon too, instead of continuing to go back out on the mound to embarrass themselves--or worse, endure another injury.
After all, all are free agents.
If they were part of a free-agent class in mid-1990s, then sure, we'd all want to see them go out there every fifth day.
But this is 2008. They're done.
For now, let's tip our caps to Maddux and hope that the others soon follow Maddux's lead and call it a career too.