Greg Maddux was an ace for sure, and a joker, too
By GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter July 24, 2014 9:02PM
Updated: August 26, 2014 6:44AM
The things the man would put in a pot of chili or soup in the clubhouse. The uses he would find for a stack of clean sanitary socks. The strange, disconnected thoughts that would come out his mouth during a meeting with team officials or even in the middle of a game if the catcher decided to chance a visit to the mound.
Greg Maddux might have been as unique and comically twisted among teammates as he was unique and brilliantly efficient on a major-league mound.
“Personality-wise, he was probably the severe-satire type, comedy of a different sort,” longtime teammate John Smoltz said. “His humor was always on the side of probably not for public display, so to speak.”
Those who know him best describe a side-splitting, R-rated sense of humor Maddux paired with a placid exterior and intentionally bland public commentary that defied everything going on beneath the surface.
“He seemed to create a world unto himself,” Smoltz said.
And that odd little world might have been one of the great secrets to his Hall of Fame success, say colleagues and friends, a dichotomy of personality and outside perception that kept things loose when teammates were around and defied attention and distraction from others.
“He had fun in a different way, but at the time he had everything in perspective,” said Smoltz, who in 1996 won the Cy Young Award that snapped Maddux’s then-record streak of four straight, the first of which came just before the Cubs allowed him to leave as a free agent.
“I know he didn’t want to draw too much attention to himself. I don’t want to say he played it stupid, but he downplayed a lot [of himself] to stay low-key. I think he didn’t give a lot of interviews on purpose, or when he didn’t give the greatest interview, I think he did it on purpose.
“For Greg Maddux, I think he had the [objective], if he was walking down the street, not a lot of people would necessarily know who he is. That’s a little strange for being one of the greatest pitchers in the world. But he liked it that way.”
Whatever his methods did for his psyche, he found rare peace at impossible moments.
“It’s like no heartbeat,” said Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers, who was GM in San Diego in 2007 when Maddux signed there. “I never saw the guy tense.”
Former catcher Henry Blanco, who caught Maddux in Atlanta and then again in his second tour with the Cubs, said he never saw a pitcher with a quicker mind than Maddux, who called his own games and executed pitching sequences he planned for multiple batters at a time.
“There is not a word to describe him,” Blanco said. “He’s simply the best.”
At everything, said Towers, who watched him roll a 260 when he tagged along to bowl with team officials after saying he wasn’t a bowler. Towers said he took the first ball somebody handed him and didn’t bother to use the finger holes.
“He doesn’t lose at anything,” Towers said. “Anything he does.”
Maybe it’s a perfectionist streak.
“His idea of a perfect game wasn’t 27 outs in a row,” said former Cubs broadcaster Chip Caray, now with the Braves. “A perfect game for Maddux was 27 outs on 27 pitches. He looked at the game differently.”
Maybe it was the preparation. Towers remembers Maddux once going out of his way to find video of a backup catcher for the Giants who had been called up a few days before Maddux was to start against them in case he had to face Guillermo Rodriguez (he didn’t).
Maybe it was the humor. Those in Atlanta who were there describe him as “the sicko frat brother that kept people looking over their shoulders whenever he was around,” Caray said. “But no one was more competitive, no one better at his craft than he was.”