Greg Maddux baffled hitters, bullpen staff on way to Hall of Fame
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Sports Reporter July 27, 2014 4:02PM
Updated: July 27, 2014 9:39PM
Just how good was Greg Maddux and his famous pinpoint command?
As good as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in that old McDonald’s commercial?
To hear witnesses tell it, maybe better.
Maddux, the four-time Cy Young winner who spent two tours with the Cubs and on Sunday was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, dropped jaws every week with his little-known habit late in his career of finishing off his between-starts side sessions with trick-shot pitches for strikes.
“His last pitch when he was throwing in the bullpen, he wanted to throw a ricochet strike off something, like off a chair, into the catcher,” said Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers, who signed Maddux to pitch in San Diego in 2007 and ’08.
“Like in Cleveland, Kansas City, certain bullpens [with close walls],” said Bud Black, Maddux’s manager those two years, “he’d freakin’ go into his windup and throw a ball off the side wall and have it kick off another one and ricochet right to the catcher.”
Sometimes, Black said, he’d have the catcher squat with his back to the mound and bounce a ball off the wall behind the bullpen plate so that it caromed back to the mitt.
“And there was one story where we blindfolded the catcher. So he had a mask, everything on, and we blindfolded him, and he would throw a pitch. And there would be a coach right by him and would say, `Now!’ – like ‘squeeze the glove, here comes the ball,’ and he’d try to hit the glove. Sure enough, he hit the glove a lot with a blindfolded catcher. I love that one.”
That was nothing.
In the Wrigley Field bullpens, there aren’t any nice, easy angles to work the caroms.
So one day on a trip to Chicago, he set up a chair for the bullpen finale, Towers said.
“He goes, `OK, my last pitch I’m going to hit the brick and then it’s going to go off the leg of the chair, and it’ll go right to [bullpen coach] Darrel [Akerfelds],’ “ said Towers. “On his second [expletive] time he did it. It was right there – bing, bing, boom!
“I go, `How in the hell do you do that?’ ”
Big-league hitters spent 23 years asking the same thing.