Greg Maddux was one of the most dominant pitchers baseball has ever seen.
His 23 seasons in Major League Baseball are defined by his almost effortless delivery and masterful control of the strike zone.
From his debut in 1986 to his last game in 2008, Maddux kept the best hitters in the world confused and on their toes, trying to figure out a way to hit him.
More often than not these hitters were not successful, making weak contact or striking out on pitches that barely clipped the strike zone.
In an era known for steroid-addled sluggers and towering home runs, Maddux pitched with a unique blend of control, trickery, and calm confidence.
Early Life/High School
Gregory Alan Maddux was born on April 14, 1966, to parents Linda and Dave Maddux in San Angelo, Texas.
Maddux spent most of his childhood growing up in Madrid, Spain because his father was stationed there while in the Air Force.
As a child, Dave Maddux began teaching his son how to play baseball.
When the Maddux family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada when Greg was ten, he and his older brother Mike began training under the tutelage of Ralph Meder.
Meder was a former Major League Scout who perhaps influenced Maddux and his pitching style more than anyone else.
The style Meder preached was control first, velocity second.
While attending Valley High School and playing American Legion Baseball in the early 1980s, Maddux took what he learned from Meder and combined it with a keen sense of awareness and poise.
He studied opposing hitters in the box and based his choice of pitch and location based on what he thought they were least expecting.
Being of slender build, Maddux could not overpower with a fastball or drop a hard curveball in the zone.
His pitching philosophy was more suited to his physicality and he developed a unique pitching style he would use for the rest of his career.
While Greg was pitching for Valley High School on the way to a state championship and playing American Legion, his brother Mike was drafted in 1982 by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Maddux continued to hone his pitching skills and tried to gain attention from collegiate and Major League scouts.
By the end of his high school career, Maddux was leaning towards enrolling at the University of Arizona to play baseball, as it was close to home and Arizona’s program was known to develop pitchers successfully without overuse.
Maddux’s plans changed when the Chicago Cubs drafted him in 1984.
The Cubs had looked past Maddux’s build that had dismayed other teams’ scouts, believing he could be a successful pitcher with his unique skillset.
Cubs scout Doug Mapson said of Maddux:
“I really believe this boy would be the number one player in the country if only he looked a bit more physical.”
Maddux sped through the Cubs’ minor league system, impressing with his veteran-like demeanor and success as a pitcher.
He progressed through four different minor league levels in 1984 and 1985 before making his Major League debut with the Cubs in September of 1986.
In his last start for the Cubs at the tail end of the 1986 season, he pitched against his brother Mike for the first time.
The younger Maddux prevailed as his Cubs defeated Mike’s Phillies 8-3.
The 1987 season was Maddux’s first full year in the Major Leagues.
The ultra-competitive Maddux struggled, pitching to an ERA of over 5, and he was sent down for a brief minor league stint to get him back on track.
Following the season, Maddux and his brother played together in the Venezuelan league, where Greg would further develop his pitching philosophy and try to improve before the 1988 season.
It was in Venezuela where Maddux would work with his former pitching coach Dick Pole, who encouraged him to work on getting groundouts instead of trying to strike every batter out.
Maddux had more success in 1988 and began an incredible 17-year streak of winning 15 or more games with 18 on the year.
He was selected to his first All-Star team that season and began to understand his skillset and how to approach Major League hitters.
The 1989 campaign was his best so far, as he helped lead the Cubs to the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.
Maddux was shelled in game one, giving up eight runs and losing the game.
The Giants would advance to the World Series, but Maddux had solidified himself as the Cubs’ best pitcher, postseason performance aside.
He finished the 1989 season with 19 wins and a .295 ERA at just 23 years old.
From 1990 through 1992, Maddux was becoming one of the best pitchers in the National League.
After winning 15 games in both 1990 and 1991, Maddux excelled in 1992 to 20 wins.
He finished the 1992 season pitching to a phenomenal 2.18 ERA and threw four shutouts in eight complete games, eventually beating out Atlanta Braves’ ace Tom Glavine to win the N.L. Cy Young Award.
1992 was not all sunshine for Maddux, as he and the Cubs were in bitter contract negotiations that saw the Cubs cast Maddux as greedy for wanting more money, even though Maddux wanted to stay in Chicago.
Maddux resented the way the Cubs were treating him and eventually signed a five-year, $28 million deal with the Atlanta Braves.
Letting Maddux sign with the Braves turned out to be disastrous for the Cubs.
Maddux had been a great pitcher in Chicago but became one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball with the Braves.
Joining Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, Maddux became part of a three-headed monster that was the Braves’ starting rotation.
Maddux made his first start with the Braves on Opening Day at Wrigley Field against his former team.
The Braves beat the Cubs, 1-0, on account of Maddux throwing a shutout.
By the time Maddux signed with Atlanta, he had become the smartest pitcher in all of baseball.
He studied hitters meticulously by watching video and watching them take warmup swings and would reflect on previous matchups with hitters to devise a detailed plan to get them out.
He also confided in teammates like Chipper Jones and Terry Pendleton to study how they thought when up to bat and would use their information in his approach.
Reflecting on Maddux coming to Atlanta, Braves’ pitching coach Leo Mazzone said:
“When we signed Maddux, I didn’t realize at the time it was going to be the greatest free-agent signing in the history of the game. But I knew I was going to get a lot smarter, real quick.”
The Braves were already one of the best teams in the N.L. when they signed Maddux and found themselves in a tight race with the Giants for the N.L. West crown in 1993.
Greg Maddux, shaking off Javy Lopez, throwing a filthy changeup to get the K….
Then lecturing Javy about his pitch calling. pic.twitter.com/d3YXtJ1Seg
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 11, 2022
Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz helped lead the Braves to a division title and into a postseason battle with the Phillies in the NLCS.
The Braves would lose the series in six games but Maddux would again win the Cy Young Award, his second in a row.
He would win his third Cy Young the following season, which was shortened by a players’ strike.
The 1994 campaign saw Maddux pitch to an unbelievable 1.56 ERA.
After two years and two Cy Young Awards in Atlanta, Maddux finally reached his ultimate goal after nine years in the big leagues; the World Series.
The 1995 World Series pitted the N.L. champion Braves against the upstart Cleveland Indians.
Maddux won Game 1, defeating Orel Hershiser in a complete game.
The Braves would go on to win the series in 6 games, capturing their first World Series title in Atlanta and their fist as a team since 1957.
Maddux would again win the Cy Young Award in 1995, a remarkable fourth in a row, with an ERA of 1.63, 19 wins, and over 200 innings pitched.
Maddux’s Braves would remain competitive throughout the rest of the 1990s, reaching the World Series again in 1996 and 1999.
In both series, the Braves faced off against the powerful New York Yankees.
The Braves would lose both of these series to the Yankees, who were beginning one of baseball’s all-time great dynasties.
Maddux pitched well in the postseason over his career but was not nearly as dominant as he was during the regular season.
Appearing in 35 postseason games, Maddux pitched to a 3.27 ERA in 198 innings pitched.
After the 1995 season, Maddux would not win another Cy Young but finished in the top five in Cy Young voting each of the next three seasons.
He would remain one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues throughout the rest of the decade, finishing every season with at least 15 wins and posting ERAs under 3.00 except for 1999, where he won 19 games but had an ERA of 3.57.
Determined not to make the same mistake the Cubs had made, the Braves made Maddux the highest-paid player in baseball after signing him to a five-year, $57.5 million extension in 1997.
As the world turned to the 2000s, Maddux remained a great pitcher.
Though was no longer winning Cy Young Awards, he was fooling more than enough hitters to be successful.
By the time Maddux became a free agent for the second time in 2003, he had spent over a decade in Atlanta, winning three Cy Young Awards and a World Series ring as a member of what many consider the greatest pitching staff of all time.
He finished his stint with the Braves with six All-Star selections and showed impeccable fielding prowess on the mound, totaling 12 Gold Glove Awards.
In 2004, Maddux would return to the Cubs on a three-year, $24 million contract.
In his second stint with Chicago, Maddux joined another great rotation consisting of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, two young stars who had helped propel the Cubs to the NLCS the previous year.
The Cubs were hoping to add a veteran presence to their young staff and reinvigorate the fan base, who were still disappointed about losing Maddux to the Braves over a decade before.
Back to where he started his storied career, Maddux began marching towards prestigious pitching milestones.
In his first year back with the Cubs, Maddux recorded his 300th career win against the Giants and struck out his 3,000th batter in 2005.
After just two and a half years in Chicago, the Cubs traded Maddux to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were looking to add pitching for their playoff run.
Maddux pitched well for the Dodgers and they made the postseason, falling to the New York Mets in the National League Division Series.
Maddux would sign with the San Diego Padres following the season, where he would pitch the 2007 and most of the 2008 seasons.
He was traded back to the Dodgers at the tail end of 2008, and he made his last appearance in the Major Leagues in the postseason against the Phillies.
Life After Baseball
When Greg Maddux retired in 2008, he was viewed as one of the best right-handed pitchers in the history of the game.
While the baseball world was more than impressed with his traditional counting stats, he has gained a newfound appreciation thanks to the advancement of sabermetrics and analytics in recent times.
Maddux finished his career with 355 wins, a career ERA of 3.16, and four Cy Young Awards.
He won a total of 18 Gold Gloves, the most in baseball history, and was selected to eight All-Star games.
His 106.6 WAR ranks eighth among pitchers in Major League Baseball history, sandwiched between Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Randy Johnson.
For his outstanding 22-year career, Maddux’s number 31 has been retired by both the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves.
His career has been viewed as truly unique, as he dominated an era of steroid use and bulky sluggers with pinpoint accuracy and remarkable knowledge of the strike zone.
Padres’ superstar Tony Gwynn, one of the few who had success against Maddux, explained what made Maddux so tough to face.
“I never felt comfortable facing him. It never mattered what the count was – 3-0, 2-1, 0-2. He was way ahead of his time when it came to reading swings and how best to attack the strike zone. I just tried to put a good swing on the ball against him and hope it found a hole.”
Maddux would be inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014 along with his former teammate and manager in Atlanta, Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox, respectively.
Garnering 97.2% of the vote in his first year of eligibility, Maddux chose not to wear a Cubs or Braves cap on his plaque, citing the respect and admiration he had for both cities’ clubs and fan bases.
Reflecting on his career in his induction speech, Maddux said:
“I never gave a thought to the Hall of Fame through my career. My goal as a baseball player was very simple: All I wanted to do was try to get better for my next start. And to think it all ended up here, it’s pretty cool.”
In his post-playing career, Maddux has held several positions with Major League clubs.
He was hired in 2010 by the Cubs as an assistant to the general manager.
In this role, Maddux worked on pitching development within the Cubs organization and soon departed in 2012 to join the Texas Rangers in a similar capacity.
It was in Texas where he joined his brother Mike, who was then the Rangers’ pitching coach.
Mike remains an active big-league pitching coach and is currently with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Maddux has also been involved in the Dodgers’ front office operations.
Maddux has also explored coaching in addition to front office and player development work.
After becoming the United States’ pitching coach in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Maddux joined the coaching staff of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), where he served as the team’s pitching coach and had a positive impact on recruiting.
In addition to his amazing feats on the mound, Maddux and his accomplishments have garnered immense respect and awe.
He is the inspiration behind the term the “Maddux”, which is the moniker given to any complete-game shutout in which the pitcher throws fewer than 100 pitches.
Maddux accomplished this a staggering 13 times.
In a time where pitch counts are heavily monitored and pitchers are expected to give 100% effort on every pitch, Maddux’s efficiency and durability during his career seem more impressive with every baseball season that passes.
Greg Maddux puzzled National League hitters for over two decades and was one of, if not the best overall pitcher in the game of baseball.
He brought an extremely unique philosophy to America’s pastime and carved out one of the most impressive careers of any pitcher to step on a mound.
As today’s game sees fastball velocities regularly reach the upper 90s and curveballs break further and harder than ever before, Maddux’s dominance with 88mph fastballs and pinpoint accuracy remains a beautiful enigma.
Greg Maddux on 0-2 "Waste" Pitches. pic.twitter.com/QKwrYDCWyn
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 11, 2022