Monday, April 14, 2008

The Greatest

Bill Simmons has the Basketball Jesus, I have Greg Maddux, and you're just going to have to excuse me for my lack of objectivity when it comes to the guy. But it's not just me gushing this week, as ESPN the Magazine's Tim Keown profiles my favorite baseball player of all time:

This is the kind of guy Maddux is: When he plays poker on planes with teammates, they believe he knows what's in their hands from looking at their faces. Even if he doesn't know, they think he does, which serves the same purpose. Maddux has this weird pull over people. Had he opted to be a cult leader rather than a pitcher, he would have much land and many followers, most of whom would probably spend their days tending to his private golf course and/or rotating bottles of expensive cabernet in the cellar . . .

. . . Self-reflection is not a priority. Maddux has spent his adult life in the eternal childhood of the big league clubhouse. There's no other place on earth quite like it. One morning this spring in Peoria, Ariz., he sat at his corner locker with a plate of bacon and eggs on his lap, talking about pitching. He was running some sort of low-stakes golf pool out of the corner of his eye, passing out papers and collecting money without turning his head. At one point, in midsentence and without warning, he winced like a man about to pass a stone, lifted his left cheek off the chair and let loose. "Whoa, wow, sorry about that," he said, then continued with the eggs and the discussion and the golf pool. So add that to the Maddux scouting report: bats right, throws right, farts left.
That pretty much sums it up for me. Since I first started following Maddux in the late 80s, I've been struck by the combination of his unmatched intellectual approach to the game and his obvious comfort within it. This is not very common. The game's history is littered with deep thinkers who alienated their teammates and made their lives more difficult than it had to be. The population of physically gifted freaks who wasted their potential is far longer.

Maddux represents the best of both worlds. He'll make you look stupid, then make you feel stupid, and when it's all said and done, you'll walk away talking about how nice a guy he is. It's no easy trick in any walk of life, but I imagine it's particularly hard in baseball.


Ken Dynamo said...

you know maddux pees on other team mates in the shower right? k, just checking.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Oh yes, I did know that. And guess what? He does it with greater control than any shower pee-er since Alexander. He knows where he's going to pee before you do. I even heard that, one time, back in the mid 90s, he intentionally didn't pee on Jeff Treadway's foot following a tough loss to the Astros, simply so he could pee on him later in the season when Treadway wouldn't expect it. That's the kind of genius we're dealing with here.

/why yes, this Kool Aid is delicious.

Anonymous said...

He is also my favorite player.

What do you think about the retirement talk in the article? Is this the final season of Maddux express?

Craig Calcaterra said...

I would guess that it is. No one knows how anyone thinks about these things, but it wouldn't surprise me if he wanted to hang around long enough to pass Clemens on the win list (and to make sure Rocket stayed retired).

I mean, yesterday's performance and my idolatry aside, there are going to be a lot of days when he gets roughed up this year, and we're not too far from him falling off the cliff completely a-la Neikro in 1987. I'm guessing he knows that and wants to avoid it.

sean said...

I think one of the biggest differentiators for Maddux is his sense of humor. I know I survived being the "smart kid" or "dork" on my baseball teams growing up because I could make the guys laugh. That's what builds up the trust and makes the jocks accept you.

Jason said...

I'd bet he can slow his pee down, too, changing speeds when he needs to. Betchya he can pee in the middle of the night, lights off, seat down, and not sprinkle anywhere.

Also heard he has time-released flatulance, so that it will only smell long after he's gone.

Chris H. said...

A story that has floated around for years is that during Spring Training, Maddux certainly isn't fighting for a roster/rotation if he faces a batter that he knows he'll be facing regularly in the season, he'll pitch him a certain way just to set him up later when games count. (You know, deliberately NOT use a pitch sequence so he can use it later, that sort of thing.) Legend has it that he's even given up a homer or two in ST as part of this process.

I have no idea if it's true. It smells like an urban legend.

But it ALSO smells just like the sort of smart, cool thing I expect from Maddux. So I'm content to believe in the story, apocryphal or not.

You have to admire a pitcher who can engender this sort of admiration without touching 90 on the gun.


Chris H. said...

And of course, now I read Craig's first comment and see that he's riffing on the very legend I mentioned.


Craig's Wife said...

"It may hurt a lot now, but someday Margo Posnanski is going to get lots of laughs at cocktail parties when she tells the story of how her husband left her for a 27 year-old pitcher from Scottsdale"

Well at least he's in his 20s. My husband left me for a 42 year old pitcher from Las Vegas.

Craig Calcaterra said...

The difference, my dear, is that you and I didn't meet until December 1990. I've known Greg Maddux since 1987.

Richard Dansky said...

If memory serves, the "threw him a meatball so he could get him out in the playoffs" story refers to Jeff Bagwell.

And there never was a Maddux Express. It was always more of a local.