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Maddux: The other living legend
The Padres star doesn't get as much attention as Roger Clemens, and that's a shame.
By JOHN ROMANO
Published June 13, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - He is the one without the stubble. Without the broad shoulders and the don't-muck-with-me stare.
In other words, he is not Roger Clemens.
He is baseball's other living legend.
You should have been at Tropicana Field on Tuesday. You should have enjoyed this rare opportunity, and perhaps the final one in Tampa Bay, to see Greg Maddux on center stage. To see one of history's greats at work.
Too many people have gotten too caught up in the theatrics of Clemens' final days that they are failing to appreciate the majesty of Maddux's career. And it is both regrettable and sad.
There was more attention paid to Clemens' recent minor-league starts than any one of Maddux's major-league starts this season.
And yet, if you take away the soap opera plots that have forever surrounded Clemens, you find two pitchers with practically identical stats.
Clemens has 349 victories in 24 seasons. Maddux has 338 in 22. Clemens has a career ERA of 3.10. Maddux has a 3.08.
Clemens won seven games last season and got a $28-million contract amid great fanfare. Maddux won 15 games and quietly got a $10-million contract.
"I wasn't there, but I imagine watching Maddux work is probably like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel, " Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I just love the idea that he's been as successful as he has because, for all the radar guns and all the guys trying to throw 100 mph, this guy shows if you learn your craft and study hitters and yourself, you can be very successful throwing 90 mph.
"Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens and all the guys who throw hard are more sexy, but if you're a baseball purist, you love a Greg Maddux."
It has always been easy to spot the magic of Clemens. He could pop a mitt, and he could make a batter wince. He attacked lineups as if he had a vendetta against each and every hitter in the league.
Maddux's talents were always more subtle. His pitches moved in and out, up and down and, very rarely, down the middle. He could overpower on occasion, but he usually seemed more content to deceive.
"Early in his career his stuff was better than people give him credit for, " Padres manager Bud Black said. "I know standing in against him as a hitter in the early '90s, his fastball had velocity and had a lot of action.
"You wouldn't think a guy of his physical stature and easy delivery and great mechanics would possess great stuff, but what came out of that arm was always pretty good."
If you were paying close attention Tuesday night, you saw the beauty of Maddux's approach in a showdown with Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir.
Kazmir, who was 5 months old when Maddux signed his first pro contract, was pure electric. He hit the mid 90s with his fastball. He struck out the side in the first, and had rung up 11 by the time he left after six innings.
Maddux, meanwhile, was like a pitcher on cruise control. He expended far less energy, and still came up with slightly better results, leaving with a 4-3 lead.
It was like the old joke with the two bulls sitting up on a hill and watching a valley of cows below them. The young bull says they should run down the hill and woo one of the cows. The old bull suggests they walk down and woo them all.
Maddux has been the metronome of pitchers. No 15-strikeout games. No 25-win seasons. Not a single no-hitter in his 686 starts.
Just daily excellence for 22 years.
Simple, elegant excellence.
"It's fun to be able to go out there right after him, " Kazmir said. "You look up to someone like that. I think I might get his autograph tomorrow. It's just fun to be able to face superstars like that."
It has been 12 years since Maddux won a Cy Young Award, and 14 years since he had a 20-win season. He hasn't pitched in a World Series since 1999.
Yet he continues to win, and he does it without drama or fanfare.
When he reached 15 wins last season, it was the 18th time in his career. The only other pitcher to do that was Cy Young himself.
Of pitchers whose careers began after 1900, only five have won more games. That means Maddux has walked off the mound with more success than a Bob Feller or a Bob Gibson. More than a Tom Seaver or a Sandy Koufax.
Had the San Diego bullpen not blown the save Tuesday night, Maddux would have had his 339th victory. Do you have any idea how rare that is?
If you are 40 years old, you would have seen it only once before in your lifetime. If you are 75, you would have seen it only twice before.