Posted: 6:14 pm Tuesday, January 7th, 2014
By David O'Brien
Neither of the two were physically imposing off the mound or overpowering on it. And so, the mild-mannered Braves pitching duo of unassuming Greg Maddux and eloquent Tom Glavine didn’t project nastiness that made first-ballot Hall of Famers like Nolan Ryan or Bob Gibson so revered.
But those who played alongside Maddux and Glavine in Atlanta saw sides of their personalities not often revealed publicly. Toughness and intensity to go with all that keen intellect. Traits that helped make each a multiple Cy Young Award winner and will surely make each a first-ballot inductee at Cooperstown when the next Hall of Fame class is announced Wednesday at 2 p.m.
Maddux and Glavine are expected to head up a heavily Braves-flavored Cooperstown class that could have three or four elected players – Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio are also considered strong candidates – to go with the three retired managers who were already selected including Bobby Cox, the skipper in Atlanta for 25 years including the 1993-2002 period when Maddux and Glavine combined for 347 wins.
Maddux got 194 of his 355 career wins and three of four consecutive Cy Young Awards during 11 seasons with the Braves after coming over from the Cubs. Widely regarded as one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history, “Mad Dog” could seriously threaten the record for highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes — Tom Seaver’s 98.84 percent in 1992.
“You’ve got to be an idiot not to have (Maddux) as a unanimous pick,” said Leo Mazzone, the former Braves pitching coach. “The greatest control of any pitcher I’ve ever seen. He put it on a gnat’s ass better than anybody I’ve ever seen.”
No one has ever been a unanimous pick by the Baseball Writers Association of America — an absurd fact. Not Babe Ruth (95.1 percent), not Willie Mays (94.7), not Hank Aaron (97.8), not Ted Williams (93.4), not anybody. And yes, as a BBWAA member, I find that embarrassing.
Ryan came closest to matching Seaver’s record percentage when Ryan was named on 491 of 497 ballots (98.79 percent) in 1999.
“Some dumbass will probably leave him off the ballot because no one else has been a unanimous pick,” said former Brave Chipper Jones, another who doesn’t mince words on these or most other matters, and for that we are appreciative. “But the guy, bottom line, dominated our era. Statistically, he was the best pitcher of the last whatever — 30, 40 years.”
Among 146 ballots that were made public by writers who posted or otherwise revealed them voluntarily before Monday, Maddux was named on every ballot, according to Baseball Think Factory, which has been scouring the wires and Internet and keeping track of the voting. Tom Glavine was second with an also-robust 97.3 percent of the votes, followed by Thomas (92.5) and Biggio (80.1), with Mike Piazza (71.2) the only other player who was named only more than 63 percent of the disclosed ballots.
But Chipper was right about someone probably leaving Maddux off the ballot, even though it obviously makes zero sense for anyone to do so. Since HOF ballots aren’t made public the way that the ballots are for the annual BBWAA awards – MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year – a writer can exclude a deserving player from the ballot and not worry about having to explain why he did so.
In addition to those 146 ballots that had Maddux’s name checked, there were probably about 400 other ballots submitted by the Dec. 31 deadline. Plenty of which came from older hard-line types, the kind not likely to share their ballots via social media or newspaper column or whatever, including many retired BBWAA writers who still vote.
It’s a good bet that at least a writer or three in that group felt compelled to leave Maddux off the ballot just because no one was a unanimous pick before.
“There’s no scenario imaginable where he wouldn’t be a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Glavine said of his friend and frequent golfing partner during that decade together. “You could argue he shouldn’t be a unanimous first-round decision, I guess, because there’s been a couple of other guys over the years who’ve been worthy (of being unanimous selections). Whether Greg breaks that tradition, so to speak, remains to be seen.”
John Schuerholz, current Braves president, was the team’s GM when he signed Maddux as a free agent.
“If someone ever asked me what was the best free agent signing you ever made, I would say Greg Maddux,” Schuerholz said. “I think TP (Terry Pendleton) also did a lot to enhance and advance and establish our organization as a bunch of winning players; I think he had as much influence on that as anybody in the early years. But Greg was the exceptional (free agent signee).”
As for Maddux being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Schuerholz said: “Anyone who was alive and awake and conscious and knew baseball and watched it, would recognize that this guy was one of the all-time best pitchers ever in the game, and maybe at or near the top of that list. Unanimity (in the voting), I don’t know about that. If I was given 10 votes, I’d vote for him 10 times. I wouldn’t spread the votes around. But I don’t have a vote.”
Regardless of how close to 100 percent that Maddux finishes, it seems pretty obvious that he and Glavine will both be above the 75-percent threshold for HOF induction in their first year on the ballot. And that should make for an historic weekend for the Braves and their fans who attend the July 27 induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Maddux and Glavine could be the first Hall of Famers who spent much or all of their careers on the same team elected by the BBWAA in the same year since the Yankees’ Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle in 1974. To top it off, the Braves pitching duo would go in alongside their beloved former manager.
When I talked with Maddux on the phone Monday night, he was typically modest and tried to deflect attention from his own imminent election.
“I’m very happy for Bobby,” he said. “I had the privilege of playing with him for 11 years. He certainly taught me an awful lot about the game and how to win and how to prepare, how to play 162 games. I learned oodles from him. And to be able to pitch beside Glavine and watch 35 of his games (annually) for 11 years was special.”
He added: “Bobby was the best at giving players’ credit when we won and taking blame when we lost. Very special manager. You put so much pressure on yourself in this game, and Bobby was very good at relieving that pressure off the field, and when it came time to play he made sure you were focused on the field.”
I figured I’d give it a shot by asking Maddux directly, what were the thing or things that he thought made him such a great pitcher? This was his answer:
“Having Rafael Furcal and Andruw Jones playing behind you, they covered up a lot of our mistakes. Bobby was excellent at always having good defenders behind his pitchers. If we kept it in the park it seemed like somebody caught it all the time. That was probably one of the biggest reasons.”
OK, I wasn’t going to get anywhere with that question. So I tried another route. I asked about his mind and memory, his famous ability to predict what hitters were going to do, and to use his intellect and intuitive reasoning to formulate what amounted to extensive scouting reports he carried in his head.
He thought for a couple of seconds and responded: “One of the luxuries we had from playing on TBS was, all of our games were televised. We kind of had an advantage. (Increased) video (use) kind of started with the Cubs and Braves, because all of our games were televised (on Superstations) and we had scouting reports on other teams, without having to really memorize or do anything like that.”
Again, so Maddux. That answer made little sense, but he wasn’t going to say anything to acknowledge that, yes, he was smarter than the rest of us.
He didn’t have to say it. Everyone else does.
He also had what was, by all accounts, a great sense of humor, but one so crude that we can’t share examples here. Trust us, those incidents would leave most of you laughing out loud and many of you aghast. Mad Dog was an extremely funny dude, and not the kind of humor befitting someone whose other nickname was The Professor.
“He’s got his own sense of humor — sometimes disgustingly humorous,” Chipper said, chuckling on the phone.
“The sense of humor — the greatest I’ve ever seen,” Mazzone said. “And it was a sick sense of humor, which we both have.”
Jones said, “I’ve often said he was one of the grossest human beings I’ve ever been around. But when it came to being a student of the game of baseball, there was nobody more astute than Greg. And it didn’t just have to do with pitching, either. I can’t tell you the number of times that he and I sat around talking about approaches to hitting.
“Early in my career I thought he was, I don’t know, being nice to me and tolerating what I had to say. But he was actually learning. So many times I’d see him on the plane talking to hitters, learning from them. Down the road I’d see what he was doing, talking about this guy who’s similar to this particular hitter on a different team. He’s just very astute.”
The uniqueness of Glavine and Maddux having a chance to go into the Hall of Fame together and alongside their former manager is not lost upon either.
“Even to be in that situation to begin with is unique enough,” Glavine said of potentially being inducted. “And to have the possibility of three of us going in together, that would be pretty special. And you’re not talking about three guys who were together just for a little while. We were together for a large stretch of our career.”
Cox was elected last month by the Veterans Committee with fellow former managers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, another ex-Brave who played and later managed the team.
“It would be unbelievably great,” to enter the HOF with Maddux and Glavine, Cox said last month. “When you talk about big-game pitchers, at the right time, when you’ve got Maddux or Glavine going you always thought you were going to win. You talk about competitors – Tommy Glavine did not go on the disabled list, I think, until his 19th or 20th year. And Maddux was the same.”
Maddux and Glavine share the major league record for consecutive seasons with at least 25 starts, with 20 apiece. Mazzone said always “going to the post” – making all of their scheduled starts — was a point of pride for both pitchers.
“Absolutely,” Maddux said. “I’d rather lose than not try to win. You don’t have to feel good to win, you just have to pitch better than the other guy. And that’s something we all believed in.”
With a 355-227 career record and 3.16 ERA, Maddux has the eighth-most wins in history and second-most by any pitcher after 1930, behind only former Brave Warren Spahn (361). Maddux set records with 18 Gold Gloves and 17 consecutive seasons of at least 15 wins.
He had a pain tolerance that belied his insurance-salesman-next-door appearance. Cox told a story of the right-hander once getting hit by a line drive in his last spring-training start.
“And he was our Opening Day pitcher,” Cox said. “He got hit on the big toe of his right foot, and I went into the clubhouse with him and when we finally got his shoe off, his toe was split wide open. And it had to be stitched. It was swollen.
“I said, Mad Dog, we’re not going to be able to (start you in the opener), we’re going to have to do something else. And he said, ‘Put me at the back of the rotation. We’ve got two days off between (the fourth and) fifth guy.’ He said, ‘Don’t disable me.’
“Then he threw a two-hit shutout for eight innings.”
Glavine was a 305-game winner who won two Cy Young Awards and finished in the top three four other times. The lefty had five 20-win seasons for the Braves between 1991 and 2000 and is one of only 14 pitchers with at least 300 wins and a .600 winning percentage (Maddux is also in that group).
“Glav had a fire in his belly that not many professional athletes have seen,” Jones said. “He kept it under wraps so well because he was so poised on the mound. But I’ve heard this guy erupt in the dugout or clubhouse as much as anyone.”
Maddux said, “He wanted to win more than the guy he was facing every night. I think that’s what drove him. He was never satisfied unless he won the game. That’s one of the reasons he was able win as much as he did. Determination, desire – and he was a pretty good pitcher, too.
“And he did have overpowering stuff, because he had movement that other pitchers didn’t have. Other pitchers threw harder, but none of them had what his ball did the last 10 feet. I learned that from hitting off Glavine in spring training.”
• HOF by-the-numbers: Of the 110 players elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA up until now, 44 were elected on the first ballot including 11 pitchers. Maddux, Glavine and Frank Thomas are all in their first year on the ballot, and could make this just the second time since the inaugural election that as many as three players went in on the first ballot. In 1999, George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount were elected in their first year of eligibility….
Only twice in the past 29 years have more than two players been elected, most recently in that three-man Class of 1999. More than three players have been elected only three times in 70 elections by the BBWAA, and not since the 1955 class that included Joe DiMaggio.
The only time more that four were elected by the writers was in their first year of voting in 1936, when five players were elected. You may have heard of them: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner and Christy Matthewson….
For the first time in 30 years there there likely be at least five living inductees in the Class of 2014, including Cox and the other two retired managers, La Russa and Torre. The last class in which there were more than four living inductees, regardless of how they were elected, was 1984 (Luis Aparicio, Don Drysdale, Rick Ferrell, Harmon Killebrew, Pee Wee Reese)….
Last year marked the eighth time there was an election in which no player was named on at least 75 percent of the submitted ballots. It could be quite some time before that happens again. Next year, first-time candidates on the ballot will include three former Cy Young Award winners — ex-Brave John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson — along with Gary Sheffield, who played for eight teams including the Braves, and Nomar Garciaparra.
• Let’s close this with an absolute beauty from The Band, which you can hear (and see) by clicking here. This is from the film The Last Waltz. Do it, Rick Danko.
“IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE” by The Band
It makes no difference where I turn
I can’t get over you and the flame still burns
It makes no difference, night or day
The shadow never seems to fade away
And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door
Now there’s no love
As true as the love
That dies untold
But the clouds never hung so low before
It makes no difference how far I go
Like a scar, the hurt will always show
And it makes no difference who I meet
They’re just a face in the crowd on a dead-end street
And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door
These old love letters
Well, I just can’t keep
Just like the gambler says:
“Read ‘em and weep”
And the dawn don’t rescue me no more
Without your love, I’m nothing at all
Like an empty hall, it’s a lonely fall
Since you’ve gone it’s a losing battle
Stampeding cattle, they rattle the walls
And the sun don’t shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door
Well, I love you so much
That it’s all I can do
Just to keep myself from telling you
That I never felt so alone before