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.John Smoltz (center) was the other member of the Braves’ Big Three starters, and will be eligible for the Hall of Fame next year. Here he’s flanked by Glavine (left) and Maddux in their heyday.
“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.”From left: Smoltz, Glavine, and bespectacle Maddux, who wore glasses when he pitched for much of his career before LASIK surgery.