|BASEBALL 2008: Mad Dog Maddux pitches on into 23rd big league season|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 20 March 2008 14:18|
On the opposite side of the room sits baseball's poster boy for health and longevity - Greg Maddux.
Even as he approaches his 42nd birthday and his 23rd big league season, Mad Dog is having too much fun to think about retirement.
``It's a great game,'' Maddux said while reclining in the prime corner locker in Peoria, Ariz., once occupied by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. ``It's a joy to play it. It's a privilege.''
Maddux doesn't have the same velocity he did in the 1990s, when he piled up four straight NL Cy Young Awards and a World Series championship. It can get dicey at times when he goes beyond five innings and/or 75 pitches. But he's still among the elite when it comes to locating his pitches and outsmarting batters, so the Padres brought him back at $10 million to be their No. 3 starter.
In going 14-11 with a 4.14 ERA last year, Maddux reached 13 wins for the 20th consecutive season, passing Cy Young for the major league record. He won his record 17th Gold Glove Award and had a streak of 59 2-3 innings without issuing a walk.
Even after playing for more than two decades, Maddux said he still sees something different every night.
``I still love pitching, I love hitting, I love running the bases. It's still fun,'' said Maddux, who turns 42 on April 14 and has 347 career wins, ninth on the all-time list.
He continues to be a physical marvel, especially compared to Mark Prior (shoulder), Randy Wolf (shoulder), Shawn Estes (elbow) and other postoperative pitchers the Padres are taking a chance on.
``The way his shoulder works, he was born to throw,'' said manager Bud Black, who pitched in the major leagues for 15 seasons.
``He's got an effortless delivery,'' said general manager Kevin Towers, who blew out his elbow in Triple-A and never made it to the bigs. ``He doesn't exert a lot of energy. That's what keeps him healthy. Mechanically, he's as sound as you're going to find. He doesn't put a lot of stress on his arm.''
Catcher Michael Barrett was reunited with Maddux last year when he was traded from the Chicago Cubs to the Padres.
``He's relentless in how he prepares,'' Barrett said. ``When you think of Greg Maddux you think of pinpoint control, you think of just a guy who's really intelligent on the mound. I guess where I'd give him credit where credit is due is that he works extremely hard and does it where most people don't even see it. Just a guy who stays really consistent and Steady Eddie in terms of his work ethic.''
Remarkably, Maddux has been on the disabled list only once in his career, when an inflamed nerve in his lower back briefly sidelined him early in the 2002 season while with Atlanta.
Maddux said there's more to it than just staying in good shape.
``I think maybe it helps, too, when you kind of know when to back off a little bit,'' he said. ``I think the more you play the more you learn when to back off, maybe when you can push it a little bit more. That might have something to do with it.''
Maddux can be an example to big leaguers as well as Little Leaguers.
``With the wealth of knowledge he brings to the table, it's pretty special having a guy like him as a teammate,'' said Padres ace Jake Peavy, the unanimous winner of last year's NL Cy Young Award. ``You sit around listening to him and watch him dissect from a managerial standpoint, the guy can manage in the big leagues right now. He's got it together.''
The Padres have also discovered that Maddux's professorial look masks an off-the-wall sense of humor. His jokes and pranks even impressed renowned party animal David Wells when he pitched for the Padres last year.
``He keeps things loose,'' Peavy said. ``He's just a fun guy to be around, one of those guys you've got to have in the clubhouse. He's got a unique sense of humor. He's just a big kid at heart.''
Towers described Maddux's sense of humor as ``very dry. He can make you laugh just with his facial expressions. He doesn't have to say a lot.''
Towers has also seen Mad Dog excel at other pursuits.
An avid golfer, Maddux is ``very competitive,'' Towers said. ``Played cards with him. He's good. Saw him bowl the other day. Good. I don't think there's much that he can't do well. He said he hadn't picked up a bowling ball in three years and he rolled off a couple of strikes in a row.
``Plus, he's very, very smart,'' Towers said. ``He's one of those guys, you play cards with him and he already knows what your hand is. I wouldn't be surprised if he counts cards. He shuffles with one hand. Those guys are always dangerous.''
For what it's worth Maddux lives in Las Vegas in the offseason.
Maybe this will be Maddux's last season. Maybe it won't be. Regardless, the Padres are glad he's still around.
``He just simplifies the game,'' Towers said. ``He keeps it pretty basic. He's very well prepared.''
Maybe one reason Maddux keeps coming back is because pitchers can play a lot of golf during spring training. He shows up early, does his work and then heads for a course. When spring games start and he's not pitching, he's no doubt got a tee time somewhere.
``I can promise you this, if he does retire, he'll be back for spring training. Special instructor. He can play golf,'' Peavy said.
``I think they make those instructors stay for the games, don't they?'' Maddux said with a look of mock concern.