Greg Maddux, 42, retired today with 355 career wins, eighth on the all-time list and more than any other living pitcher. “Mad Dog” was most dominant during the 1990s, when he ranked first in the major leagues in wins, ERA, complete games and innings pitched. He won four straight Cy Young Awards from 1992-1995, during which time he was the best pitcher in baseball. He was still pretty darn good in 1997 when he won 19 games while walking only 20 batters. The 8-time All-Star also won a MLB-record 18 Gold Gloves during his 23-year career, proving Maddux was not only a great pitcher, but a great fielder as well.
The only real blemish on the future Hall-of-Famer’s record is his performance in the postseason, when he went 11-14. Otherwise, he arguably is the greatest pitcher of his generation, which includes fireballer and suspected steroids user Roger Clemens, who finished his career with one less win than Maddux. Of course, Maddux would have put more distance between himself and Clemens on the all-time wins list if he didn’t pitch for such an abysmal Padres team late in his career.
As far as I’m concerned, Maddux is the best pitcher of his generation. Clemens had more strikeouts, but Maddux still struck out 3,371 batters despite being a finesse pitcher who relied on guile and pinpoint accuracy while usually throwing in the mid-80s. Maddux also is a class act, always displaying humility when asked about his achievements. The same can’t be said about Clemens, who is pompous and self-promoting (and probably used performance-enhancing drugs). Maddux didn’t go on a single farewell tour of the major leagues, whereas Clemens embarked on several and made sure you knew it. The National Baseball Hall of Fame supposedly considers character as part of the complete package to be considered by voters; when it comes to character, Maddux has boatloads more than Clemens ever did.
Perhaps I am biased in Maddux’s favor because I am a Cubs fan. Regardless, I hope to make a return trip to Cooperstown five years from now when Maddux gets inducted into the Hall of Fame. (I attended Ryne Sandberg’s HOF induction ceremony, and that was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.) It’s just too bad Maddux and former teammates Tom Glavine and John Smoltz aren’t all retiring at the same time so they can be inducted into the Hall of Fame together. Those three pitchers were so important to the Atlanta Braves’ run of 14 consecutive division titles, they deserve to share the Hall of Fame stage as inductees.