December 8, 2008
The Man Who Pitched Ground Balls
Greg Maddux is retiring, after 355 wins, four Cy Young awards for pitching, and 18 (!) Gold Glove awards for fielding. (Maddux has more wins than any living pitcher; does he have more Gold Gloves than any living player?)
The NYT story also links to this appreciation by sportswriter Joe Posnaski, who breaks down Maddux pitch-by-pitch in a 1997 Braves-Yankees game. I especially like his reading of Maddux’s fluttering “wiffleball” cut fastball; the way Maddux earned and got deferential treatment from umps; how three pitches strikes out Tino Martinez, who “was so baffled during this at-bat it was probably better to just send him back to the dugout where it was safe”; and how he managed to retire Mark Whiten:
When Maddux was going good, the only way anyone seemed likely to get a hit off him was if they could somehow fist his up-and-in fastball over an infielder’s head. That’s just what Mark Whiten did. i always loved Maddux’s face after a a batter blooped a hit off him; it’s the same face Tiger Woods has when a putt breaks a little too much … sort of this disgusted, ”You have GOT to be kidding me,“ look….
Maddux is, of course, one of the greatest fielding pitchers in baseball history — he has won 18 Gold Gloves. But even so, I’m not sure it is fully appreciated how much that has helped him succeed. It’s like he got two or three outs every game by doing something good defensively. In this case, he whirled and made the PERFECT throw to second base, right on the corner of the bag, that picked off Whiten. And just like that, without throwing a pitch, he eliminated what turned out to be the only run-scoring threat of the entire game.