Let me just get this out of the way up front. I hate the Braves probably more than any other team in professional sports. If I were as big a football fan as I am a baseball fan, I might hate the Cowboys more, but I am a baseball fan at heart, so I the Braves have this title.
And I especially hate the 1990s Braves. Bobby Cox, the wife-beater. John Smoltz, the bigoted loud-mouthed homophobe. John Rocker, the deranged xenophobe. And the king of them all - Chipper Jones, with so many awesome things to choose from. And the list goes on and on. The Braves are the worst of the worst and the 1990s Braves were the worst of the worst of the worst.
But there was one thing that I didn't only not hate about the 1990s Braves but actually loved (in the baseball sense of the word) - Greg Maddux. And this week Greg Maddux should be the first member of the Hall of Fame to get in unanimously.
As much as I love baseball, I hate the superstitious tradition of the game and the forced genuflecting to history that many demand. So it should come as no surprise that I couldn't care less that Babe Ruth didn't get into the Hall of Fame unanimously, nor do I think because of that no one else should. There are lots of baseball players for whom there is no argument whatsoever against their being a member of the Hall of Fame.
For instance, our own Mike Schmidt, who received only 96.5% of the vote, with 16 voters voting against him. Those 16 are block-headed idiots, as there is not a single argument anyone can come up with against Schmidt.
Just like there isn't a single argument anyone can come up with against Greg Maddux. He was the best pitcher I have ever seen pitch. And that includes Steve Carlton, Roy Halladay, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Pedro Martinez.
The stats are mind-blowing. In an era of insane offensive production, Maddux had miniscule ERAs. From 1992 to 2002, his peak 11 years, his ERA was 2.47, good for an ERA+ of 171. 2.47 would be incredible in the modern era, when offense is down. It's unthinkable during the height of the steroids era.
During that time, he issued 336 unintentional walks, compared to 1903 strikeouts. He allowed just over 1 baserunner per inning (1.04 WHIP). He had 69 complete games and 25 shutouts.
On his career, he had 113.9 fWAR and never missed a start.
These things just don't make sense today. Nor, for that matter, did they make sense when he pitched.
The thing is, what made Maddux so special wasn't just his numbers. Watching him pitch was simply fun, even though he was on the other team, the hated other team. It was like watching no one else. He didn't overpower batters, as he had an average fastball. He wasn't huge. He didn't have an amazing curveball or the best changeup. Rather, he knew the combination of where and how to throw the ball better than anyone else. He could cut his ball in any direction and place it exactly where he wanted. And he knew just where that was so that the batter couldn't make contact or could, but weakly.
Watching a Maddux game was watching a work of art unfold before your eyes. He toyed with batters. He confused them. He looked like a nerd on the mound but made mincemeat of the toughest hitters in the game.
One of my favorite memories of Maddux was a game at Yankee Stadium that epitomizes what I think of when I think of him. It was July 2, 1997. The Yankees were third in the majors that year in runs scored and had a team OPS of .798. It was an interleague game in an AL park, so Maddux had to face the Yankees' DH. I honestly can't remember whether I was at the game or if I watched it on TV and my close friend was at the game (and told me details of being there afterwards), but either way, I have very clear memories of just how incredible Maddux was that day.
He made the game of baseball look like a child's game against one of the best teams. In just 2 hours 9 minutes, he shutout the Yankees on 3 hits (all singles). What was so amazing was that he threw only 84 pitches in that complete game shutout. 84 pitches in 9 full innings against one of the best lineups in baseball. He was magical. Weak contact, no contact, balls moving every which way, strikes just where he wanted them, hitters watching pitches go by because they didn't know what to do with them. It's hard to find a game better pitched in the history of baseball than that one, even if it wasn't a no-hitter or perfect game. 84 pitches.
That game was the essence of Greg Maddux the pitcher. But there was also Greg Maddux the fielder (18 Gold Gloves) and Greg Maddux the better-than-most-pitchers hitter (career .395 OPS). As well as Greg Maddux the actor/comedian.
He was, simply, the best. And when the Hall of Fame inductees are announced Wednesday at noon, he should lead the list without a single vote withheld. There's no argument otherwise.
Even if he was a Brave.