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Maddux was One of the Best

January 25, 2014

Hugh Atkins

Hugh Atkins

Greg Maddux is going into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer. He was a special talent, relying on pinpoint control and pitch selection to overpower opposing hitters rather than using an explosive fastball. Maddux pitched 23 seasons, mostly with the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs, with brief tours of duty with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. His career record is 355-227 (.610 winning percentage) with a 3.16 earned run average. Maddux has 18 seasons in which he won at least 15 games, including 17 seasons in a row from 1988–2004.

While Maddux’s plaque at Cooperstown will not feature the cap of any of the teams for which he played, there is no doubt that he achieved his greatest accomplishments during his years with the Braves. He won 194 games and lost but 88, which computes to an incredible winning percentage of .688. After winning his first National League Cy Young Award with the Cubs in 1992, Maddux reeled in three more in his first three seasons in Atlanta. He also was a big part of the Braves’ World Series Championship in 1995. Maddux teamed with Tom Glavine and John Smoltz to anchor one of the best pitching staffs in the history of baseball.

The 355 wins by Maddux are the most by a pitcher since Warren Spahn retired in 1965 with 363. But wins are not the only way to measure how dominant Maddux was over the course of his career. In the 10-season period from 1986-2005, which was the height of baseball’s steroid era, Maddux sported a 3.01 career ERA. The cumulative ERA of National League pitchers during that period was 4.10; that’s 1.09 runs higher than Maddux’s ERA over that same period.

In 1994 Maddux was 15-6 with an ERA of 1.56. The National League’s cumulative ERA that season was 4.22. That difference of

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

2.66 runs is the largest gap ever achieved by a starting pitcher. For some perspective, the biggest difference Walter Johnson ever had was 1.95 runs in 1912–and he had a career ERA of 2.17. In 1968 when Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals had an incredibly low ERA of 1.12, the National League’s cumulative mark was 2.99. That means Gibson had a difference of “only” 1.87 runs. Maddux had three other seasons in which his ERA was at least two runs lower than the league average. As if his 1994 season wasn’t spectacular enough, Maddux went 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA in 1995.

Maddux achieved success by being a master craftsman, counting on late movement on his pitches. In 2001 he pitched 72 1/3 consecutive innings without walking a batter, establishing a new National League record.

Maddux also was an excellent fielder; he won more Gold Glove Awards, 18, than any other player, including 13 in a row from 1990–2002.

It is difficult to think of another player in recent history more deserving of going into the Hall of Fame than Greg Maddux.

Did I Mention Warren Spahn?

Warren Spahn won more games than any other lefty in baseball history. He won 363 games in a career that began in 1942 and ended in 1965. Spahn won 356 games as a member of the Braves–122 for Boston and 234 for Milwaukee. His final year in baseball was split between the New York Mets, where he won four games, and the San Francisco Giants, where he won his final three. Spahn hung up his cleats at the age of 44 after 21 seasons in the big leagues.

Spahn attended his first spring training in 1942 and made it to the majors for four games at the end of the season. World War II and the Battle of the Bulge interrupted his career, preventing him from winning his first major league game until 1946 at the age of 25.

In 1947 Spahn won 21 games for the Boston Braves and led the National League with a 2.33 ERA. In 1948 the Braves won the pennant with only two reliable starting pitchers. Spahn “slumped” to 15 wins that year and right-hander Johnny Sain won 24 games. The following poem by Boston Post sports editor Gerald V. Hern described the Braves’ strategy for winning the pennant:

            First we’ll use Spahn, and then we’ll use Spain

            Then an off day, followed by rain.

            Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain,

            And followed, we hope, by two days of rain.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

Spahn won 20 or more games in five of the next seven seasons and then reeled off six consecutive 20-win seasons from 1956 through 1961, leading the National League in wins in each of the last five of those campaigns. In 1957, at the age of 36, Spahn helped lead the Braves to a World Series title and won his only Cy Young Award. In 1960 he won his 20th game by pitching his first career no-hitter.

In 1961, five days after his 40th birthday, Spahn pitched another no-hitter. In addition to leading the league in wins with 21, he also paced the circuit with a 3.02 ERA. Baseball awarded only one Cy Young Award at that time and Whitey Ford of the Yankees, who went 25-4 that year, won the prize.

Spahn won 18 games in 1962, and in 1963 at the age of 42, posted one of his finest seasons. He was 23-7 with a 2.60 ERA and led the league in complete games with 22. Age finally caught up with Spahn in 1964 when he fell to 6-13 with a 5.29 ERA. After his tours of duty with the Mets and Giants in 1965, he pitched in Mexico and the minor leagues until 1967. Spahn was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, his first year of eligibility.

Only four other pitchers in modern baseball history won more games than Warren Spahn. All the pitchers with more wins than Spahn were from the dead ball era and pitched in a time when many talented players weren’t allowed to play Major League Baseball.

For five seasons Sandy Koufax may have been the most dominant pitcher in baseball history. However, Spahn had more twenty-win seasons than Koufax had seasons. The sustained excellence of Warren Spahn makes him the better pitcher.

Warren Spahn remains one of the most popular Braves to ever play the game. And brave he was, having been awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his performance on the battlefields of World War II.

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