I was fortunate enough to see Greg Maddux pitch in person over a dozen times. He is the only player I got to see play in person where I knew in my heart of hearts I was watching the best player of his generation. His ability to dominate a game wasn’t the same as Clemens or Pedro’s, but he dominated none the less. Strangely, it was the first time I saw him start a game somewhere other than Atlanta that provided the most memorable experience.
In early 1997, I moved from Columbus, Georgia to Chicago. I was working at a client in Waukegan and one Tuesday, my buddy Mark and I decided to skip work and drive down into the city to see the doubleheader between the Braves and the Cubs. It was only my second time seeing a game at Wrigley, and it was the first time I ever saw my Braves play outside of Georgia. Before moving to Chicago, I was attending at least seven or eight Braves games a year and was seriously keyed up to see my team play in person. Best of all, Greg Maddux was starting the first game.
At the end of the 1992 season, I was convinced that Greg Maddux was overrated. I believed beyond any shadow of a doubt that Tom Glavine has been screwed out of his second Cy Young award. When the Braves signed Maddux that Winter, I did some digging and discovered that Maddux was, in fact, the best pitcher in baseball in 1992. I became very excited for Opening Day 1993. After watching Maddux beat the Cubs 1-0 in his first start as a Brave, he was my favorite player and has been ever since.
Anyway, that Tuesday in the July of 1997 at Wrigley was something special. In Maddux’s worst inning, the fourth, he threw 12 pitches, 11 of them for strikes. The Cubbies scored the only run they would get on him that day with a single, a stolen base (where Maddux all but ignored the runner), and two ground outs. Over the nine innings of his complete game performance, he would allow just five scattered hits. Now, many pitchers have thrown no-hitters, one hitters, two hitters, etc. Maddux himself has 29 complete games where he gave up fewer than five hits. He has thrown 35 shutouts in his career. What made this one game so special?
That day Greg Maddux, over the course of nine innings, threw just 76 pitches. Of those pitches, 63 were strikes. I submit that the day Greg Maddux gave up five hits, and only struck out six hitters, in a complete game that wasn’t even a shutout, was one of the most masterful pitching performances ever seen. It’s certainly a memory I’ll never forget.