Reflecting on one of the former great pitchers in baseball

Unless you enjoy watching replays of great sporting events of years gone by or enjoy watching former and current NBA and WNBA stars play games of Horse via social distancing, you probably aren’t watching as much sports as you did before COVID-19. That may not be entirely a bad thing. Look at the time and money you’ve saved.

It’s probably more unfortunate that kids today are unable to participate in sports like track and field, golf, tennis, softball, and baseball than it is for the pro sports scene to come to a halt. For the kids, it’s not about the money. The only money involved is what it costs their parents to buy equipment. For the kids, it’s about an opportunity to play a sport they like and develop skills.

The baseball season should be well underway by now, but we’re still on hold. When you read the headline, what pitcher do you think I’m talking about? There are so many former great pitchers – Randy Johnson, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Curt Schilling, Jim Bunning, Catfish Hunter, Jim Palmer and more.

Here’s a hint. Name the best pitcher who didn’t throw particularly hard, but relied on ball movement, changing speeds and location. Does that help?

The pitcher I’m talking about pitched 23 seasons, won 355 games and four Cy Young Awards because his physical gifts were enormous, and his pitching aptitude was off the charts.

One time Astros manager Jimy Williams was hitting grounders during his team’s batting practice and said, “When you get a chance, look over in the dugout and tell me what you see.”

Sitting in the visitors’ dugout at Minute Maid Park was that night’s starting pitcher intently watching the Astros take batting practice.

This almost never happens. But this pitcher, looking for an edge, any edge, was focused on where the Astros were hitting the ball and checking out who was feeling comfortable at the plate and who wasn’t.

“There’s a reason he’s going to the Hall of Fame,” Williams said.

Another time, this pitcher’s manager came to the mound and suggested an intentional walk. His pitcher ticked off the next three pitches he would throw and then said: “And on the last one, I’m going to get him to pop up foul to third base.”

You can guess the rest.

Do you know who I’m talking about? If you guessed Greg Maddux, you are correct.

Fellow Hall of Famer and former teammate John Smoltz said there were four occasions one season when Maddux, sitting in the dugout, said: “This guy is about to hit a foul ball in here.” Three times, the hitter did just that.

Writing for MLB.com, Richard Justice says prior to his Hall of Fame induction, Maddux gave advice every young pitcher should memorize.

“In high school, Maddux said, “I learned that movement was more important than velocity, and I learned that location was more important than velocity, and I learned that the ability to change speeds was more important than velocity.

“You gotta have velocity to get drafted, but to get here you have to be able to locate your fastball and change speeds. If you can do that with movement, it’s more of a bonus.”

Smoltz said: “Believe me, everything he did was calculated. Calculated to a T. No one you’ll ever meet is more calculating, whether it’s golf or pitching or cards, whatever.”