Braves to retire Maddux's jersey Friday
One of game's all-time great hurlers to be immortalized
ATLANTA -- During the six years that have passed since Greg Maddux last threw a pitch for the Braves, his legend has continued to grow with tales about the great intellect that helped him become one of the greatest pitchers to ever grace the game of baseball.
"There wasn't a better student of the game," said Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton, who played with Maddux in Atlanta from 1993-94 and for a portion of the '96 season.
Pendleton will be among those who gather at Atlanta's Omni Hotel at the CNN Center on Friday afternoon to celebrate Maddux's induction into the Braves Hall of Fame. During a pregame ceremony scheduled at Turner Field a few hours later, the cerebral pitcher will be further immortalized when the Braves bestow the great honor of retiring his No. 31 jersey.
Both ceremonies will be aired live on Braves.com.
"It will be a big day," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "I'm really looking forward to it."
While Maddux pitched in Atlanta from 1993-2003, every fifth day had the makings to be a momentous one for the Braves. During that span, he notched three of his four consecutive National League Cy Young Awards and set career franchise records in both ERA (2.63) and winning percentage (.688).
"Especially with all of the things that have come about with the [performance-enhancing drug] scandal, he was the best pitcher of our era," John Smoltz said when Maddux ended his 355-win career with his retirement in December. "He exemplified everything that is right about pitching."
With Smoltz still pitching for the Red Sox and Tom Glavine still at least contemplating a return to the mound next year, Maddux finds himself as the first of Atlanta's greats from the 1990s to be bestowed with immortalized honors.
He'll join Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro and Dale Murphy as the only Braves players to have their number retired.
While making 363 starts for the Braves, Maddux went 194-88 with a 2.63 ERA and 61 complete games. During his 11-season span, he notched three more wins and completed 116 more innings (Glavine ranked second) than any other Major League pitcher. His ERA was just .03 points behind the leading mark of Pedro Martinez, who pitched 455 2/3 fewer innings during that time.
During the 89 starts he made within his first three seasons in Atlanta, Maddux went 55-18 with a 1.90 ERA.
"A lot of umpires would ask me, 'Did he ever throw a no-hitter? Did he ever do this?' Or just say, 'Wow, he's unbelievable,'" Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez said. "A lot of rookie umpires were just excited to be behind the plate when he was pitching."
Provided the distinctive honor of catching more games (121) for Maddux than anybody else, Perez quickly learned that the role of serving as his primary catcher wasn't limited to simply donning the catching gear once every five days.
Maddux's desire to constantly prepare and analyze opponents allowed career backups like Eddie Perez, Henry Blanco and Paul Bako to have the opportunity to serve as his primary catchers for an extended periods.
"I got to catch him for essentially two years -- not consecutive -- but over two years, I got to catch every start of his," said Bako, who played in Atlanta in 2000 and 2001. "And yeah, it was a blast. It was special."
Instead of having Javy Lopez's bat in the lineup while he was pitching, Maddux felt more comfortable throwing to a catcher who had spent the previous four days with him analyzing the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of an opponent.
"He wanted his catcher to be on the same page," Perez said. "To do that you had to be with him in the dugout with him, watching the hitters, watching the other guys throw and all of that stuff. He'd always want to know what I was thinking in certain situations.
"He'd ask me how I want to pitch a guy and then when I'd answer, he'd say, 'No, let's pitch him this way, because of this, this, this.' He'd ask questions about how we were going to pitch this guy if there's a guy on base or how we would pitch to him in the late innings."
Supporting Chipper Jones' claim that the analytical Maddux would enjoy debating whether the sky was truly blue, Perez added, "I always expected him to say something different than what I said. If I wanted to say something about some hitter, I always prepared for him to think the opposite."
Former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone has often talked about the day that Maddux provided him with his theory that any fly ball that remained in the air for more than seven seconds should be caught by an outfielder.
But that was just one of the many stories that provided a glimpse of the reality that Maddux's thought process was much different than most any other pitcher. Pendleton remembers a game in Cincinnati, during which he approached the mound after Maddux continued to throw sliders while Aaron Boone was keeping the at-bat alive with foul balls.
"I went to the mound and said, 'Doggie, you know you can get him out if you sink something down and in on him,'" Pendleton said. "He said, 'TP, yeah I know that, but I'm saving that for when I really need to get him out with some runners on.'
"He was always two or three pitches down the road," Pendleton said. "He was just different with the way that he went about his business. That was part of the reason he was so successful. The other reason was that he could throw a fastball wherever he wanted."
With the eighth-most wins in Major League history, Maddux will forever be remembered with all of the game's other great pitchers. But those who had the pleasure of playing behind him and benefiting from the great knowledge he could provide regarding the tendencies of an opposing pitcher will always recognize that his greatness also included his role as the ultimate teammate.
"He made the game easier for a lot of us," Pendleton said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.