Many people have asked me what was the inspiration or driving force behind my choice to pursue a degree and profession in sports journalism?
It began with my love of writing. Journalism was my craft.
My career path’s journey veered toward sports with my passion for Braves baseball, which was due largely to one man… one man so superhuman, so awe-inspiring, so talented and gifted, that I knew his kind did not come around often.
That man was Greg Maddux. Pitching was his craft.
And tonight, before the Braves take on the division rival New York Mets at Turner Field, Maddux is being so rightfully and deservingly inducted into the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame. The team will also retire his jersey number 31.
I’m only 25 years old but today I feel my age.
This is because I remember so vividly the day, December 9, 1992, the Braves shocked the baseball world and announced that they had won the heated pursuit of the free agent reigning National League Cy Young Award Winner.
For the Braves, and former General Manager John Schuerholz, to give a free agent a five-year contract, the significance and magnitude of this signing would resonate for years to come.
Greg Maddux went on to win three more consecutive National League Cy Young Awards with the Braves, becoming the first of only two pitchers, Randy Johnson being the second, in history to ever win the coveted award four years in a row.
I knew I was witnessing history every time Mad Dog stepped on the mound.
One year in the particular is really engrained in my memory.
I was in Philadelphia during the 1995 season, watching Maddux’s pre-game bullpen session, as I always had every time I had seen him pitch live before.
But this time was different.
Maddux had an ungodly ERA and was trying to become one of the select pitchers in history to accomplish the feat of finishing a season with an ERA under the 2.00 mark. (He did, of course, finishing the ’05 season with a 1.63 ERA.)
This moment was significant to me because it was then that it officially clicked in my mind… I was in the presence of greatness.
A greatness that sports fans can only read about in the history books and wish they could have been able to personally witness.
Not only did I get to live in an era that produced arguably the greatest pitcher of our generation in Greg Maddux, but I was afforded the great honor and privilege to see him pitch first-hand every five days for the 11 years he donned an Atlanta Braves uniform.
That’s quite an embarrassment of riches. And, I knew it.
But, I never once took it for granted, which is not something I can say is true of my time as a Braves fan.
During the Braves unprecedented run of fourteen consecutive division titles, I honestly believed it would never end. As sure as the sun would be shining every morning, I was convinced there wouldn’t be an October that didn’t include the Atlanta Braves.
Call it wishful thinking; call it a confident swagger, but playoff baseball and the Braves, to me, were one in the same. Obviously, my thought process was absurd. Everything comes to an end in sports, even the most remarkable of streaks.
But the one thing I knew for certainty that would end was the Greg Maddux Era. That is why I tried to make it a point to never miss one start, one interview, or one chance to see him live and in person.
And, I didn’t.
It is because of Greg Maddux that I will always prefer a good pitcher’s duel to a slugfest.
It is because of Greg Maddux that I will forever respect finesse pitchers and have a deep appreciation for the art of control. He wasn’t flashy. His stuff wasn’t overpowering. But, he was as accurate as any pitcher to ever play the game.
It is because of Greg Maddux that I’ve become thirsty for an even greater knowledge of the game. They called him “The Professor” at times. Not just because of the glasses he would sport off the field but for the great intellect and insight he would provide on the game of baseball. He was more then a teacher and mentor, he was a true strategist, just a fountain of knowledge that one could only hope to begin to tap. Some called him the smartest pitcher they’ve ever seen. I’d have to agree.
It is because of Greg Maddux that my faith in iconic baseball figures is not completely shattered. Growing up in the “Steroid Era” and watching so many big names fall victim to the juice, I take even greater pride knowing that Maddux played the game the right way—cleanly, and with integrity and class. His numbers always spoke for themselves but with the likes of Roger Clemens, whose records are now tarnished with the all too familiar asterisk next to them, it elevates Maddux to an even greater level.
His legacy is now cemented in the history books.
While it was sad for me personally to watch Maddux leave the Braves and go on to win his 300th game in a Chicago Cubs uniform, before then finishing his career out west, I do feel his benchmark years were those spent in Atlanta.
Today’s induction in the Braves Hall of Fame is only the beginning.
The greatest culmination of his career comes later… when he is inducted into Cooperstown.
Greg Maddux, the 4-time Cy Young winner.
Greg Maddux, the 8-time All-Star.
Greg Maddux, the record 18-time Gold Glover.
Greg Maddux, the 300-game winner.
All of those accomplishments are remarkable but can’t compare to the ultimate: Greg Maddux, the World Champion.
That last feat, which came when he was a member of the Braves in 1995, is why I know Greg Maddux will go into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame as an Atlanta Brave.
That would be the final and only fitting ending to an illustrious career.
Greg Maddux was a master of his craft and if I can be half the journalist that he was pitcher, then my career path was indeed the chosen one.