The career of Greg Maddux can be defined by two words: control and consistency. No pitcher exhibited greater control of the strike zone, as the Hall of Famer painted the corners of home plate with his impressive arsenal of seven pitches. The result was a Major League record 17 straight seasons with 15 or more wins, and four consecutive Cy Young awards from 1992-95.
Another key to Maddux’s success was his ability to change speeds on his pitches. In an era when high-velocity pitchers were becoming the norm, Maddux was able to dominant hitters despite a fastball that topped out in the high-80s.
After struggling in his first full season as a starter with the Chicago Cubs in 1987, Maddux went 18-8 with a 3.18 ERA and made his first All-Star appearance in 1988. The next season, the young righty went 19-12 with a 2.95 ERA while leading the Cubs to a division title.
Following solid seasons in 1990 and 1991, Maddux was elevated to elite status in 1992, winning his first National League Cy Young award. He led the NL with 20 wins and 268 innings pitched, while posting a 2.18 ERA, 1.011 WHIP, nine complete games and four shutouts. Maddux also won his third consecutive Gold Glove award for his outstanding work in the field.
In 1993, the Cubs ace left the “Windy City” to sign a free-agent contract with the Atlanta Braves. It was in Atlanta where Maddux took his career to another stratosphere. He won 20 games again in 1993, and led the NL with a 2.36 ERA and 1.049 WHIP en route to his second straight NL Cy Young award.
A labor strike interrupted the 1994 and 1995 seasons, causing a combined 65 missed games and a canceled postseason in 1994, but Maddux was unaffected. “The Professor” had arguably the two best years of his career, leading the NL with 16 wins, a 1.56 ERA and 0.896 WHIP in 1994, and 19 wins, a 1.63 ERA and 0.811 WHIP in 1995. He also became the first player to win four straight Cy Young awards.
The 1995 season also brought Maddux his first World Series appearance. Atlanta won the NL East in his first season in 1993, but this was Maddux’s first time on baseball’s biggest stage. After going 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA against the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Championship Series, he went 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in leading the Braves past the Cleveland Indians to win their first World Series title in Atlanta.
The Braves won their second straight NL pennant in 1996, but lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series. Maddux was effective once again, but a lack of run support doomed the Braves ace.
Maddux continued his dominance of National League hitters over the next several seasons, including going 19-4 with a 2.20 ERA and 0.946 WHIP in 1997, and 18-9 with an NL-leading 2.22 ERA and 0.980 WHIP in 1998.
After two early playoff exits in 1997-98, Atlanta was back in the World Series in 1999. Unfortunately, the Braves fell again to the revitalized Yankees dynasty, as New York won its third championship in four years.
As was the case in previous seasons, Maddux was in top form in the postseason. In 13 playoff series from 1995-99, Maddux posted a 2.15 ERA and 1.079 WHIP over 138 innings. His 9-8 record during that span is certainly no indication of how well he pitched.
Maddux played four more seasons with the Braves, who won the NL East each year but fell short of the World Series. The future Hall of Famer continued to perform at a high level, winning at least 16 games all four years, and posting ERAs of 3.00, 3.05 and 2.62 from 2000-02. In 2002, he pitched 199 1/3 innings, snapping a streak of 14 straight seasons with at least 200, including the strike years of 1994-95. Maddux started another 200-inning streak in 2003, surpassing the total four more years from 2003-06, including 210 at the age of 40 in 2006.
In 2004, Maddux returned to the place where it all started, Chicago. While he was no longer the same pitcher who won a Cy Young award in his last season with the Cubs in 1992, he was still one of the game’s most reliable starters. After winning 16 games in 2004, he became the first pitcher in MLB history to win 15 or more games in 17 consecutive seasons.
Maddux also reached two major milestones in his second stint with the Cubs. On August 7, 2004, he won his 300th career game after beating the San Francisco Giants at SBC Park. Nearly one year later against the same Giants team on July 26, 2005, he struck out Omar Vizquel in Wrigley Field for his 3,000th strikeout.
In 2006, Maddux was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he returned to the postseason for the first time in three years. The now 40-year-old pitcher made one uncharacteristically poor start for the Dodgers in their NL Division Series loss to the New York Mets.
Following the season, Maddux signed a free-agent contract with the San Diego Padres, where he played in 2007 and part of 2008, before returning to the Dodgers in mid-2008. The 42-year-old had a 0.00 ERA and 1.250 WHIP in three relief appearances during the Dodgers’ playoff run before retiring after the season.
Maddux finished his career with a 355-227 record, a 3.16 ERA, a 1.143 WHIP and 3,371 strikeouts. He ranks eighth all time in wins and 10th in strikeouts. The 8-time All-Star also set a Major League record with 18 Gold Glove awards.
What is often overlooked about Maddux is his durability. In 23 Major League seasons, he spent only 15 days on the disabled list. His 740 career starts rank fourth all time, and his 5,008 1/3 innings pitched rank 13th.
“The Professor” was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2014.