When it comes to pitching as an art form — one built around planning and precision, rather than pure power — Greg Maddux is baseball’s preeminent ace. He left a long line of batters perplexed on his path to the Hall of Fame.
A franchise icon for both the Cubs and Braves, Maddux finished his career with four Cy Young Awards, four ERA titles, eight All-Star appearances, 18 Gold Glove Awards and 18 seasons with at least 200 innings logged. In the process, he became the only pitcher in AL/NL history to collect at least 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts with fewer than 1,000 walks issued.
Over 23 seasons in the Majors spent with the Cubs, Braves, Dodgers and Padres, Maddux amassed a long list of milestones and historic moments en route to his Hall of Fame election in 2014. Here are 10 that helped define his career:
1. The first Cy Young season
Maddux had established himself as a solid starter with a promising future prior to the 1992 campaign. Across the ’88-91 seasons, he went 67-46 with a 3.24 ERA, won two Gold Gloves, made one All-Star team and had one top-three finish in Cy Young voting. Then, the right-hander took things to another level.
During the summer of ’92, Maddux won 20 games with nine complete games and four shutouts in his 35 starts. He turned in a 2.18 ERA in an MLB-leading 268 innings, ending with 199 strikeouts against 70 walks with 9.1 WAR (via Baseball Reference). That earned him 20 first-place votes for the National League Cy Young Award.
2. Opening Day vs. Cubs in ’93
In the wake of Maddux’s first Cy Young season, he had a messy, contract-related exit from Chicago. The offer Maddux received as a free agent from the Cubs made it easy for a team like the Braves to swoop in and sign the future legend as he hit his prime years. And, as fate would have it, it was Cubs vs. Braves on Opening Day at Wrigley Field in 1993.
Atlanta scored one run in the first inning, and that was that. Maddux cruised in his new uniform for 8 1/3 shutout frames. The righty stayed on the hill for an uncharacteristic 125 pitches, but the Braves held on for a 1-0 victory. That win was the first of 20 for Maddux in ’93, when he won his second NL Cy Young Award in a row.
3. Finding yet another gear in ’94
It would be hard to fathom Maddux topping his performance across 1992-93, but this is when the righty found his Hall of Fame form. During the abbreviated ’94 tour, all he did was log a pristine 1.56 ERA in 202 innings. Maddux had 156 strikeouts against 31 walks, won 16 games and had 10 complete games out of 25 starts. The righty posted a 271 ERA+, meaning he was 171 percent better than MLB average.
Maddux won the Cy Young Award again in ’94 and picked up his fourth straight trophy in ’95. Combined, the right-hander went 35-8 with a 1.60 ERA with 20 complete games in 53 starts over those two seasons. He had 337 strikeouts versus just 54 walks in 411 2/3 innings in that two-year span.
4. Game 1 of ’95 World Series
Maddux was a part of one of baseball’s all-time great rotations during his years with Atlanta, but the group needed a World Series ring to elevate their place in history. That arrived in 1995, when Maddux got things started with a brilliant Game 1 outing against Cleveland. Maddux spun a two-hit complete game on 95 pitches, guiding the Braves to a 3-2 win to begin the Series. In five career World Series outings, Maddux turned in a 2.09 ERA.
5. A 77-pitch masterpiece
Maddux is famous for his efficiency and command, and that was on full display on July 22, 1997. Once again, the pitcher toyed with his former ballclub. Facing the Cubs, Maddux went nine frames, including seven with fewer than 10 pitches. He threw 63 strikes, issued zero walks and ended with six strikeouts in a 4-1 win. These days, a shutout completed in fewer than 100 pitches has become known as a Maddux. For his career, Maddux went 12-4 with a 2.65 ERA, 117 strikeouts and 18 walks in 169 2/3 innings (24 starts) against the Cubs.
There are plenty of pitching gems in Maddux’s career — his 14-strikeout shutout of the Brewers on May 2, 2001, comes to mind — but the storyline at Yankee Stadium on July 2, 1997, made this start especially memorable. In the ’96 World Series, Maddux took the loss in Game 6, watching the Yankees clinch baseball’s crown. In his return to the Bronx the following July, Maddux turned in an 84-pitch, three-hit shutout with eight strikeouts and zero walks. A ring would have topped the revenge, but it was nonetheless a masterful performance.
The Cubs brought Maddux back for the 2004 campaign, trying to mend some past fences. While the ace put himself on the Hall of Fame trajectory with Atlanta, he reached some important milestones back in Cubbie blue. On Aug. 7, 2004, Maddux pitched well enough to pick up the win in an 8-4 victory over the Giants. That gave him an even 300 wins in his career, making him one of 24 pitchers in history to achieve that mark.
8. Reaching 3,000 strikeouts
On July 26, 2005, Maddux caught Omar Vizquel looking in the third inning against San Francisco at Wrigley Field. With that, the pitcher had notched his 3,000th career strikeout. Maddux is one of only 10 pitchers in history to have at least 300 wins and 3,000 punchouts in a career. Maddux struck out 1,305 batters with the Cubs (sixth on the club’s all-time list) and 1,828 with the Braves (fifth on their all-time chart).
While pitching for the Padres, Maddux requested one final start before the end of the 2008 season. In a 2-1 win over the Giants, the righty allowed just one run over six innings. Fittingly, in his 740th and final career start, Maddux did not issue a walk. He picked up win No. 355, moving him past Roger Clemens for eighth on the all-time list.
Maddux’s career started unconventionally: a relief appearance in the 18th inning against Houston on Sept. 2, 1986. He gave a glimpse of what was to come five days later, when he tossed a complete game in a win over the Reds. Then on Sept. 29, Maddux started opposite his brother, Mike Maddux, in an 8-3 win over the Phillies. The Cubs’ Maddux won the brotherly duel, working 7 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts, no walks and three runs yielded in a quality start.