Would you have the courage to put a blindfold on and then try to catch fastballs from a major league pitcher? Neither would I. But that is exactly what Greg Maddux did one Spring Training. He had such pin-point control that he convinced a catcher to put on a blindfold and then hold out his mitt. Maddux hit the target every time!
Maddux is among six people who will be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame Sunday at Cooperstown, NY. It is one of the biggest classes to enter the Hall at the same time. Maddux will be joined by former teammate and pitcher, Tom Glavine, and power hitter Frank Thomas, along with three of the best baseball managers of all time: Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre.
Hall of Famer and former player Joe Morgan was once quoted as saying, “Greg Maddux could throw a ball through a Life Saver, if you asked him” (Bloomsbury Publishing and Baseball Almanac). In his 23 years of pitching, Maddux walked just 999 batters–that is an average of just 43 walks a season. To put that into perspective, in 2013, only seven pitchers in all of major league baseball with at least 30 starts walked 43 or fewer batters.
Maddux spent most of his career with two teams: the Chicago Cubs (10 years) and Atlanta Braves (11 years). When he walked off the field for the final time, in 2008, his career statistics were staggering. He won 355 games (8th best in MLB history) is 13th overall in innings pitched (5,008), and 10th overall in strikeouts with 3,371. Probably the statistic that Maddux would be the most proud of was his 18 Gold Gloves for best fielding pitcher (including 13 years in a row!). He won a World Series ring with the Braves in 1995 and was named winner of the Cy Young Award (best pitcher in the league) four times (source: MLB.com and Baseball Almanac). Since Maddux had almost equal tenure with the Cubs and Braves, he decided that his bust that will rest in the Hall with feature a cap with no logo!
Glavine had a 22-year career in the majors, 17 of them with the Atlanta Braves. He recorded 305 wins and logged in 4,413 innings or work, striking out 2,607 batters (MLB.com). Glavine was on the Braves for that 1995 World Series win; in fact, he was named World Series MVP. He won two Cy Young awards and was named to the All Star team nine times. Not bad for a guy who was also drafted by the Los Angeles Kings and could have been a pretty good professional hockey player!
Frank Thomas was another guy who could have probably played another sport. At 6-5 and 275 pounds, Thomas (nicknamed “The Big Hurt” for the way he would “hurt” baseballs) looked like he could have played tight end in the NFL. He chose baseball, however, and was pretty successful. Thomas played 19 seasons in the majors, 17 of them with the Chicago White Sox. He had a lifetime .301 batting average and slugged 521 home runs putting him in a tie for 18th on the all-time list. Thomas won four Silver Slugger Awards (best hitter at his position), and was named MVP twice in his career. In 2005, the White Sox won their first World Series championship in 88 years (MLB.com) but Thomas was not on the playoff roster because he was injured; still, the team did give him a World Series ring. One of the most interest facts about Thomas is that he was never traded during his career (Baseball Almanac), although he did play for Oakland and Toronto in his final couple of seasons.
Joining these three players on the podium Sunday are three managers who are ranked 3rd, 4th, and 5th on the all-time list of winningest managers: Tony La Russa (33 years, 2,691 wins), Bobby Cox (29 years, 2,504 wins) and Joe Torre (29 years, 2,326 wins). The trio trail only the legendary Connie Mack (3,731 wins) and John McGraw (2,763 wins) (Baseball Reference). All three have combined for several league pennants and eight World Series championships.
Torre has the most World Series rings (four) and is the epitome of someone who persisted…he was fired from his first three jobs before he finally became a success with the New York Yankees. In fact, he was out of baseball from 1985 through 1989 before getting a chance with the St. Louis Cardinals. Failing there, as well, he signed on a manager of the Yankees and was a rousing success: six pennants, four World Series titles (including three in a row!) and two Manager-of-the-Year awards. Torre left the Yankees after the 2007 season and headed West to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers for three seasons.
Torre was a pretty good players, too. He played for 18 seasons for the Braves, Cardinals and Mets (three of the teams that he also managed!) and was named National League MVP in 1971 after leading the league in hitting with a .363 batting average. Torre hit .300 or better five times in his career, mostly as a catcher, third baseman and first baseman. He is currently working in the Commissioner’s office as Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations.
Bobby Cox has the dubious distinction of being the manager who had been ejected the most times in his career. He was tossed 161 times, 43 more times than the number two manager (the aforementioned John McGraw)! His success, however, far out-weighs his ejections. Cox won five pennants, one World Series title and was named Manager-of-the-Year four times. If a successful manager has to have been a successful player (like Torre), don’t look at Cox’s stats as a player…in fact, he appeared in only 220 major league games as a player!.
The same held true for Tony LaRussa. He played in only 132 major league games and had a lifetime batting average of .199 (one point below the “Mendoza Line”). LaRussa, however, had a brilliant 33-year career as a manager for the Chicago White Sox and the Oakland Athletics in the American League and with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League. LaRussa is one of only two managers in history to win a World Series title in both leagues…the other being Sparky Anderson (Answers.com). In all, LaRussa won three World Series titles and six pennants. He is currently the Chief Baseball Officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
All in all, the six newest members of baseball’s Hall of Fame have a long list of accomplishments and are deserving of their honor. Any manager is going to be hard-pressed to crack the top five in wins, and many baseball pundits seem to believe that there will never be another 300-game winner in the major leagues.