Cubs Classics: Greg Maddux gets win No. 300
Win No. 300 would not be considered his best start or even one that Chicago Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux would find that acceptable.
However, Aug. 9, 2004 went down as one of the most memorable days in the Hall of Fame pitcher’s career.
“It’s pretty special,” Maddux told a group of us media people after the team’s 8-4 win against the San Francisco Giants. “When I am done playing, I’ll look back and I am sure I’ll pat myself on the back at some point. Right now, it’s about getting ready for my next start.”
Maddux became only the second pitcher in the franchise’s history to win his 300th game as a Cub (Grover Cleveland Alexander also accomplished the feat on Sept. 20, 1924).
The 38-year-old pitcher had returned to his roots and the Chicago Cubs organization on Feb. 17, 2004, after spending 11 years with the Atlanta Braves. Money (an offer of $25 million, take it or leave it) and respect issues with Tribune ownership of the team forced Maddux at age 26 to leave the Cubs as a free agent after the 1992 season. He received a five-year, $28 million deal from the Braves. The Yankees had offered $34 million, but golf is a passion for Maddux and the golf courses were much nicer in Georgia.
The Las Vegas, Nev. native won the Cy Young award in 1992, which coincided with his free-agent walk season, Maddux garnered three more Cy Youngs in succession and become the most dominant pitcher in the National League during the mid-1990s. The Braves won their Division every year Maddux pitched there and were victorious in the 1995 World Series, the first championship in Atlanta.
Returning to the Cubs was not only for sentimental purposes, as the Cubs had just missed a trip to the 2003 World Series after blowing 3-2 series advantage and leads in the final two games of the NLCS against the Marlins. Maddux signed a three-year, $24 million deal with GM Jim Hendry, the driving force behind the reunion between the pitcher and Tribune Company. Hendry saw Maddux as the linchpin to a young staff getting to the playoffs and the Cubs’ first World Series appearance in 60 years and the pitching legend agreed.
With a starting staff of Matt Clement, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Maddux, the Cubs looked like shoe-ins for a deep playoff run. A late-season meltdown found the team blowing a 1.5-game lead in the wild card by losing 7 of their last 9 games.
On that day in San Francisco, however, the command issue of one of the best control pitchers ever was off. Maddux issued 3 walks, struck out 3, and allowed 7 hits and 4 runs, during his 5+-inning, 82-pitch outing. Maddux won his 11th game that day with the help of five relievers. He left the contest in the 6th with a 6-3 lead and the bullpen held on for the victory.
On Aug. 16, then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich declared it “Greg Maddux Day” in tribute to the pitcher’s 300th victory.
“I just want to say it’s an honor and privilege to be here,” Maddux said in a pregame ceremony. “I guess that’s it.”
A typical response of the man who won 355 games, good for 8th all-time. He was a person of few words in public, but his pitching artistry spoke volumes.
Maddux was traded to the Dodgers in July of 2006. He had a complete no-trade clause in his contract at the time. The rumors began floating around that he would be asked to waive his no-trade exemption.
“If they ask me if I would accept a trade, I would have to say ‘yes,'” Maddux told me a week before the trade was consummated. “I would never want to stay where I wasn’t wanted.”
Maddux won 133 games as a Cub in his 10 years pitching at Clark and Addison. His No. 31 was retired on May 3, 2009 along with Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins, who wore the same number. The man who they called “Mad Dog” was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in January of 2014 with almost 98 percent of the vote.
Bruce Levine is a contributor to Marquee Sports Network and a baseball analyst for 670 The Score.