Cubs 101 - Pt 26 - Young Mr. Maddux
The great 1969 team was for most part a home-grown production, except for Fergie Jenkins. We mention this because there was not another influx of farm talent until the Dallas Green-era prospects arrived in the late 80's. Do the math, and there remains a gap of many years when nearly everyone the Cubs brought up from the minors either fizzled, bombed, or if they had any promise (Roger Metzger, Andre Thornton, Joe Carter) were traded before they had any serious impact on the game.
So most of us who were around in 1986 didn't think twice when a scrawny, babyfaced rook took the mound in the 18th inning in a September exercise in futility. He promptly lost the game. Five days later, in Cincinnatti, he was given a start, his teammates gave him 11 runs, and (this is something you'll never see today) he was allowed to stand out there, give up 11 hits and three walks, yet earn himself a complete game victory. Pitch counts were not taken yet, but he must have tossed an ungodly amount that day. Based on that "success", he was inserted in the rotation the rest of the year, where he was lit up for 12 earnies in 13 innings his next three starts, before bouncing back with a tidy 10-hit effort to win his last start.
The next year, even while backed by an Andre Dawson-led offensive attack that hit 240 homers, this new guy managed to lose 14 games while winning only six. A 5.61 ERA tends to net this kind of result. He did a little shuttling to and from the minors that year, but the fact is, they kept running him out there to get his brains kicked in. Was it out of sheer desperation because of a roster lacking in pitching quality? This is possible, because another Cubs rookie, Jamie Moyer, also posted an ERA over 5 that year, although he did manage to win more games than our guy, Greg Alan Maddux.
But having watched as much Cubs baseball as humanly possible that year, I believe they kept running the Mad Dog out there because he was battling. He was in a jam in nearly every inning, but he wouldn't give up, and a lot of times, he would make the key pitch and get the key out to escape damage. There were also a lot of times when he did not. 1987 was an experiment, and the mounds across America were the laboratories, for Dr. Maddux.
By 1988, the now 22-year-old Maddux finished his first half of baseball 15-3, and yes, he got an All-Star nod, the first of many. In total, he threw three shutouts, nine complete games, won 18 games and finished with an ERA under 3. In what should have been a valuable lesson learned for Cubs management, patience paid off, as Maddux completed the first of what would be seventeen (17) consecutive seasons with at least 15 wins. It even got better in the Division-winning year of 1989, as Mad Dog won 19 games and serious Cy Young consideration.
By the next year, reigning Staff Ace Rick Sutcliffe was breaking down due to shoulder injuries, and Maddux stepped up and took over the Ace role. For the next two years, the young hurler became the de facto pitching coach and ultimate teammate. Never injured, and a decent bat handler to boot, this was a franchise cornerstone, along with Ryne Sandberg. In the off-season after 1991, he was supposedly offered a five-year, $25 million extension, for 1992 would be his salary drive year. By this time, though, the Cubs were being "generally mismanaged" by one Larry Himes, and Maddux for his part was one of the first clients of the Anti-Christ, one Scott Boras. Boras was able to convince Maddux that Himes didn't respect him (possible) and that he would make more money by waiting until the next year (true, but that's what Boras is always about). So the offer was turned down.
So, amongst the whispers that Maddux may be pitching his last year in Chicago, he went out and won 20 games, posted a 2.21 ERA, threw 268 innings and had several other great games trashed by the Cubs bullpen (Ladies&Gentlemen, I bring you Bob Scanlan, Jim Bullinger, Chuck McElroy, Dave Smith and Ken Patterson)! He completed nine games, threw 4 shutouts, and led the league in 14 hit batters. Mad Dog owned the inside half, and he protected his own! He was the stud of studs! Of course he won the Cy Young (his first of 4 CONSECUTIVE), how in God's name, in a sport where pitching was everything, could you let the Cy Young Award winner walk?
As we well know now, in any proceeding that involves Larry Himes and Scott Boras, God has precious little to do with it.
Probably, though, Boras was not the bad guy here. His advice to his client was to field offers, and they came from the Braves and Yankees. Boras then asked Himes to match the Braves' offer (the lower of the two), and Himes declined. In retrospect, Himes was simply following his M.O. - getting rid of incumbents and bringing in his "own guys" - the same M.O. that got him fired from the White Sox two years prior. There are claims that Himes lost Maddux over $500k - not per year, but total - but that stems from the difference between a failed July 1992 extension conversation between Himes and Boras. Fact is, Himes did not really care about keeping Maddux, did not treat him with the respect befitting a 26-year-old Cy Young winner, and Mad Dog just wanted to be where he was wanted.
Anyway, the final result was that Maddux went to the Braves, Larry Himes brought in Jose Guzman for nearly the same amount of money it would have taken to simply KEEP Maddux, Maddux beat us 1-0 on Opening Day 2003, Guzman spent the majority of his time with us injured, and Maddux won three more Cy Youngs and 11 straight Division titles before coming back to us to form the infamous "Five Aces" of 2004. And, oh yeah, we'll discuss that shipwreck in good time.
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