Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Maddux moves on

ESPN has reported that after a quarter century, baseball legend Greg Maddux is calling it a career.

The Mad Dog retires with 355 wins - more than anybody who's pitched since the days when the Beatles were still performing live.  He was also a 4 consecutive Cy Young Award winner, an 18 time Gold Glove award winner, a 1 time World Champion, and a 2 time former Cub.

On top of his 355 career wins, Maddux also lost 227 times - a number that sounds like a lot, until you realize that his career winning percentage (.610) would translate into a 99 win season.  Maddux will also leave as having thrown the 13th highest total of career innings (5008.1), as #10 on the board for career strikeouts (3371), as 16th all-time in his strikeout-walk ratio (3.37), a life-time earner of minimally 150 million according to Baseball Reference, and as The One Who Got Away.

There were few sights more painful in the 90's than watching Greg Maddux face - and often beat - the Cubs while pitching for the Braves.  In fact, until the 1998 season, Maddux was practically unbeatable against the Cubs.  Over the span of his career, Mad Dog faced Chicago on 24 occasions, and in 169.2 innings of work he posted an ERA of 2.65, while striking out 117, walking 18, and going 12-4.

After the 2003 season, when the Cubs surprisingly came within 5 outs of reaching the World Series - including a game in which they faced and defeated him - Maddux surprisingly resigned with the team he started his career with, and it looked like the universe was finally correcting an inherent wrong.  It looked as though Maddux was going to retire a Cub.

Well, after basically becoming the staff ace in '04 by winning 16 games, Maddux was the victim of the clown-like management of Dusty Baker.  He went 13-15 in '05, Dusty implied heavily in the media that Maddux would probably retire, and he then came back, pitched 22 more games in the Chicago Circus, and was heartbreakingly traded to Los Angeles for Cezar Isturis.

It's very likely that the face of Chicago sports would've been a little different had Larry Himes not dropped the ball by letting Maddux go after the '92 season.  The Cubs would've been a little bit better, although it seems unlikely that they would've been good enough to become a pennant-chasing team.  Even the best pitcher of the decade wouldn't have been enough, but perhaps '93 and '95 could have been playoff years in different circumstances.  Maybe Sandberg wouldn't have retired.  The Cubs probably wouldn't have ended up with the draft spot that netted them Kerry Wood.  '98 may have been a very different year.  The results are really quite unpredictable, too many different dominos may have toppled, but what seems most likely is that Maddux would have retired with fewer than 355 wins and Cub fans everywhere would have hearts that were slightly less broken.

Pardon my flurry of words on the subject, but it's hard not to wonder what might have been.  And while Greg Maddux will never retire as a Cub, or wear the Big Red C on his hat when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame, he remains the only boyhood hero that I had the opportunity to cheer for after I'd grown into a man.*  I saw him pitch in Montreal in 2004, and I laid witness to the last homerun he ever hit in 2005.  He gave us memories with the heartbreak, and I can only hope that although he practically has enough money to buy a baseball team on his own, maybe someday his immense knowledge mixed with his competitive urges will spurn him to return to Chicago again, this time as a pitching coach with a Hall of Fame pedigree.

One can only hope.

(*I wanted to say the following, but decided to go for emotion rather than humor: "he remains the only boyhood hero that I had th eopportunity to cheer for after I'd grown into a dice-slinging, D&D playing, comic-book reading man.")

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