1/8 “He was amazing”
Dick Pole sent a text message to Greg Maddux on Tuesday, trying to beat the rush of congratulatory messages. Maddux’s former pitching coach didn’t need the BBWAA to confirm what he already knew. Maddux is a Hall of Famer, and today, it was made official. Maddux was the leading vote getter, receiving 555 votes on 571 ballots.
Although Maddux won his first game as well as his 300th with the Cubs, and struck out his first batter and his 3,000th for Chicago, he will most likely go into the Hall wearing a Braves cap. A second-round pick in 1984, he pitched for the Cubs from 1986-1992, winning the first of four Cy Young awards in ’92 when he posted a 20-11 record, 2.18 ERA, and league-leading 268 innings.
He broke Cubs fans hearts when he left after the 1992 season via free agency, and signed with the Braves, where he pitched for 11 seasons, winning three more Cy Young trophies and 194 games. Whether or not the Cubs did enough to keep Maddux depends on who you talk to. Larry Himes, the general manager at that time, tried to make up for the loss by signing Jose Guzman, Greg Hibbard and Randy Myers. It wasn’t enough.
Maddux did return to the Cubs in 2004, and posted his 17th straight season with at least 15 wins, including No. 300 on Aug. 7 in San Francisco. He didn’t go onto the field to celebrate after the final out. Maddux, who had given up four runs over five innings in the 11-7 win, was in the clubhouse, watching.
Pole was Baker’s bench coach in ‘04 but their relationship began in the Minor Leagues. The two were together in 1986 at Triple-A Iowa when Maddux was 10-1 with a 3.02 ERA. The right-hander was called up that September and made his Major League debut on Sept. 3, 1986, as a pinch-runner in the 17th inning of a game which had been suspended the day before after 15 innings because of darkness. Wrigley Field didn’t have lights then.
Maddux stayed in to pitch the 18th, and served up a one-out home run to the Astros’ Billy Hatcher, and took the loss. He most likely shrugged it off. Four days later, Maddux picked up his first win on Sept. 7, throwing a complete game against the Reds at Riverfront Stadium.
When he first began pitching professionally, Maddux tried to throw as hard as he could. What made him change his approach?
“The hitters make it click with you,” he said. “When you start throwing it and they start whacking it, that’s what makes it click.”
That had been Pole’s message, and it sunk in during a winter ball stint. Cubs general manager Dallas Green wanted Maddux to work with Pole there, and sent the pitcher, coach and catcher Damon Berryhill to Venezuela. It worked.
“I knew he was going to be good when I saw him when he was young,” Pole said, “but I didn’t know how good he was going to be. If you want to find the definition of pitcher, it’s going to be Greg Maddux. It’s not stuff with him. It’s location, pitch selection, changing speeds.”
Pole remembered a day in June 2004 when Todd Walker got his 1,000th hit, and the ball was thrown into the dugout so Walker could have the souvenir. Maddux asked Pole why no one saved balls from low points in their careers.
That season, Pole found a ball in his locker, signed by Maddux, to signify the 300th home run the pitcher had served up. Pole also has Maddux’s autograph on a ball to commemorate the right-hander’s 200th loss.
The Cubs did celebrate Maddux at Wrigley Field on May 3, 2009, when the team retired No. 31 in honor of him and Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, who also wore the number. Now, the two are together in Cooperstown. Pole wasn’t sure if he’d attend the ceremony July 27.
“Knowing you were a part of [his success] is good enough,” Pole said.
Pole’s text message to Maddux was a simple congratulations. The response: “Thanks Coach Pole for all the tips.”
— Carrie Muskat