When I swam the Atlantic in the mid-1980s, I knew absolutely diddly about American sports.  Basketball?  Buncha tall guys throwing the ball into a net thingy, like the “netball” which girls played back home.  Football?  Large men running into each other with little to show for it, and when not doing that, forward passes (illegal in the game of rugby) and matches which featured short bursts of action between long commercial breaks.  Baseball?  Sorta like “rounders” (another girly game).

Then I got invited to my first baseball game.  The Chicago Cubs were playing at Wrigley Field, against some other team (don’t remember which one), and the “starting” pitcher was a guy named Greg Maddux.

Remember, I knew diddly about the game of baseball:  how it’s played, the terminology, the strategy, and what constituted a “good” player.  When it came to that last, though, I learned that really quickly, because watching Maddux pitch was like watching a skilled surgeon performing a routine operation.  I’d never seen anything like it before, and I’m not sure I’ll ever see it again.  Only other players in different sports come to mind:  Shane Warne (cricket), Michael Jordan (duh) and Lionel Messi (soccer/football) ever came close — and in the case of Jordan, it opened up basketball for me, but only as long as he was playing.

Back to Maddux and that game.  I had a good seat behind home plate, and was blessed by having my boss — a serious baseball fan — sitting next to me, who could explain the game to me.  I didn’t need any tutoring when Maddux was on the mound, because greatness doesn’t need much explanation.  I didn’t know a curve ball from a slider from a two-seam fastball;  all I saw was batters swinging the bats like little kids, and seldom hitting any pitch Maddux threw.  As I recall, he pitched seven innings, allowed zero runs and only had a couple of on-base hits scored on him.  Cubs win.  Cubs win.  Cubs win.

Of course, at that time the Cubs as a team sucked bigly because the loathsome Tribune Corporation (the owners) didn’t need the team to win, only to make a decent game of it.  They didn’t spend money on great players because the fans loved the guys they did have — admittedly, some very good ones like Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace and Andre Dawson — but other than Maddux, their pitching sucked and nobody could hit the ball or even field the ball other than the aforementioned three players.

Of course, when Maddux’s (cheap) contract came to an end, the Tribune Corp. offloaded him like a bad smell, sending him to Atlanta where he amassed feat after feat, in the end winning 300 games, striking out over 3,000 batters, for a career ERA of some minuscule number, four Cy Young Awards and a first-round pass into the Hall of Fame.

I know all this about him because I wasn’t a Cubs fan but a Maddux fan — so when he was traded I quit watching the Cubs forever.

Anyway, this is not a post intended to promote a discussion of how other pitchers were “better” than Greg Maddux — I can hear the Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton supporters warming the engines as we speak — but an appreciation of the man himself.

When his Cubs contract ended, Maddux turned down the Yankees and went to the Braves for less money — because he thought Atlanta would be a better place to raise his kids than New York.

And who could argue with that?

Here’s a YooChoob video which does a better job than I have (unsurprisingly).


  1. Anyway, this is not a post intended to promote a discussion of how other pitchers were “better” than Greg Maddux — I can hear the Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton supporters warming the engines as we speak — but an appreciation of the man himself.

    Then why title it “Peerless”?

    As a 10 year old boy, I watched Bob Gibson pitch a world series game at Busch Stadium. Another first-rounder to the HoF. This was back when Gussie Busch ran the brewery and owned the baseball team, and he was a real fan, so his team included players like Lou Brock, Curt Flood, and Tim McCarver.

    I used to love baseball. Then Gussie Busch died, the brewery lost interest in the team, there was a strike, etc., etc.

    Nonetheless, I understand being riveted sitting and watching one of the greatest of all time being one of the greatest of all time.

  2. I grew up being brought to Fenway by Grandfather and loved every minute of it. I grew up at the end of Yazstremski’s career, but enjoyed watching Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Oil Can Boyd, Wade Boggs, Marty Barrett era. The strike in the 90s turned us both off of the sport. Millionaire owners and millionaire players fighting over the money from the fans. The cost of tickets, parking etc are other turn offs now. Going back to school and no longer having access to the games on tv makes me less of a fan. I can’t name a single player today.

    I live near several minor league teams and go from time to time. Tickets are about $15 or less for fantastic seats. The concession prices are closer to reasonable. I think Humphrey Bogart said something to the effect that “a hotdog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz.” I tend to agree with that sentiment.

    Watching some of these sports stars are pure artistry. They make the spectacular look routine and the routine look spectacular.

    George Will has a great presentation on baseball at PragerU.


  3. I’ve never cared one whit about any “sportsball” but since we lived in the NW suburbs of Chicago, Dad always hada soft spot for the Cubs, so he’d take me to the occasional game. We’d always drive over to Skokie and take the L on down in to Wrigleyville. He even managed to somehow snag us tickets to the 1st night game after Wrigley finally installed lights. That game got rained out — talk about your bad omen, right? Though, yes, I’m fully aware that the Cubs were actually the 1st team to buy lights back in the 1940’s but then donated them to the war effort so they got installed on some battleship or something.

    My dad also had a cleaning contract for the carpets in the skyboxes at Comsikey and he’d always arrange for part of the fee to be paid in game tickets so he could take all his employees and their families to a White Sox game or 2 a year as a company outing, so I really can’t say that I ever had any particular fandom for either team.

    As a result, one might think that I’d focus on specific players as you did, but… I recall the name Ryne Sandberg and that he was considered to be good, but that’s about it. Other names that come to mind are Goose Gossage and George Brett, but I don’t think they were Chicago players. I recall a lot of excitment in (IIRC) 1984 that the Cubs were doing surprisingly well that year, but they still didn’t quite make it to the World Series. And… yeah, that exhausts my knowledge of baseball 😉

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