Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The saga of Greg Maddux

The saga of Greg Maddux goes West
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, August 9, 2006

For serious baseball fans, the game provides a daily sanctuary, a saga with more characters and subplots than Tolstoy could manage. Every day since the latest Middle Eastern war began, my friend Bill B. has taken to e-mailing me accounts of games he knows I’ve already seen. We’ve got somewhat different views about the fighting, but not about the game. In the comment line, Bill always writes, “Thank God for baseball.” Amen to that. Recently, however, my friend sent a message that tested my faith in the game’s restorative powers. It was an AP wire photo of pitcher Greg Maddux leaving the field for probably his last time in a Chicago Cubs uniform. Although he’d been shaky lately, Maddux had been his old, masterful self that day, allowing the Cardinals one run and five hits over 26/3 innings, the kind of performance that had earned him 327 wins over a brilliant 20-year career. It’s a timeless, iconic shot. We see Maddux from behind as he approaches the dugout, his cap raised in his right hand to acknowledge a standing ovation from Chicago fans, a rare gesture from a relatively undemonstrative athlete. Everybody at Wrigley Field that day knew Maddux was likely to be traded to a contender. The Cubs have had a dismal season, marred by injuries and unaccountably awful play.

Historically patronized as “lovable losers,” the team has even begun to be booed, although Wrigley’s still sold out for virtually every game. Some speculate that the catcalls are due to heightened expectations, and to resentment of multimillion-dollar salaries in the era of free agency.
It’s hard watching a $6 million ballplayer get picked off second base because he’s daydreaming.

Booing may also be related to beer sales in Wrigley Field, although that’s nothing new. During our first pilgrimage there, my family took a city shuttle bus to the ballpark. Over each seat was a sternly worded sign proscribing alcoholic beverages. Violators faced serious fines, even jail. Every adult on the bus except my wife and me seemed to be enjoying an Old Style or a Budweiser. That’s Chicago.

Then there was the time the late Harry Caray invited a pretty 14-year-old Girl Scout visiting the WGN-TV broadcast booth to come see her “Uncle Harry” again in five years. Some wondered if the legendary play-by-play man, a selfstyled “Cubs fan and Bud Man,” wasn’t sampling the sponsor’s product on the job. That was Harry.

Greg Maddux may have been the greatest pitcher the Cubs minor league system produced in more than a century of trying. He came up in 1986. During his free agent season in 1992, Maddux, then 26, went 20-10, with a minuscule earned run average of 2.18.

Even more impressive was the way he did it. Maddux never had overpowering stuff. He kept batters off balance with a combination of changing speeds, pinpoint control, guile and deception.

Maddux is one of those unusual athletes with a seeming capacity to live entirely inside the game. He sees things others don’t. A native of Las Vegas, he’s not somebody you’d want to play poker with. He’d remember every card played, know the exact odds and read you like a billboard.

Hitters never get the same at bat twice. Maddux fields brilliantly, bunts well, even hits OK for a pitcher who’s not a physical specimen. Teammates call him “Mad Dog” or “The Professor,” which pretty much tells the story. So naturally, the Cubs, being the Cubs, made no serious attempt to sign him in 1992. Instead, he went to Atlanta for 11 years in which he never won fewer than 15 games, leading the best pitching staff in baseball to several National League championships and the 1996 World Series.

When the Cubs brought him back to Chicago for the 2004 season, his signing was seen as a belated apology and a promise on the part of team management. No more lovable losers. I remember e-mailing a photo of Maddux in a Cubs uniform to every sports fan I knew, including friends in the Netherlands, France and the Isle of Wight who scarcely know the rules of baseball. From a realistic perspective, trading Maddux to the Los Angeles Dodgers was a no-brainer. In return, the Cubs got Cesar Izturis, a 25-year-old, switchhitting Venezuelan shortstop. A 40-yearold pitcher, even a sure Hall-of-Famer, for a young, All-Star position player ? Do it. At least Maddux didn’t go to Bill’s New York Mets, or worse, the accursed Yankees. Subjectively, however, it feels like a betrayal of the game itself. I reserve the right to hate it. Right now, I’m not sure I’m a Cubs fan anymore. The other night I watched Maddux’s first start as a Dodger. Six innings, no runs, no hits, career win No. 328. I have to say it was a thing of beauty.


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