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Barry M. Bloom

Maddux's work ethic, determination root of success

Eighth on career victory list, pitcher to enter Hall of Fame on Sunday with Cox, Glavine

Maddux's work ethic, determination root of success

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Greg Maddux said he knew it was time to retire from Major League Baseball late in the 2008 season when the speed of his fastball was the same as his changeup.

He was with the Dodgers, for the second time, after 11 years with the Braves, seven with the Cubs and a little more than a season with the Padres, when he knew it was time to go. He was 42.

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At the time, Maddux said he didn't realize his destiny would be a plaque in Cooperstown.

"I didn't think about it until I was done playing," Maddux said. "When you're playing, all you worry about is your next game and doing what you always do. When I retired, I started thinking about it a little bit. There's so much about the history of baseball I don't know. Just to come here and learn some things about the game, I enjoy it. It's fascinating to me. It's a history lesson every time I walk through the museum."

Maddux certainly will be a Hall of Famer, elected in January along with former Braves staff mate Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas, who played 16 of his 19 years on the South Side of Chicago for the White Sox. The three will be inducted on Sunday, on the stage behind the Clark Sports Center, along with three of the greatest managers of all time -- Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa -- who were all elected late last year by the Expansion Era Committee. Hall of Fame coverage begins at noon ET with MLB Tonight live from Cooperstown on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com and the At Bat app, with the induction ceremony beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Glavine and Maddux, of course, played for Cox in Atlanta. But unlike Cox and Glavine, Maddux is going into the Hall without a team emblem on his plaque.

"I didn't agonize over it," Maddux said, explaining that decision. "I figured that I was in Atlanta for 11 years and I was in Chicago for 11 years, if you count the Minor Leagues. It was kind of 50-50. Obviously I did a lot better in Atlanta than I did in Chicago. I never felt like I had to pick. When it was suggested that I go in this way it sounded right to me."

Maddux, like Glavine, did it on finesse and guile, working the plate and the umpires to perfection. His 355 wins are the most of his generation -- edging Roger Clemens by one -- and the most by anyone since Warren Spahn retired with 363 in 1965. Maddux is eighth on the all-time list, while Glavine finished 21st at 305.

Maddux said he doesn't buy into the premise that there won't be any more 300-game winners.

"Why not? Somebody is going to do it," he said. "When me and Glav were in Atlanta, we heard there was going to be no more 300 winners. Then Clemens did it. Randy Johnson did it. Glav did it. So why not? There might be some kid in the third grade now who'll be the next one to do it."

Maddux points to himself as proof of that summation. He said he became a pitcher in high school "because I couldn't hit."

"I found out in high school that I threw it a lot better than I hit it," he said.

And that was that.

His favorite pitchers in the Hall of Fame?

"Well, obviously Cy Young. You have to put him on the top of the list," Maddux said, citing the all-time leader with 511 wins. "Him and Babe Ruth. Those two guys for me is where my history starts. You try and fill in the gaps from then to now."

Maddux obviously wrote his own piece of baseball history by painting the plate. He worked 5,008 1/3 innings, started 744 games and completed 109 of them in 23 years. His muscle tone was somewhat flabby as he grew older, but he was durable, a trait also ascribed to Glavine. Maddux's 23-year WHIP -- walks and hits per inning pitched -- was a stingy 1.143, fifth among starters in the turn-of-the-21st-century era.

But Maddux's prowess didn't end there. He was such a good fielder he won 18 Gold Gloves, 13 in a row from 1990-2002. Maddux willed himself into being a great fielder, he said.

"I just wanted to be, really, that was the biggest thing," Maddux explained. "I cared enough to try and get better at it. That was really it. If you want to do it, you'll do better at it. I didn't mind fielding, PFPs [pitchers' fielding practice] in Spring Training. I actually enjoyed doing it."

What made him so special?

"Talent, I think, and I don't know whether it was God-given or not, but he certainly knew how to pitch," Cox said. "Not throw. He was a pitcher. A great fielder and he could hit in certain situations. He was maybe the best bunter -- the best sacrifice bunter -- that I'd ever seen. He was the all-around package. It didn't come easy. He had to work at it. He got his mechanics straightened out early on in his career. And he was picture perfect on the mound."

Maddux and Cox belong to a mutual admiration society, really. Maddux said it was special playing for Cox, who managed the Braves for 29 years in two stints, winning the 1995 World Series, five National League pennants and a record 14 consecutive division titles.

What made Cox special? "His consistency," Maddux said. "The way he treated everybody. Whether we won five in a row or lost five in a row, he was the same guy every day. When we came to the park yesterday didn't matter. The attitude and tone he set in Spring Training was that we not only were getting ready for the regular season, but for the postseason as well. That's what set him apart from all the other managers.

"It was a pleasure. It was a treat. I joked around and they always say that being a Major League baseball player is the best job in the world. If you take it a step further, the best job in baseball was being a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. It was a privilege and an honor to play for Bobby for those 11 years."

Now they'll be bound together forever in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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