Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were neither physically imposing off the mound nor overpowering upon it, so the iconic former Braves pitchers didn’t project the sort of sinister edge that made first-ballot Hall of Famers like Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan so revered and intimidating.
But those who played with Maddux and Glavine saw sides of them rarely revealed publicly. Intensity and determination that matched their keen intellect. Traits that helped them become multiple Cy Young Award winners and likely first-ballot electees to the National Baseball Hall of Fame when the 2014 class is announced Wednesday at 2 p.m.
Maddux and Glavine are expected to head a Braves-flavored class that could feature three or four elected players — Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio also were strong possibilities — and three retired managers, including Bobby Cox, whose 25 years as Braves manager included the 10-year stretch when Maddux and Glavine were teammates with 347 wins between them.
During Maddux’s 11 total seasons with the Braves, he had 194 of his 355 career wins and three of his four consecutive Cy Young Awards. Universally regarded among the greatest pitchers in major league history, “Mad Dog” could threaten the record for highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes: Tom Seaver’s 98.84 percent in 1972.
“You’ve got to be an idiot not to have (Maddux) as a unanimous pick,” former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. “The greatest control of any pitcher I’ve ever seen.”
Ryan came closest to matching Seaver when Ryan was named on 491 of 497 ballots (98.79 percent) in 1999.
There had been speculation that Maddux might become the first unanimous selection by the Baseball Writers Association of America, but that ended Tuesday when MLB.com Dodgers writer Ken Gurnick published his ballot, which included just one name, pitcher Jack Morris. Gurnick explained the wouldn’t vote for anyone who played during the “period of PED use.” (This despite the fact he voted for Morris, whose career overlapped for nine seasons with that of far-superior Maddux, and that Maddux’s undersized and unimpressive physique made him one of the few greats from the era never accused or associated in any way with the use of performance-enhancing drugs).
It was another embarrassment for some in the BBWAA, whose members in the past didn’t unanimously elect the likes of Babe Ruth (95.1 percent), Willie Mays (94.7), Hank Aaron (97.8) or Ted Williams (93.4). Or anyone else.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt he’ll go in (on the first ballot),” former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said last month. “Some dumb (expletive) will probably leave him off the ballot because no one else has been a unanimous pick. But the guy, bottom line, dominated our era. Statistically, he was the best pitcher of the last whatever — 30, 40 years.”
Regardless, it should be an historic weekend for the Braves and their fans who attend the July 27 induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. Maddux and Glavine could be the first Hall of Famers who spent much or all of their careers as teammates elected by the BBWAA in the same year since the Yankees’ Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle in 1974. And to top it off, they would be inducted along with their beloved former manager.
“I’m very happy for Bobby,” Maddux said. “I had the privilege of playing with him for 11 years. He certainly taught me an awful lot about the game and how to win and how to prepare, how to play 162 games. And to be able to pitch beside Glavine and watch 35 of his games (annually) for 11 years was special.”
Glavine said: “Even to be in that situation to begin with is unique enough. And to have the possibility of three of us going in together, that would be pretty special. And you’re not talking about three guys who were together just for a little while.”
Cox was elected last month by the Veterans Committee, along with retired managers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, another ex-Brave who played for and later managed the team.
“It would be unbelievably great,” to go in with Maddux and Glavine, Cox said last month. “When you talk about big-game pitchers … when you’ve got Maddux or Glavine going you always thought you were going to win. You talk about competitors, Tommy Glavine did not go on the disabled list, I think, until his 19th or 20th year. And Maddux was the same.”
Maddux and Glavine share the major league record for consecutive seasons (20) with at least 25 starts. Mazzone said not missing starts was a point of pride for both pitchers.
“Absolutely,” Maddux agreed. “I’d rather lose than not try to win. You don’t have to feel good to win, you just have to pitch better than the other guy. And that’s something we all believed in.”
With a 355-227 record and 3.16 ERA, Maddux has the eighth-most wins in history and second-most since 1930, trailing only another Braves legend Warren Spahn (361). Maddux set records with 18 Gold Gloves and 17 consecutive seasons of 15 or more wins.
“For me, what was so remarkable (about him), especially in the height of our Cy Young years, was just the consistency,” Glavine said. “I knew I was going to have a game or two where nothing went right and I gave up five or six runs. He never did that. For him, a bad game back then was giving up three runs. It was just unbelievable how consistent he was, even when he didn’t have his best stuff.”
Maddux had a pain tolerance that belied his insurance-salesman-next-door appearance. Cox recalled the right-hander getting hit by a line drive in his last spring-training start.
“And he was our (scheduled) opening-day pitcher,” Cox said. “He got hit on the big toe of his right foot, and I went into the clubhouse with him and when we finally got his shoe off, his toe was split wide open. And it had to be stitched. It was swollen. I said, Mad Dog, we’re not going to be able to (start you), we’re going to have to do something else. And he said, ‘Put me at the back of the rotation. We’ve got two days off between (the fourth and) fifth guy.’ He said, ‘Don’t disable me.’
“Then he threw a two-hit shutout for eight innings.”
Asked if Maddux was the greatest pitcher of their generation, Glavine said: “You could have made that argument with (Roger) Clemens; that’s obviously tainted now (by PED suspicions). In terms of guys I played with and was around, there was nobody better (than Maddux). Arguably not only one of the best pitchers of our generation, but one of the best players of our generation.”
Glavine, a 305-game winner who won two Cy Young Awards and finished in the top three four other times, also seems likely to surpass the 75-percent threshold for Hall of Fame election in his first eligible year. The left-hander had five 20-win seasons for the Braves from 1991 to 2000 and is one of 14 pitchers with at least 300 wins and a .600 winning percentage.
“Glav had a fire in his belly that not many professional athletes have seen,” Jones said. “He kept it under wraps so well because he was so poised on the mound. But I’ve heard this guy erupt in the dugout or clubhouse as much as anyone.”
Maddux said, “He wanted to win more than the guy he was facing every night. I think that’s what drove him. He was never satisfied unless he won. That’s one of the reasons he was able win as much as he did. Determination, desire. … And he did have overpowering stuff because he had movement that other pitchers didn’t have. Other pitchers threw harder, but none of them had what his ball did the last 10 feet.”