CNHI News Service
— It was an early afternoon game at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati when I didn’t care so much who the Reds were playing or what the pitching match-ups would be. Just being at the stadium on a sunny day in July was a good thing - even if we were stuck out in the right field stands.
Our distant seats did offer a view down into the visitor's bullpen, where the San Diego pitchers were shuffling around. Some players moved onto the field, where they jogged across the green turf and later did some stretching. A pitcher and catcher started tossing a ball before they got serious and moved back to the bullpen, where the lobs became fastballs and preparation intensified.
At some point it became clear that Greg Maddux would start for the Padres – an unexpected bonus for those of us who had managed to escape from work for an afternoon.
Maddux was marvelous. Through five innings or so, he thew a few more than 60 pitches. The game was half over and just reaching the one-hour mark.
Maddux, then in his 23rd year as a major leaguer, made one perfectly placed pitch after another. All the Reds had to show were mostly weak grounders to the second baseman or shortstop. It was classic Maddux.
Then the Padres fell apart. A couple of singles put runners on base. A line-drive home run to left field scored two runs, and the Reds were off and running. It wasn’t long after that Maddux was out of the game, leaving Cincinnati to feast on San Diego’s relievers.
It wasn’t a winning afternoon for Maddux, but fans at the ballpark knew they had watched a great pitcher.
That memory resurfaced Wednesday when news broke that Maddux was selected to Baseball's Hall of Fame, along with pitcher Tom Glavine and first baseman Frank Thomas. They will be formally inducted on July 27 with three managers – Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa.
There wasn’t much doubt that Maddux would be voted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. When the tabulation was completed, he was named on 555 of 571 ballots. His 97.2 percentage was the eighth-highest in the history of voting.
Glavine, his teammate in Atlanta, drew just under 92 percent of the vote, and Thomas polled almost 84 percent. All three were well above the 75 percent needed for election.
While there was reason to cheer the election of three players following last year’s vote, in which none was selected, the dispute raged about how to judge some of the game’s biggest stars who played during the Steroid Era.
Who can suggest that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds weren’t great players? Whether their careers were enhanced or extended by drug use is debatable. Whether they'd established themselves as all-time greats before that drug use isn’t.
To a degree the same can be said about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, though their single-season home run records remain tainted beyond defense.
Clemens saw his support for election into the Hall of Fall slip from 37.6 percent last year to 35.4 percent in the most recent vote. It was the same for Bonds, who slid from 36.2 percent to 34.7 percent.
Baseball faces a dilemma it can’t resolve. Instead of casting votes that separate the greats from the near greats, the writers have to weigh a moral question concerning unfair advantage. That’s a difficult position.
Such was not the case with Maddux, who some thought should be the first player to get a 100 percent approval rating. Not even Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron or Ted Williams did that.
Maddux’s achievements were significant. He made the All-Star team eight times. On four occasions he won the Cy Young Award, twice unanimously, as the league’s top pitcher.
What I will always remember is a guy pitching for a down-and-out team on a summer's day in 2008 and befuddling the Reds. Even in the last months of his career, Maddux was a pro who knew nothing but to give his best. And he didn’t need drugs to do it.
Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.