Greg Maddux was, quite simply, the best pitcher I ever saw with my own two eyes. I watched him throw a 92-pitch complete game masterpiece against the Reds in Wrigley Field almost a decade ago, and it was baseball the way it was meant to be. The Reds never had a chance that day, even though Javier Valentin somehow connected for two homers that day. It didn’t matter, though, because Maddux was in command. Oh, how I wish he would have been a Cub throughout his career!
But the best story I have about Greg Maddux comes not from a game I saw live, but from a game that I watched on TV. To me, it shows that Greg Maddux appreciated baseball’s team nature. But to tell the story, we have to crank up the wayback machine to 1987.
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For those who missed it the first time around, 1987 was an interesting year. David Letterman was on NBC, and U2 was taking over the world with The Joshua Tree. I had a job working at a Dairy Queen that summer, and had just finished my first year of college. But before I left campus that summer, I made my way to Wrigley Field to witness the birth of the legend that was Andre Dawson.
The Hawk had been a three-time All-Star in Montreal, but he left there after 11 seasons for the green grass and sunshine of Wrigley Field. I was out there in the right field bleachers, telling left field how much they suck, and enjoying all the sunshine and good times. I think the bleacher tickets cost $4 back then. Times sure have changed.
What I noticed right away was what a commanding presence Dawson was out in right field. When he played catch in the outfield between innings, the laser-like path that the ball traveled when he threw it was amazing. Here was a player I could admire, and all of us in the bleachers felt the same way. The ritual of bowing reverently didn’t originate with Sammy Sosa, but with his predecessor in right field, Andre Dawson.
So where does Greg Maddux come in? Well, I’m getting to that. Dawson was playing like a man possessed that year. He went on to become the first player to win an MVP while playing for a last-place team, and his 47 homers that year were about as many as you could hope to find before the PED era kicked in.
So it was a Tuesday afternoon in July, and I didn’t have to be at work until five. I was chafing at having to live under my parents’ roof and follow their rules again, but at least I was able to watch the Cubs on TV. I remember Dawson going deep on the Padres pitcher in the first inning, and my new-found idol seemed to be on a roll like none other. I didn’t know who the pitcher was for either team yet, but all that would come clear in due course.
When Dawson came up again in the bottom of the third, the Cubs had built up a pretty good lead. And when the Hawk stepped into the box, it seemed like there was no stopping him. But the Padres pitcher — who I later learned was named Eric Show (rhymes with “ow”) — did his best to slow Dawson down. His pitch — I think it was the first one of the at-bat — came up and in and caught Dawson right in the face.
There’s no doubt it was a message pitch, and the benches cleared immediately. Just when it seemed that order had been restored, Dawson got up and went looking for Show. Everyone watching probably felt that Show deserved whatever was coming to him, and fortunately for him Dawson was not able to extract his revenge. Show and a few others were tossed out, but eventually the game resumed.
And that’s where Greg Maddux comes into the story. Maddux had a less-than-stellar September call-up in 1986, and hadn’t done much to distinguish himself in 1987, either. There he was, with a nice lead to work with going into the top of the fourth inning. He needed to get to five innings to secure the win, and help improve his chances at sticking around in the majors.
But there was another issue to consider. Andre Dawson, one of the premier players in the game at that point, was a teammate of Greg Maddux. The rookie who was fighting to prove his worth on the mound — remember that all of the pitching accolades were still years away — decided to prove his worth as a teammate, instead. After the first two Padres batters were retired, he plunked Benito Santiago and was immediately tossed from the game.
When I saw Maddux retaliate like that, I nodded my head in approval. Show was gone from the game at that point and — if he was smart — was already far, far away from Wrigley Field. There wasn’t much else for the Cubs to do, except dish out some retribution. And if it happened to fall on the Padres’ catcher, then so be it.
Greg Maddux gave up his chance to get a win that day, but he proved something to Andre Dawson and everyone else who was paying attention. And now he gets to join his old teammate in Cooperstown. I know that this song came on a later U2 album, but it will be a Beautiful Day, indeed.