HARRIS: By any measure, Greg Maddux worthy of unanimous praise

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Greg Maddux headlines the baseball Hall of Fame class announced Wednesday, which shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise. He’ll go in this summer along with former Atlanta Braves teammate Tom Glavine and former Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas.


SEE ALSO: Full house: Maddux leads biggest Hall of Fame class since 1999


It’s a fine, worthy class. You can make cases for a number of others but the three who definitely belong in got in the Hall.

The only real question lingering over the process is how 16 of the 571 voters could leave Maddux off their ballot.

If ever a player defines Hall of Famer, it is Maddux. While he might not compare image-wise to a Michael Jordan in basketball or Jerry Rice in football, he was every bit as top-tier in his sport. He wasn’t fancy. He wasn’t flashy. He wasn’t an outsized personality. He was merely the best pitcher of his generation and one of the best pitchers ever.

In a long career that has involved watching a lot of sports on a lot of levels, Maddux is easily one of the top three performers ever witnessed. Sports writers are often asked, who would you pay to see? Maddux. Repeatedly. He was that good.

A few numbers for those unfamiliar with his work: A 355-227 record over 23 seasons. Seventeen straight seasons with at least 15 victories. A seven-season stretch where his highest earned run average was 2.72. Back-to-back seasons in Atlanta where he went a combined 35-8 with ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63. From the time he was 22 until the time he was 40, he pitched at least 200 innings every year but one. That season, he missed by two-thirds of an inning.

He won the Cy Young Award four years in a row. He won 18 Gold Gloves.

Remarkable excellence for a very long time.

You look at those numbers and, without an image of Maddux, might conjure up a vision of a menancing, intimidating presence like 6-foot-11 Randy Johnson, who could unleash the pitch in a wild flurry of arms, legs and long hair. Or of a steely-gazed Roger Clemens and his overpowering fastball.

Nope. Maddux is listed at 6-foot and 170-pounds, which frankly seems to be a slight exaggeration. When he wore his glasses on non-pitching days, he looked more like your local Eagle Scout than a dominating athlete.

Someone on every team he pitched probably had a better fastball, a better curve, a better change, a better slider. But nobody had a more complete repertoire of pitches or a fast-working brain that allowed him to stay a step ahead of almost every hitter.

Don Sutton, another Hall of Fame pitcher who spent the Maddux years in Atlanta as a broadcaster, summed him up as well as anybody.

Maddux, Sutton said, “can hit a gnat in the butt from 60 feet with four different pitches.”

You combine that kind of arsenal with Maddux’s mind and you get a Hall of Famer, a guy who was a favorite of writers on deadline because games he started tended to end in closer to two hours than three.

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