Greg Maddux

First impressions of a skinny kid named Greg Maddux


Greg Maddux looked like a guy who should be riding a Metra commuter train to his 9-to-5 job in the Loop, maybe sneaking out later to catch a Cubs game and have a few beers at Wrigley Field.

Maddux didn’t do intimidation or scream Hall of Famer, even while becoming one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. So imagine him coming out of Valley High School in Las Vegas, as a teenager in instructional league, failing all the eye tests.

“We had a bunch of older coaches, and guys would bring their sons out there and stuff like that,” Mike Brumley recalled Thursday. “This little skinny guy walks by me, and I’m like, ‘Hey, is that one of the coaches’ sons?’ And they go, ‘No, that’s our second-rounder.’

“I go, ‘No way!’ Because he was just like super-little.”

Brumley, now an assistant hitting coach for the Cubs, smiled at the memories after batting practice at Wrigley Field, because it’s crazy to think about it now. Three decades later, it would become a mini-controversy when Maddux wasn’t unanimously selected to the Hall of Fame, getting only 97.2 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

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But Brumley heard about the legend of Maddux long before Sunday’s induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. Brumley’s buddy from Las Vegas knew Maddux’s older brother, Mike, who’s now the Texas Rangers pitching coach.

“Back in the winter, in the 80s, they used to go to UNLV and they’d play a Sunday pickup game, college guys, pro guys that lived there,” Brumley said. “Mike was always (there), but he said they didn’t have enough pitchers. So one day Mike said, ‘Hey, I got a 15-year-old brother, I’m going to bring him out and let him throw a couple innings.’ (I heard Greg) was lights-out at 15, 16.”

Brumley had played with Roger Clemens at the University of Texas and knew what “The Rocket” looked like. The Boston Red Sox packaged Brumley and Dennis Eckersley and sent them to the Cubs in the 1984 Bill Buckner trade.

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Fast forward to the third or fourth game in instructional league, where Brumley’s routine would have him standing in the box to get his timing down while the starting pitcher threw warm-up pitches.

“(Maddux) was like 18 or 19,” Brumley recalled. “He was like, ‘Fastball, away.’ And it was (just), ‘Wham!’

“Fastball in? The first thing you want to do is not get hit in the bullpen, right? And I mean it was just like, ‘Wham! Wham!’ His command was unbelievable the first time I ever saw him.”

They played together in 1986 at Triple-A Iowa, where Maddux went 10-1 with a 3.02 ERA in an American Association league that was supposed to be brutal for pitchers.

“All of the pitchers would be like: ‘The ball doesn’t break in Denver, yada, yada, yada,’” Brumley said. “That whole league was like that. In Oklahoma City, the ball flew out, and I mean he cut that league up. It was unbelievable. And I would always (ask): ‘How come Maddux’s ball breaks in Denver?’

“They’d get all pissed off, and Maddux couldn’t care less if the wind’s blowing out in Oklahoma City. I saw him do so many special things.”

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Where other young pitchers would just worry about getting their 94 mph fastball over the plate, Maddux would already be reading hitters for reactions, anticipating the next moves, showing signs of the guy who would win four straight Cy Young awards between 1992 and 1995.

“Greg had an ability early on — he could just see it,” Brumley said. “It’s special now, but it was special before he was Greg Maddux, too.”

Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.

Cubs swat their way past the Dodgers 8-4 in NLCS Game 5

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Addison Russell #27 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

During the regular season, the Cubs had the second-best offense in baseball behind the Rockies, averaging 4.99 runs per game. It was the best after debiting the Rockies for playing in Coors Field. There was no way, after getting shut out in NLCS Games 2 and 3, that the offense was going to stay dormant much longer. They broke out for 10 runs in a Game 4 victory on Wednesday night. They scored eight more to beat the Dodgers 8-4 in Game 5, taking a 3-2 NLCS lead.

The Cubs took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when leadoff batter Dexter Fowler greeted Kenta Maeda with a single to center field. He’d come around to score on a one-out double by Anthony Rizzo who, like teammate Addison Russell, hadn’t hit much until breaking out in Game 4.

Starter Jon Lester was able to silence the Dodgers’ offense despite their strategy of attempting bunts and taking big leads, knowing Lester has trouble throwing when it’s not from the pitching rubber. They managed just one run, coming around in the fourth inning to knot the game at 1-1 when Howie Kendrick doubled, stole third base, and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez ground out.

Ultimately, Lester lasted seven innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. Addison Russell allowed him to leave with a lead, slugging a two-run home run off of reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie.

The Cubs tacked on plenty of insurance in the top of the eighth against reliever Pedro Baez, which proved to be rather necessary. Russell reached on an error by Baez, Willson Contreras singled, and Albert Almora, Jr. moved both runners up a base on a sacrifice bunt. Dexter Fowler then hit a single to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but Baez didn’t break to cover first base. Gonzalez wasn’t able to beat Fowler to the bag, allowing the Cubs’ fourth run to score. Kris Bryant hit a weak grounder to third base and he was able to beat that out as well, pushing across another run in the process. Anthony Rizzo lined out, but Baez prolonged the inning by walking Ben Zobrist. Ross Stripling relieved Baez, but he served up a bases-clearing double to Javier Baez, making it an 8-1 ballgame. Jason Heyward, as has often been the case, popped up feebly, mercifully ending the inning with the Cubs having hung up a five-spot.

Pedro Strop took over for Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up a double to Andrew Toles, then hit Justin Turner to begin the inning. Though Strop was able to induce a ground ball double play from Corey Seager, Carlos Ruiz followed up with a double to left-center to push in a run. Howie Kendrick flied out to send the game to the ninth.

Closer Aroldis Chapman took over with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Gonzalez, then served up a single to Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson grounded out, but Josh Reddick knocked in Gonzalez and moved Puig to third with a single to center. Toles plated Puig with a sacrifice fly, making it 8-4. Turner grounded out to shortstop to end the game, finalizing the victory for the Cubs.

The two clubs will take Friday off to travel back to Chicago. Game 6 will take place at Wrigley Field at 8:00 PM EDT. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers opposite the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.