Greg Maddux

First impressions of a skinny kid named Greg Maddux

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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.

[RELATED: This is Greg Maddux? Hall of Fame character goes to Cooperstown]

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.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs believe Jorge Soler is on a mission]

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.”

Cardinals, Dexter Fowler agree to a five-year, $82 million deal

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.

The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.

For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.

Are the Cardinals about to go on a free agent binge?

John Mozeliak AP
Associated Press
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The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.

St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.

The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.

Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?

Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.