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.”

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: