#TalkNerdyToMeLover’s Check Mate
Last week, I saw a shout out in the chat that asked about “sports nerds”. Got me thinkin’ and I realized that sports and nerds are in fact a brilliant mix! Where would we be without sports nerds? It seems that the ‘intelligence’ factor is mostly applied by television and media in analysis and commentary, rather than by the competitors in the actual events themself. Brains versus brawn right? Look at many sports and yes you do need a lot of a physical prowess to be not only competitive but bloody good at what you do. You also seem to require a reasonable amount of intelligence. I hear you saying “Right on!” and suddenly wishing you were more buff or more physically adept. Fair call. Hey this white pasty nerd is thinking the same. I’ve had girlfriends who were stronger and musclier than me. I have skinny arms that are more suited to a stick insect than a sportsman… BUT I do love my sports and the challenges that come with. I’m referring to the challenges of being involved in a team game, the competition, the spirit, the friendship. Not the challenges of trying to hit the right buttons on the remote on a drunken Friday night watchin’ the footy. Or of course the challenge of not falling asleep and waking up to spilt beer and chips and some obscure infomercial; long after the game is over. Sure that’s fun. (The watching and drinking part, not the infomercials nor the mandatory clean up.)
But what if brawn and brain combined? Would we have the ultimate sportsperson? Or even better what if “brain” could astound us all on the field… “Won’t happen!” I hear you saying? Oh yes fellow nerds “brain” indeed can astound on the sports field.
So for my next trick let’s pull something way out of left field here. A man who didn’t have all the physical attributes of your run of the mill sports star. A man who used his intelligence more than his physical strength and showed the world it can be done. I give you (drum-roll please) Greg Maddux!
Greg Maddux was born in San Angelo, Texas on April 14th 1966. He spent much of his childhood in Spain while his father served in the US Air Force. It was here that his father instilled in him his love of baseball. Upon his return to the US, Maddux played high school baseball and trained under the eye of a former major league scout. After graduating from high school without receiving any decent offers of a scholarship to play college baseball and seeing his brother drafted to the majors, he entered the 1984 MLB draft. Most teams instantly categorised him as not having the physical size needed to play in the big leagues, until he was spotted by Chicago Cubs scout Doug Mapson. Mapson’s review of Maddux was impressive and stated “I really believe this boy would be the number one player in the country if only he looked a bit more physical.”
Maddux played his first full season in the majors in 1987. He struggled to a disappointing 6–14 record and 5.61 ERA. It was soon after this his competitive spirit and hunger to improve, learn and win would show the world this scrawny little nerd had the right stuff.
The following year Maddux finished with 18 wins and 8 losses and a 3.18 ERA. This began his streak of 17 straight seasons in which Maddux recorded 15 or more wins, the longest such streak in history. Cy Young ranks second with 15 straight, 15 win seasons.
Maddux continued to impress throughout his career. Not so much with his physical presence, but with his array of ridiculously good pitches and mental ability to outsmart his opponents. He constantly used his brain over his brawn. He would often be seen on the sidelines taking notes on opposition batters. He watched listened and learned as much as he could, about the game and the opponents he faced.
Maddux teammates later in his career would talk about his natural ability to “out think” his opponents, and use his smarts to foresee results. While sitting on the bench, Maddux once told his teammates, “Watch this, we might need to call an ambulance for the first base coach.” The batter, LA’s José Hernández, drove the next pitch into the chest of the Dodgers’ first base coach. Maddux noticed that Hernandez, who’d been constantly pitched inside by Braves pitching in previous games, had shifted his batting stance ever so slightly. On another occasion, outfielder Marquis Grissom, recalled a game in 1996 when Maddux told Marquis, “Gary Sheffield is coming up next inning. I am going to throw him a slider and make him just miss it so he hits it to the warning track.” The at-bat went precisely as Maddux predicted. “He relies more on pitching to situations and pitching to what a hitter’s showing him from at-bat to at-bat than anybody else,” Teammate and Braves pitcher Tom Glavine said. That’s part of the mystique of Greg. I think the hitters think he can go back and recall every pitch he has ever thrown. That’s not the case, but I think he’s probably better at remembering things than most people are. And that’s why the technical side of the game is so much more important for him than it is for other guys. Former Braves short stop Walt Weiss was even quoted as saying “He’s brilliant when it comes to the mental part of the game. I’ve never seen anybody that cerebral in this game.“
During the strike shortened 1994 season, Maddux posted an ERA of 1.56, the second lowest since Bob Gibson’s historic 1.12 in 1968 and the lowest in the majors since Dwight Gooden’s 1.53 in 1985.
Maddux is arguably the best pitcher of all time and certainly the best in his era. For those of us who saw him work his magic, especially in the mid 90’s, we were certainly blessed. The list of accomplishments he achieved on the mound and in the field, are both immense and impressive. Some will argue otherwise, but I let his accomplishments speak for themselves.
- 1995 World Series Champion with the Atlanta Braves
- 4 time National League Cy Young Award winner (1992, 1993, 1994, 1995)
- Sporting News National League Pitcher of the year Award (1992, 1993, 1994, 1995)
- 8 times all star selection (1988, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000)
- 18 time Gold Glove Award winner (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008)
This guy was so good that both the Chicago Cubs and the Atlanta Braves have retired the number “31” in his honour.
Maddux himself summed up his nerdiness “People think I’m smart? You know what makes you smart? Locate your fastball down and away. That’s what makes you smart. You talk to Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, or Tom Seaver. They’ll all tell you the same thing. It’s not your arm that makes you a great pitcher. It’s that thing between both of your ears we call a brain.”
Greg Maddux, we salute you.