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Goodbye, Greg

On December 16, 1985, I entered this world. Less than a year later, on September 3rd, 1986, a rather scrawny right-handed pitcher named Greg Maddux made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs. Though I did not realistically become a baseball fan until the age of seven, Greg Maddux has been in the major leagues for just about my entire life. He also happens to be my baseball idol, the pitcher I modeled myself after and tried to emulate throughout high school, and the only non-Phillies player whom I routinely watched. In fact, when the MLB.com computer broadcasts began, as well as the MLB package on digital cable, it became possible to literally watch all of his starts, a possibility of which I took full advantage.

Today, just a few hours after this article posts, Maddux will officially announce his retirement. An era is about to come to an end, and I don’t know exactly how I feel.

In many ways, I knew this day was coming for much of the 2008 season. Maddux hinted at retiring several times throughout the year, so when the story broke, the news was not exactly shocking. Still, it is a very weird feeling to know that he will not don a uniform at the start of next season. Or, for that matter, ever again. On one hand, I am glad that he made this decision, as his final season still resulted in an above-average 4.22 ERA, 4.09 FIP, and 3.27 K/BB ratio. On the other hand, however, it feels as if a chapter in my life is inching closer to its end, which is always odd to process.

Clemens is gone, as are Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa. Mussina already announced his retirement plans. Smoltz has become extremely injury-prone and does not likely have much left in the tank. Glavine is but a shell of his former self. Pedro, Unit, and Griffey have, at best two more years in them. And now Maddux is hanging up his cleats. With regards to sports, I’ve always said that you know you will feel old when players you grew up watching start becoming coaches. While this has only realistically happened with Joe Girardi and Ozzie Guillen, so far, it feels as if I am going to reach this point in no more than a few years.

My love for watching Maddux pitch dealt primarily with his crafty, technician-like approach on the mound. In every aspect of my life, I have been attracted to the technicians. Be it Maddux, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, John Stockton, Andre Miller, or any number of other players in different sports. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to watch the flashy players, but the technicians just seemed to have this aura about them that kept me hooked. Maddux kept a poker face on the mound, only breaking character during incredulous moments. He had the fielding skills that made you shout “how on Earth did he catch that?” And he had the smooth pitching windup that you just had to try and emulate.

As a Phillies fan, I was particularly spoiled this year with a World Series Championship. In Game Five of the NLCS, however, even though the Phillies clinched, arguably my favorite moment involved Maddux retiring Ruiz-Hamels-Rollins in the fourth inning. The Maddux of old has not been seen in almost five or six years, but he has still had moments during which he looked like his vintage self. This was one of them. He retired Ruiz quickly, on two pitches. Hamels then stepped in, and on a 2-2 count, threw the 2-seam fastball that is commonly referred to as “the Maddux fastball” for strike three looking. Jimmy Rollins came up next, and on a 2-2 count, was caught looking on the same Maddux fastball.

Hearing the stunned reactions from other bar patrons that night just made me grin. It wasn’t that I was glad that the Phillies were retired or anything of the sort, but this really felt like his final performance, and I took such pride in watching a glimmer of the pitcher who dominated baseball for most of my childhood and teenage years. The Winter Meetings begin tomorrow, and we will be covering moves throughout the day. The one move that will likely affect me moreso than all others, though, will be Maddux being traded away from baseball, to a life that will include watching son Chase in his baseball endeavors. Regardless, it is going to be very weird not having Maddux around next season. Goodbye, Greg, and from at least this devoted fan, thanks for the tremendous career.