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Hard to believe but Maddux sounds ready to call it a career
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 2/12/2008 12:12 AM

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Had Greg Maddux said he intended to pitch another 10 years in the big leagues, such a statement would have caused no more ruckus than one of his 84 mph fastballs.

Based on his absurd consistency, Maddux could have gone on winning 13-15 games a year for as long as he wanted.

And considering past descriptions of his future that made it sound as though he might pitch until someone ripped the shirt off his back at age 50, anything to the contrary is of the utmost shock.

So it is nothing less than a bombshell Maddux dropped on us Monday as he drove through the desert, back to his home in Las Vegas.

When I asked him about how long he planned to pitch, rather than the usual answer, the 41-year-old Maddux paused, and said, "My son, Chase, is gonna be 11 here pretty soon and I want to start watching him play a little bit more. I think it's about time for me to watch him instead of him coming to the park to watch me.''

Whoa. You mean this is it?

"Well,'' Maddux laughed, "I'm set to play this year, and we'll see what happens after that.''

It sounds like you're not slamming the door completely, but that this is almost certainly your last season, which is something you've never even considered before, let alone said out loud.

"True,'' Maddux said. "It could absolutely be it. You hit it right on the head.''

So the greatest pitcher of this generation -- a fact that will be set in stone when Maddux passes Roger Clemens in victories, innings and starts in 2008 -- is about to put the finishing touches on a masterful career that began with an 8-18 record over 32 starts with the Cubs in 1986-87.

Few believed in Maddux then, and no one predicted a Hall of Fame career that would include more than 350 wins, 3,300 strikeouts, 5,000 innings, 700 starts, 20,000 batters faced, 17 Gold Gloves, four Cy Youngs, eight all-star selections, 12 postseason appearances and four ERA titles.

He's going to wind up seventh or eighth all time in victories, at somewhere around 360, which is staggering if you actually stop and think about more than 130 years of baseball history.

"Sometimes it's hard to imagine,'' said Maddux, who has never had trouble showing a humble side. "All that is just from enjoying doing what I do, what I get to do for a living.

"I never got caught up in the numbers. I just enjoy the moments as they come and I never looked too far ahead.

"It's also having good luck with health, and having a family that put up with me doing this for 20 years.''

One of the reasons Maddux kept on going the last few years was a desire to have his son see him succeed on a major-league mound, something a lot of players never get to experience with their children.

"I'm absolutely satisfied with that part, that my kids got to see me pitch, that my son got to hang around at the park with me,'' Maddux said. "How cool is that, having your son at the park? How cool is it to take your kid to work with you and spend the day with you?

"But I've done it long enough, and physically it's not quite as easy as it used to be. Working out in the winter is getting tougher and tougher, and spring training is getting tougher and tougher, and recovery time between starts is getting tougher.

"It just doesn't go quite as smooth as it used to.''

So this is kind of a final tour.

"I don't want anything like that,'' Maddux said. "It's just time to be realistic. I know I can still pitch and I think I'll feel that way at the end of the season. That's the way you should go out.''

Maddux always has looked like your average middle-aged golfer, even when he was in his 20s, so there's never been a suggestion that he may have been bulking up all these years.

"Common sense,'' Maddux chuckled, "would say I'm probably not a candidate.''

But that won't stop Maddux from hearing the Clemens questions when camp opens later this week, because Clemens and Maddux are always in the same sentence whenever there's a discussion of the best pitchers of our time.

"The problem is, it's a question I know nothing about,'' Maddux said. "I don't know if he did it or didn't do it. All I know is someone said he did, but that doesn't mean he did.

"I don't have an opinion because I don't know. I certainly hope he didn't.

"I don't know him well. We've talked about pitching a few times in the past, never about his training or anything like that.

"We'll see how it all plays out, but I hope he didn't do it.''

So while that circus goes on out East, Maddux enjoys his last few days of family and golf in the West, before what figures to be his final spring training in Arizona.

Perhaps next year at this time, the only tours he will be discussing involve golf.

"Not for me,'' Maddux insisted. "Those guys (on the Champions Tour) are pros. They've been playing as long as I've been in baseball.

"I'm basically the same age as Lee Janzen and he's out winning U.S. Opens while I'm out pitching. It's not like I'm going to practice for two years and be better than him.''

Maddux, who claims to be a 5 handicap while anyone who knows believes it's more like a 2, is undergoing a swing change, adopting the "stack-and-tilt.'' But that's modest compared to the changes he's going through off the course as he prepares for life off the field.

"I'm taking it all in,'' Maddux said. "I think about all the years as I go though all the parks. I go in now and get a good look around, because I might not be back.

"If I'm in St. Louis, I think of some games there, or in Cincinnati, think of some games there. Remember teammates and things that happened.

"I make sure I shake hands with a certain security guard that's been there forever, or a clubhouse guy that treated me well. There will be a lot of that.

"Yeah, it's been a great ride, Dude, better than anyone could have ever imagined back in those early days in Chicago.

"But it's gotta end sometime, right?''