A few years ago, when Greg Maddux arrived in the Texas Rangers clubhouse in Surprise, Ariz., for spring training, a young Matt Harrison admitted that he was too intimidated to walk up and ask him for advice.
Fortunately for Harrison, he didn’t have to. Maddux, now officially a Hall of Famer, made it easy for Harrison and the rest of the young Rangers’ pitchers by seeking them out and talking with them individually at various times.
“You wouldn’t approach him first if you didn’t know him,” said Harrison, who won 18 games in 2012. “It is intimidating. But he’s so down to earth. Once you’re around him, he just seems like one of the other guys.
“You get comfortable around him. He opens up a little more around you and once he gets to know you, you talk more about baseball and life. Some guys aren’t approachable. He wasn’t that way.”
Maddux's role with the Rangers is an important one, even though he's not someone you'll see in the big league dugout very often. He spends spring training helping pitching coach Mike Maddux, his brother, work with the pitching staff and then travels to various minor-league spots throughout the season to spend time with the club’s younger pitchers. This upcoming season will be his third with the Rangers.
For Texas’ big league pitchers, they get to spend time soaking up the knowledge of a Hall of Famer as they prepare for the season.
Getting the pitchers to listen isn't an issue for Maddux, who sports an incredible 23-year career that includes 355 wins, four Cy Young Awards and 18 Gold Glove Awards. Maddux ranks top-10 all-time in wins and strikeouts (3,371) was an eight-time All-Star and had the lowest ERA in the National League four times. He also won the World Series with the Atlanta Braves in 1995.
Harrison said he’s never seen Maddux attempt to dramatically alter any pitcher’s mechanics. But he tailors his message to each pitcher depending on what they throw and what works for them.
“He talked to me about how to use my pitches in the best way possible and not overthrow them, but locate with what you have,” Harrison said. “He stresses location. Not everybody can throw 100 mph, so location is the difference. He probably could have thrown harder, but he located his pitches and gave hitters trouble.”
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is thankful not only for Maddux’s knowledge, but how he shares it in a way that allows the club’s pitchers to really benefit from it.
“He’s one of the greatest elite players of all time, but yet you get around him and if you didn’t know who he was, you’d have no idea. He carries himself with such humility,” Daniels said. “He enjoys being one of the guys. He enjoys sitting in the back of the room and talking baseball, talking pitching with the guys.”
Daniels also added that Maddux has had a big impact on the club’s top pitcher, Yu Darvish.
“He’s quietly really helped him on the mental side,” Daniels said. “They’ve connected and I think Yu feels comfortable going to him and that’s been a plus.”
Tanner Scheppers, one of the club’s late-inning relievers, remembers Maddux pulling him aside last spring to offer some advice. And it wasn’t anything complicated.
“He told me to keep everything simple,” Scheppers said. “A lot of players get in trouble when they overthink things and he keeps telling me to keep things as simple as possible because it helps keeps you from second-guessing yourself.”
Scheppers admits that his brain can fill up with all of the different things he’s trying to remember as he throws a pitch to home plate. Maddux stressed blocking all of that out and trusting his stuff.
“That has stuck with me,” Scheppers said.
Derek Holland credits Maddux with giving him drills to help get him stronger in the offseason. And he’s worked with him on fielding.
“He won a ton of Gold Gloves for a reason,” said Holland, who bounced back from a rough 2012 to make 33 starts in 2013 with a 3.42 ERA. “It’s one of those things that he tries to teach you how to cover more ground and makes it that much easier for those guys behind you.”
Holland got to spend additional time with Maddux at the World Baseball Classic last year, as Maddux was the pitching coach for the United States team. And he’s proud that Maddux is now a Hall of Famer.
“It’s awesome,” Holland said. “Growing up, I used to watch the Braves all the time and he was a guy I watched and wanted pitch like. It was great to see how he could locate things and how confident he was and how he carried himself on the mound. That was one of the guys you wanted on the mound in a big game.”