Maddux inducted into Braves Hall

Maddux inducted into Braves Hall

ATLANTA -- Greg Maddux has always commanded the spotlight, but has certainly never demanded or felt entirely comfortable basking in its glow.

Over the course of 23 Major League seasons, Maddux gained regular acclaim and deflected most of it in the direction of those teammates, managers, coaches and trainers, who now find themselves celebrating the immortalization of his legendary career.

As Maddux was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame on Friday afternoon, he found himself surrounded by appreciative fans and humbled by the compliments provided by some of the other legendary figures that will one day share a place with him in Cooperstown.

"I used to watch you and think, that's not the best fastball in the game, that's not the best curveball, that's not the best slider, it's not even the best changeup, but that's the best pitcher that I've ever seen -- and I mean that very sincerely," Hall of Fame pitcher and longtime Braves broadcaster Don Sutton said during Friday's ceremony.

Fearless in the process of notching 355 career wins, four Cy Young Awards and a record 18 Gold Glove Awards, Maddux's reserved and private personality is one that led him to blush at some of the memories Sutton, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox and others provided while recognizing the greatness he realized during his 11 seasons (1993-2003) in Atlanta.

"I want to thank you for making me a better player," Glavine said via a video that he prepared, because family obligations prevented him from attending Friday's events. "I think when you are around great players, they make you better."

There will come a day when Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones and Cox are all immortalized by the Braves. But the first act of immortalizing one of the key figures that helped the Braves gain unmatched success throughout the 1990s and the early portion of the 21st century came via Friday's celebration of Maddux, who holds the franchise career records for ERA (2.63) and winning percentage (.866).

Hours after making him the latest inductee into their Hall of Fame, the Braves placed Maddux among their greats by retiring his No. 31. Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy, Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews and Phil Niekro are the only other members of the franchise's history to ever be bestowed with this honor.

With his wife, Kathy, wiping away tears and the current Braves team standing in unison behind him, Maddux looked to the left of the left-field foul pole and saw the unveiling of his No. 31.

Then, to cap the pregame ceremony, he and his son, Chase, simultaneously threw ceremonial first pitches to Eddie Perez, who caught more of Maddux's game than anybody, and Chipper Jones, who is the lone active Braves player who played with Maddux.

"As a kid, you never really think of this," Maddux said. "You think about striking out the best hitter or hitting a home run or stealing a base. You don't think about having your number retired or going to the Hall of Fame. That stuff is so far-fetched. You just want to stick to the basics and have a little success."

During his first three years with the Braves, Maddux completed his run of winning four consecutive Cy Young Awards and in the process, he went 55-18 with a 1.90 ERA. Further defining the greatness of this span, during the 1994 and '95 seasons, he went 35-8 with a 1.60 ERA.

"It was just remarkable how every time he went out there he had his game plan and was able to execute it with pitch after pitch after pitch," said Braves president John Schuerholz, who was responsible for bringing Maddux to the Atlanta before the start of the 1993 season.

While delivering his short speech on Friday afternoon, Cox talked about how many managers and media members often ask him, "Was he the best pitcher I ever saw? Was he the smartest pitcher I ever saw? Was he the best competitor I ever saw? Was he the best teammate I ever saw?"

"The answer is yes to all of the above," Cox said. "He was quite a pitcher."

With the eighth-most wins in baseball history, Maddux has the credentials that prove he's one of the best who have ever had the opportunity to stand on a Major League mound. But the unselfish behavior that made him a valuable teammate was primarily recognized solely by those who saw what he did on the days that he wasn't pitching.

"I have one huge regret," said Sutton, who notched 324 career wins. "I regret that I never had the chance to be your teammate. You would have made me better."

When asked to choose the most memorable of Maddux's great starts, both Jones and Schuerholz pointed to Game 1 of the 1995 World Series, when the right-hander silenced the powerful Indians lineup with a two-hit shutout. Five days later, he surrendered four runs in seven innings and suffered the loss.

Concerned that this meant he might need to adjust the approach he'd taken while beating the Indians in Game 2, Glavine approached Maddux, who told the left-hander to stick to his plan and ignored the Game 5 results, which he said were simply a product of a bad performance.

"Thanks for that tip and that advice," said Glavine, who limited the Indians to one hit over eight scoreless innings during the decisive Game 6 victory.

When Maddux notched his 300th career victory with the Cubs on Aug. 7, 2004, the Braves were in Arizona's visiting clubhouse celebrating an achievement that he still says was trumped by the one he experienced on Oct. 28, 1995, when he and the rest of his Braves teammates celebrated the only world championship captured by one of Atlanta's professional sports teams.

"I know that October night in Atlanta was more special than the day that I won my 300th game," Maddux said.

David Justice, whose solo homer provided the only support Glavine needed on that memorable October night and longtime broadcaster Pete Van Wieren were among the organization's legendary figures who joined the current Braves on Friday to celebrate the countless memorable nights that Maddux provided throughout his Atlanta career.

In the process, they helped Maddux stir up memories of those early days in Atlanta, when he and Glavine and Smoltz couldn't grasp the significance of the journey that they would enjoy together.

"Everyone says to enjoy your career, because time will fly by," Maddux said. "It flew by. We had a lot of fun. We won a lot of games, and we had a lot of fun winning them."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.