Showing posts with label Greg Maddux. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greg Maddux. Show all posts

Sunday, July 27, 2014

How Mike Morgan and Greg Maddux share deep Las Vegas baseball roots

Mike Morgan knew him when he was just a fan in the stands. Morgan was the star pitcher at Las Vegas’ Valley High School in 1978, striking out 111 batters in 72 innings, while positing a miniscule 0.68 ERA. This magical performance led to the Oakland Athletics drafting Morgan fourth overall in that summer’s draft. Watching him from the crowd when he was building his legend was Greg Maddux.

“I knew him at 11 years old when he watched me pitch when he was in grade school,” Morgan said in an interview on Friday.

It is now Morgan’s turn to watch when Maddux gets inducted into Cooperstown this Sunday.

“I wish I could be out there in Cooperstown … in the audience with Dave and Linda, his mom and dad, his sister Terri, Mike [his brother], and all of the Vegas folks because I am proud of him.”

Only a few years after Morgan’s phenomenal season at Valley, Maddux followed in his footsteps to become a second round selection of the Chicago Cubs in the 1984 draft. Both owe a great deal of credit to not only their high school coach Rodger Fairless, but also Ralph Meder, an area scout who organized Sunday workouts for all of the local players.

“Ralph Meder, I am sure he will bring him up,” Morgan said. “[He was] our mentor. A Cincinnati Reds man, he passed away of a heart attack going to a Valley baseball game 31 years ago (1983).”

Meder taught Maddux to value how his pitches moved more than how fast they traveled, an element of his pitching style that became the trademark of his career.

“He told me that movement was more important than velocity,” Maddux said to the Associated Press in 2001. “He was the first one to teach me that. When you’re 14 or 15 years old, all you want to do is throw hard.”

Both pitchers were the beneficiaries of Meder’s tutelage, amassing almost a combined 500 career major league victories in careers that spanned over 20 years a piece in the major leagues. In 1992, they were finally able to connect their lineage when Morgan was signed as a free agent by the Cubs. They formed a fearsome 1-2 punch, piling up 36 victories for Chicago that year, en route to Maddux’s first Cy Young award. Spending a season playing with Maddux allowed Morgan a full perspective of his abilities.

“To be on the bench with him, to play with him, to stand up there and hit off of him, realizing that when the ball leaves his hand, he made the ball look like a ball, but when it got to the plate, it was a strike,” Morgan said.

“He did that incredibly, [getting] guys swinging at his change-up bouncing on the plate. He made them look like balls when they left his hand, but when they got to the plate, they were strikes. That’s hard to do. It was a gift, but he worked at it.” 

When Maddux signed with the Atlanta Braves the following season, the two friends matched up for a memorable Opening Day game in Wrigley Field.

“A year later in 1993, when he left to go to Atlanta, opening day in Wrigley Field, [it was] Greg Maddux against Mo-Man, Mike Morgan,” he said. “I gave up a run in the first, a ground ball to short with one out from Ronnie Gant. 1-0. (Ed. Note – Gant scored on a single from Dave Justice.) I cruised through [seven] and I lost. He beat me 1-0.”

What incensed Morgan more that day than the 1-0 loss, was Maddux’s seventh inning single, his first and only hit off of Morgan his entire career (1-14 lifetime). It was something that Morgan (0-14 lifetime) unfortunately couldn’t match.

“I can tell you what, I went 0-fer in my career off of him,” Morgan said. “He got a base hit off of me and it was the only thing that pisses me off, that he got one off of me and I didn’t get one off of him!”

The two pitches squared off in another classic in 1995, in what Greg Maddux called the best game of his career. They met in St. Louis on August 20, 1995, taking only one hour and 50 minutes to finish a 1-0 game. 

“[We threw] ten pitches an inning,” Morgan said. “We would get strike three on an 0-2 or a 1-2 pitch. We didn’t go from 0-2 to 3-2 at all that night.”

Yet after the cleats were brushed off and the gloves were packed away, the two rivals on the field were close friends away from it.

“We would come up and hit off of each other and then after the game we’d go to dinner and do our thing,” Morgan said. “I lived out in the same country club as he did in Vegas, and in the winter we’d play golf. We were both competitive. We respected each other.”

After his 25 years in the game, Morgan is able to look back at his own lengthy career and further respect Maddux's achievements.

“To be on that side and to realize how hard it was to do what he did … 355 wins in 20 something years, 15-plus wins a year for 20 years, it’s mind boggling to see that he’s going to be out there in the Hall of Fame in this Sunday.”

Friday, July 25, 2014

Remembering Greg Maddux in his finest hour

Greg Maddux pitched in 744 regular season games, many in heat filled pennant races with the Atlanta Braves during their nine-year playoff run from 1995-2003, but when he was asked after the announcement of his 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame induction about his best mound performance, he unequivocally responded with a 1995 mid-season game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

On August 20, 1995, Maddux was the model of efficiency, needing only 88 pitches to shut down the St. Louis Cardinals 1-0. He dueled with Cardinals pitcher Mike Morgan, who matched Maddux by allowing only one run on 84 pitches in eight innings.

Greg Maddux / Jasen Leather
It is ironic that Maddux matched up with Morgan in his finest hour. Both attended Valley High School in Las Vegas (Morgan graduating in 1978, Maddux in 1984), learning under the careful guidance of area scout Ralph Meder. As a young kid, Maddux grew up watching Morgan pitch in high school, a teammate of his older brother Mike.

“I knew him at 11 years old when he watched me pitch when he was in grade school,” Morgan said in a phone interview on Friday.

Morgan, who has been actively working to rebuild the youth baseball programs in Park City, Utah, immediately remembered the quick pace of their match-up.

“It was an hour and fifty-three minutes or something like that,” he said. “They barely got a run off of me.”

The Braves scored first when Chipper Jones plated Marquis Grisson in the third inning on a ground out to second base.

With the Cardinals down by a run early in the game, catcher Danny Sheaffer knew that both pitchers were going to be unyielding with their offerings.

Sheaffer got one of the only two hits surrendered by Maddux in that game. Speaking recently with Sheaffer, who is the current manager of the Tampa Bay Rays rookie affiliate in Princeton, W.Va, he recalled the evening well.

“It was obvious from the first inning that one run may be the difference in this game,” Sheaffer said. “Both were in control and [the] hitters knew it; [the] umpires were expecting strikes and made it clear that was their intention, a fast paced, as well as a well-played game.”

Seemingly in a race to get back to the dugout, Maddux struck out nine, surrendering no walks while only allowing two hits — a lead off single to outfielder Brian Jordan in the fifth inning, and a lead off double to Sheaffer in the sixth.

“He’s the best, he’s the best,” Jordan told The Dispatch in 1995. “As long as he continues to do that, he’s going to continue to win Cy Youngs every year. I don’t think there’s another pitcher out there who has such control.”

The Cardinals did whatever they could to scratch a run home against Maddux. Jordan stole second after his single in the fifth, only to have Maddux retire the next three batters, stranding him in scoring position.

“At least I feel like I did something,” Jordan said about his attempt to score.

In the later innings both clubs worked feverishly to tally another run. Maddux and Morgan continued to stifle their efforts.

“[We threw] ten pitches an inning,” Morgan said. “We would get strike three on an 0-2 or a 1-2 pitch. We didn’t go from 0-2 to 3-2 at all that night.”

Positioned behind the plate, Sheaffer could feel the heightened sense of urgency by the two clubs as both pitchers breezed through the lineups.

“Both teams played the game as if one run was going to potentially win,” Sheaffer said. “Both teams focused [on] situational hitting and neither had success; that's how good both pitchers were.”

Taking matters into his own hands while walking to the batter’s box to start the sixth inning, Sheaffer decided on a more aggressive approach against Maddux.

“The deeper in the count we would get with Greg, the more he would force us to hit "his" pitch,” he said. “I didn't want to be in that position.”

Sheaffer took a mighty cut at a first pitch fastball and came within inches of evening the score.

“I came within a foot of tying the game,” he said. “Yes, it was a mistake in location looking back at the tape, but without that mistake we wouldn't have come close.”

Just as Maddux did in the previous inning after Jordan’s lead off hit, he sent the next three batters after Sheaffer down in order, quelling whatever resistance the Cardinals could muster.

Despite the quiet bats of his teammates, Morgan remained firmly entrenched in giving his club the best shot against the junior statesman from his hometown.

“I was locked in,” he said. “He was one pitch better that day.”

Maddux retired the Cardinals in order for the next three innings, diminishing their efforts to match the lone run from the Braves in the third inning.

“He was never overpowering, but in every at-bat he would always give the impression that he could do whatever he wanted to with the baseball,” Sheaffer said.

Although Maddux said that he tired after the seventh, he continued to pound the strike zone with his impeccable control.

“I kept getting the fastball in there,” Maddux said. “That was my best pitch tonight.”