SAN DIEGO -- Near the end of the long journey of his now Hall of Fame career, Greg Maddux made practically a two-season stop with the Padres wedged between two short stints with the Dodgers. They are the nearly forgotten years of a career in which he won 355 games, the most of any pitcher in his generation.
"It was nice," Maddux said about spending the entire 2007 season and most of '08 with the Padres. "I wish I was better when I was here."
Maddux didn't pitch poorly. He was 20-20 with the Padres in 60 starts, winning his 350th game on May 10, 2008, at Petco Park against the Rockies. Of course, Maddux is much better known for his 11 years with the Braves and 10 with the Cubs, the team that drafted and developed the right-hander.
Maddux was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 27, along with fellow pitcher Tom Glavine, slugger Frank Thomas and managers Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox, who had Glavine and Maddux together in his Braves starting rotation for 10 of their most formative years.
The Padres honored Maddux on Friday night as San Diego manager Bud Black presented him with a plaque prior to the home game against the Dodgers. Maddux was the 10th player to at least play a portion of his career with the Padres now to have a plaque in the hallowed Hall, led by the late Tony Gwynn, the only one in that group to play his entire 20-year career in San Diego.
Black began his tenure as Padres manager, replacing the departed Bruce Bochy, just as Maddux arrived in time for the 2007 season.
"I always tried to come here," said Maddux, who was born in Texas, grew up in Ohio, but has long made his home in Las Vegas. "The first time I was a free agent in 1992, this was one of the first places I called. I always liked San Diego. It was always the best road trip in the league. It's close to Vegas. There are a lot of reasons why I like it here. It took 20 years, but I finally got a chance to play here and I'm really glad I had that opportunity."
Maddux was too rich for the Padres at his market value in 1992 when the Braves outdistanced the Yankees in those negotiations. But in 2007, the Padres had just come off back-to-back National League West titles and seized on a chance to add Maddux to the pitching staff for two years at $10 million apiece. They would lose a tiebreaker game to the Rockies at Coors Field that season when Jake Peavy won the NL Cy Young Award and pitching Triple Crown by leading the league with 19 wins, a 2.54 ERA and 240 strikeouts.
Neither Peavy -- now with the Giants -- nor the Padres have enjoyed that kind of success since then. Peavy has often said it was no coincidence that he had his most productive season when Maddux was around to take him under his wing.
"He was just being nice by saying that," said Maddux, who was 14-11 with a 4.14 ERA in 34 starts that season. "But Peavy had that year and not one person threw a pitch for him. He threw every pitch by himself. How hard he fought out there on the mound and how he threw the ball is why he had that year."
Maddux is certainly underestimating his own worth. He's currently the upper-level pitching coordinator for Texas, where his brother, Mike, is the big league pitching coach, and his expertise is highly valued by the Rangers organization, which has suffered a number of pitching injuries this season.
Upon signing with the Padres in 2007, Maddux joined Black, a former Major League pitcher, and Darren Balsley, who by that time was already evolving into one of the top pitching coaches in the game. Maddux recognized both men in his speech at the induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., this past month, and on Friday night, he credited Balsley for helping him perfect his changeup.
Black said Maddux is one of the smartest pitchers he's ever had the pleasure of dealing with.
"Maddux was wonderful, Mad Dog was tremendous," said Black, using the pitcher's famous nickname. "We had him late in his career, but he was a big part of our success in 2007. Peavy won the Cy Young and Chris Young was an All Star. Mad Dog made his starts. He was consistent. He was steady. He was great on the team and in the dugout. Probably a guy with the purest competitive baseball instincts I've ever had. A great baseball mind, one of the best baseball minds I've ever been around especially on the pitching side."
Maddux values every stop he made in his 23-year career, which is why he declined to favor any of those four teams by placing their logo on his plaque. He played for the Cubs and the Dodgers twice, finishing his career in Los Angeles when the Padres traded him on Aug. 19, 2008, to a team that had a chance to make the playoffs. The Dodgers lost to the Phillies in the NL Championship Series, and Maddux retired at the end of that postseason.
They may be the forgotten years, but they were good years nevertheless.
"It was cool playing here," Maddux said. "This is a good place. The weather is great. In San Diego, every day was perfect."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less