Hall of Famer Greg Maddux made an impression in Pittsfield
Former major leaguer Darrin Jackson said he remembers seeing two youngsters walking around the Chicago Cubs' minor league complex for Instructional League work in Mesa, Ariz., in 1984.
"I was out on the field and they said you have to see these two kids we just signed," Jackson said. "They looked like bat boys. I said OK, whatever.
"I can't spot them because I see two bat boys. It's them - it's [Jamie] Moyer and [Greg] Mad dux. Are you kidding me?"
The joke might have been on Jackson and his fellow Chicago farmhands that day, but in 23 seasons with four major league teams, the joke ended up being on big-league hitters. Maddux so dominated hitters that he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Maddux is a member of the Class of 2014. He is the only modern minor leaguer who called Wah conah Park home during his career to have received the call to the Hall.
The pitcher known as "The Professor," or "Mad Dog," averaged 16 wins and 10 losses in 23 seasons. His career earned-run average was 3.16. He averaged 34 starts, 229 innings pitched, 154 strikeouts and only 46 walks. The right-hander won four consecutive Cy Young Awards with the Atlanta Braves from 1992-95 and was an eight-time All-Star in compiling 355 career victories.
Jackson played with Maddux in Pittsfield in 1986 during the short time the right-hander was at Wahconah Park. They were teammates in Chicago in 1988 and 1989, and then opponents when Jackson played in San Diego from 1989-1992.
Jackson, now a radio broadcaster with the Chicago White Sox, said when the bat boy-looking Maddux took the mound in the Instructional League, it was like a high-school graduate going up against Class AA and AAA hitters and dominating them.
"I was standing in center field behind him and watching him break bat after bat after bat," said Jackson, who spent 12 seasons in the big leagues. "It was the first time I ever stood out [in the outfield] and said ‘I'm going to take my glove off and put it on the ground because there's no chance anybody is going to hit a ball to me.'
"I didn't do it, but I knew I could."
Mike Brumley, an assistant hitting coach with the Cubs, played with Maddux at Triple-A Iowa during the 1986 and 1987 seasons and again with Chicago in 1987.
"It's such a treat to see what he's done," Brumley said. "You knew he had those intangibles that went along with the great mind and the unbelievable feel in his hand to be able to command the ball the way he could."
Bill Everhart, the Eagle's editorial page editor, covered the Pittsfield Cubs along with Ray Lamont during Maddux's tenure.
"I would run into Greg occasionally at the YMCA where no one ever recognized him, which wasn't surprising. He may as well have been a member of the Tyler Aces [American Legion baseball team]," Everhart said. "He was not only young for a Double-A pitcher but he looked even younger."
A lot of truly outstanding baseball players wore Pittsfield team colors from 1985-2001, when affiliated minor league baseball made its most recent run at Wahconah Park. The aforementioned Moyer, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Grace and Mike Harkey were some of the ex-Pittsfield Cubs who went on to have lengthy major league careers.
Then there were Mets players like Jeromy Burnitz, A.J. Burnett, Edgardo Alfonso and Jason Isringhausen who belong on the list of excellent major leaguers.
But among those who played for Pittsfield during the 17 years of minor league baseball's return to the Berkshires, only Maddux received the call to Cooperstown.
"You look at him individually, you look at his competitive nature and the ability are all rolled into one," said former Cubs player and current Atlanta Braves coach Doug Dascenzo. "He was amazing. We all knew that. We were all honored to play behind him."
Maddux was a second-round selection of the Cubs out of high school in 1984. Two years later, he was starting for manager Tom Spencer in Pittsfield. Maddux, who was the youngest player in the Double-A Eastern League at 20 years of age, went 4-3 with a 2.69 earned-run average in eight starts. Dallas Green, the Cubs general manager at the time, and his staff quickly advanced Maddux to Triple-A Iowa.
All Maddux did at Iowa was go 10-1 with five complete games. A year later, Maddux was in the big leagues to stay.
Brumley never faced Mad dux, Dascenzo was a Chicago and Atlanta teammate, but Jackson did face him.
"There was one game where I was really locked in and I got two hits off him -- a ball into left field and then I hit a line drive right over his head into center field," said Jackson, who was a San Diego Padres player when Maddux was a Cub. "I got to first base and he was standing on the mound and looking toward first base in my direction, shaking his head and mouthing some words. Mark Grace was standing there and I said ‘Is he really talking to me?' "
Grace said there were no problems and the day ended with Jackson walking out of the San Diego clubhouse and seeing Maddux in front of the Cubs' room.
" I said ‘Hey let me ask you a question. Were you MF-ing me when I was standing over at first base?' He looked into space and said ‘What? No, no, I was just mad.' "
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