Greg Maddux retired today.
He was the greatest pitcher of my generation and possibly the best right-hander in baseball history.
In his career, he won 355 games, 18 Gold Gloves, four Cy Youngs and one World Series. He will be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
But whenever I see Maddux, I smile at the thought of what can only be described as an unfortunate "brush with greatness" moment with him.
In 1986 when Maddux was a rookie with the Chicago Cubs, I was also a rookie with the St. Louis Football Cardinals. The Cubs were in St. Louis for a mid-week three game series with the baseball Cardinals in Busch Stadium. As the Eagles and Phillies shared Veterans Stadium, the football and baseball teams in St. Louis also shared Busch. There was an auxiliary locker room for the visiting baseball team in Busch Stadium, but the visiting baseball teams shared our shower and bathroom facilities. It wasn't out of the ordinary to see Mike Schmidt, Steve Garvey and other National League stars in our showers from time to time.
On this particular September afternoon, I walked into the showers and saw two Cubs talking at the sink, while one was brushing his teeth. I didn't recognize either of them. The guy brushing was kinda burly and well built. His buddy looked like a 17-year-old kid whom I figured to be a batboy or clubhouse attendant. On the floor between them was a 5-gallon bucket of baseballs with a leather glove on top and six or seven bats leaning against the sink.
I had become accustomed to seeing famous baseball players in our facilities. As a rookie, I carefully followed the protocol of being a professional athlete, never approaching anyone for an autograph or ask for a piece of memorabilia.
But these guys didn't look like stars. So I asked the burly guy if he was willing to trade one of his bats for an NFL football. He finished brushing his teeth, dried his hands, reached out a hand and said, "I'm Keith Moreland with the Cubs." Turning to his little buddy, he said, "This is Greg Maddux." Just Greg Maddux. Not, "Greg Maddux of the Cubs." Just Greg Maddux. I suppose Moreland assumed I would know Maddux was also with the team.
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Since Maddux was wearing a Cubs hat and a grey Cubs t-shirt, I already figured he was with the Cubs.
Duh! Only, I thought he was a batboy.
So when Maddux reached down to the bucket to retrieve a ball, which he handed me with one of his bats, I said, "Nah, that's ok... I'd rather have one of his bats," motioning towards Moreland. Because Moreland was older and looked more like an athlete, I figured he must've been the star.
Keith Moreland was a journeyman player who even spent some time with the Phillies. Just another player. Little did I know that his "little buddy" was at the front end of a Hall of Fame career.
Among the trophies, photos, game balls and plaques in my home is a Louisville Slugger with "Keith Moreland" engraved on it. I keep it as a reminder of my brush with the greatest pitcher of this era, a four-time Cy Young winner and sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer.
And how I big-timed Greg Maddux because he looked like a batboy.