How do you define Excellence? Well, here's how hall of Famer Greg Maddux does and you can listen now and see if his thoughts are similar to yours.
Our guests--like Maddux--speak exclusively about their journeys of Excellence like they never have before, providing insights and inspirations. Our timeless episodes aren't a glorification of Excellence but deep examinations of it.
Hear never-heard-before comments and exclusive perspectives about Excellence, life, baseball, overcoming challenges, and more, in this thorough and intriguing interview with one of the greatest pitchers in Major League Baseball history, Greg Maddux.
Upon hearing it, Greg's brother, Mike, the St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach and a guest during episode 5, said, "That is one of the most interesting interviews with Greg I have ever heard."
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Greg Maddux Magnifying Excellence Podcast Highlights.
Maddux shares ...
Plenty of extremely candid comments and much, much more. Thanks for sharing, Greg!
This is a new Era of Excellence. This is THE Magnifying Excellence Podcast.
Magnifying Excellence Episode one, Greg Maddux
(this is a transcript -- certain translations may be erroneous)
Welcome to a new era of excellence. This is the magnifying excellence podcast powered by xlete.com. I'm your host, Brian Hurlburt, we're broadcasting from Las Vegas, the sports and entertainment capital of the world. This is the first and hopefully a long series of discussions with the world's best on everyday. People who have achieved personal and or team excellence, no matter their fields or professions in the intro. We heard inspiring words about excellence from football hall of Famer, Marcus Allen entertainment, icon, Oprah Winfrey, and crossover golf superstar tiger woods today, baseball hall of Famer and Las Vegas resident. Greg Maddox is with us and he'll share his definition of excellence. Plus, he’ll also reveal how he attained excellence, how he remained motivated, how a fortunate a cookie inspired him, and maybe most importantly, how he persevered through challenges.
We all face tough times as we chase Excellence. Now, Greg Maddox, who I refer to as “Only”. Greg is the only pitcher in major league baseball history to win more than 300 games, 355 to be exact while striking out more than 3000 batters and recording fewer than 1000 walks. He is the only pitcher in major league history to win more than 15 games for 17 straight seasons. Greg Maddux is the only pitcher in major league history to win 18 golden gloves for fielding his position nearly flawlessly. And for a time he was the only pitcher in major league history to win four straight Cy young awards, a feat later matched by the legendary Randy Johnson. Greg has been described as the smartest pitcher in baseball history and was named the pitcher of the decade in the 1990s by sporting news. So Mr. Only, how do you define the word excellence?
Greg Maddux (GM) (02:24)
I think excellence is doing something good for a long period of time. It turns into excellence, especially in a baseball as a pitcher. All you could do is make a good pitch and you try to make one good pitch one after the other. And if you do it enough times in a row, I think it becomes excellence.
Host Brian Hurlburt (BH): (02:44)
It is now easy for Maddux to understand what goes into excellence. But as a young pitcher, he was asked a singular question that brought with it, new perspective and a new mindset.
You know, I had a coach ask me when I was about 20 years. He goes, how good do you think you can be? And, I never thought of that. You know, I was always just trying to win the game or strike a guy out or get a hit or whatever. And I kind of challenged myself. Why don't you just try to do everything right. And try to find out how good you can be. And I think that's kind of what drove me. I was always just trying to get better. I wanted to know how good I could be that day.
And who was that coach and kind of take me back into that moment and what it felt like for that to click in kind of an “aha” moment about pursuing that excellence.
That was Billy Connors. He was, when I was in AAA minors, he kind of mentioned that to me. He was my pitching coach in Chicago and, you know, first time I think I ever tried to do things mentally instead of just physically. And he kind of put me on that path.
And from that moment with coach Billy Connors, Maddox made the sacrifices and ultimately became arguably the most intelligent baseball player in history, all because someone challenged him to be excellent.
Well, I think once I wanted to find out how good I can be, then I realized I'm going to have to make sacrifices. Okay. I'm going to have to pay attention to what I'm doing between starts between practices. can I be disciplined enough to get my workouts in and do them correctly?, am I disciplined enough to learn from my mistakes in the past?, just kind of everything kind of revolves around doing what you can to try to get just a little bit better than the guy next to you. My long-term goal was to see how good I can get. So I understood my long-term goals. So really, I just tried to win the day when the moment when it was time to prepare or do something that might make me get better on the mountain. I was willing to do it.
And we'll flash forward a little bit before we flash back. But you said you tried to get to see how good you could be looking back. How good was Greg Maddux?
I feel like I got the most out of my ability. So, I was very happy with that. I, I felt like when you look back, is there anything I would've done different? probably not. Well, I think a lot of it was, I did have a lot of God-given ability and you know, I was able to I had a fast ball. I had a fast ball movement and I had pretty good command. So, those are two things that I was just born with and you try to maximize, maximize it the best you can and fortunate to have a lot of very good coaches along the way. I think I took a piece from all my coaches coming up starting, starting in high school. I first started learning how to pit the shin., you know, it's almost like once you learn something and it helps you on the mound, you're, you're, you're eager to learn something else that's going to help you even more down the road. And luckily I was kind of, kind of wired that way. I always wanted to find out how good I can get .
Winning the moment was an overriding Maddux philosophy, but the driving force and among the ever-present quotes, Maddux, drew upon as inspiration was from a Chinese philosopher. And he learned it during a chance encounter.
Well, yeah, there's a few, they seem to pop up anytime the situation comes up, you think of one, I mean, there's tons of them., probably the one I probably use the most was I actually read it on a fortune cookie. It said Confucius once said, underestimating, your opponent could lead to catastrophe. And I'm kind of thinking, you take a lot of hitters for granted sometimes, you know, especially when the pitcher walks up there and sometimes it comes back to bite you. And ever since that day, I've always felt like I've had the same level of concentration or commitment, you know, to that ninth hitter, as I would say, a Tony Gwynn or Barry Bonds
During his 23-year career Maddux faced some, all-time greats like Gwynn and Bonds, and was also surrounded by strong talent while growing up in Las Vegas, including his brother, Mike, who was seven years his elder. At an early age, Greg was also inspired by the overall excellence of a Los Angeles Lakers legend.
I think early on it was my brother and, Mike Morgan, Marty Barrett. The guys, when I first started playing baseball against they were all pros and, you know, being 16, 17 years old and, and being able to walk on the field with them and play with them was a big early influence. And you know, as a kid, I loved the reds. I love Pete Rose and Joe Morgan and, and those guys, I looked up to them, anybody that wore red uniform, I looked up to and earlier in other sports, you know, probably the first guy I thought was, man, this guy's really something special was probably magic watching him. I was kind of into basketball a little bit when I was in high school. And for me, you know, the Magic, Bird era is when I started really looking up to athletes and then along came Jordan, and then he was in a league by himself.
Absolutely. And what did you learn by watching magic?
You know what, I don't know if I learned anything or not. I think I just appreciated what he was doing on the basketball court. he was special. He made his teammates better., I don't know if I learned any of that stuff. Maybe I realized it for the first time, just how good this guy is, but always a fan of sports and just enjoyed watching the top guys compete.
How did your brother Mike inspire you on and off the diamond?
Everything I was about to do, he had already done. So it was kind of my crutch. When you get drafted, what do I expect? And then you get drafted, Hey, what's rookie ball. Like what's a ball. Like what do you do when your teammates are acting like this? You know, just anything that was happening to me for the first time in baseball. I always call him to find out how to handle the situation. And as we got older, then it became, well, how do you pitch this guy? How do you pitch that guy? Then we started trading scouting reports left and right the scouting back then, wasn't like it was today where you know, you got your own schematics back then and you got those by word of mouth and trusting opinions of people that you've played with.
Big brother Mike was four years older than Greg and had a front row seat to his excellence to Mike. A t-shirt Greg made with the slogan, “if I can't win, I don't want to play” was much more than something to wear around as a teenager.
Mike Maddux: (09:54)
Well, you look back at his career. There's so many accolades you can talk about, but I would say that what really set him apart and put them above everyone and made him so excellent is that he was a proven winner. He proved to everybody he could win. And he did it in all facets of the game. You know, he fielded this position. Well, you could handle the bat. You know, you got bunched down. He did all the little things that he didn't take. There were no little things in the game for him. There's nothing, little, everything was big. And he was very, very good and making big things, little and little things big. And I think that was one reason. He was so successful. One of the best we seen
Mike also watched as Greg didn't let a difficult rookie year derail his career, that perseverance became a Greg Maddux trademark.
You go back to his rookie year, right away he got an opportunity. So you gotta be pretty good to get an opportunity. So he was good enough to get the opportunity. But even with that opportunity on a big scale, he wasn't very good. You know, he was like six and 14, but you know, so what do you do? Do you go to the school of hard knocks? Well, he opted to get back and he came right back the next year in Wednesday, 18 ball games makes an all-star team and, you know, through 249, he's in his sophomore campaign, that's pretty impressive. I mean, he, he got into some very, very fine company just by doing that. And that's when you knew it was going to be pretty good within the next couple of years, you know, where he goes out there and he throws 238 innings and 237 innings. And does it again, he picks up 34 wins in those two years. You said, man, this guy went from he's going to be pretty good to use. Pretty good.
According to Mike and early lessons set the foundation for the legendary Greg Maddux mindset.
Well, he's told one and I pass it on to a few of the guys, you know and it was a learning experience on the mountain for him. And he was faced in a situation of bases, loaded two outs and a three, two count. And all he could hear was this, you know, grumpy old Sergeant in the background, you know, you don't walk, you don't walk on, you don't walk. So rather than walk him, you throw a non-competitive pitch right down the middle and the guy squares it up, you know, for a three run double, and you lose the game. Well, you say, you know, I'm not doing that anymore. I'm going to learn from that the next time I'm not going to pitch, not walking home a pitch to get the guy out. And he was faced with that similar situation. Like maybe two starts later and he finds himself with bases loaded two outs, three and two counts and throws the guy to change up under the zone guy, swings and misses. He chases it, you know, instead of all four strike three and everybody thinks it was a great pitch. And he said, you know, at that moment right there, I pitched to get the guy out. I did not pitch to not walk. And I thought that was a big turning point in his career.
Maddux shared a dugout with two all-time great pitchers during his time with the Atlanta Braves. And he observed excellence both during games and also away from baseball.
Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz as a teammate and as a player.
And what do you think, how did Glavine embody excellence? What did he do so special above and beyond the other pitchers in the league?
I think he did, like I said, he was very good, lots of times. And I think it adds up over the years, you know, I think if somebody was to have a good year, two or three good years, you know, they had, they had a good run, but I think when you look at somebody like him and he did it over like 18 years and then that word it becomes excellent. I think that's what separates him from the other good pitchers is he was able to do it longer.
And how about John Smoltz? What were his excellent characteristics?
He was able to do things with the baseball that just other guys couldn't do and be able to do it quickly., he could throw different arm angles four different pitches from four different arm angles. He could, he was going through injuries that hurt to throw his fork ball. So we started throwing a knuckle ball and he picked it up in like a day, just the natural ability that he had. And, and, and, you know, if he, if he thought I might need this pitch against this hitter, he would go figure it out before the game started, like two or three days before the game started. And just an incredible athlete didn't matter what the sport was. I mean, you should see him hit a golf ball, used to see him play ping pong, shoot pool. I mean, just very good at anything athletic. Very good at it. Also had a scholarship to play at at Michigan college basketball. So I mean the basketball player too.
What is something what's the characteristic you took from his game or his philosophy or his just as tenacity?
Well, I think what I learned most from, from Smoltzy was it's okay to have fun when you're not playing. he helped me enjoy my time away from the ballpark, probably more than any other teammate I had. And a lot of it was through golf. You know, he, we would, we would play golf, we would enjoy our, our downtime. And instead of sitting in the room waiting to go to the ballpark and, I think mentally that might keep you a little bit fresher when it is time to go to work.
What about some of the people you played against faced or other pitchers who were some of those guys that truly embodied that word excellence?
I always thought Roger Clemens was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Obviously he was one of the greatest throwers ever, but as far as pitchers, he also was a very good pitcher., excellent command of his fast ball uses off-speed pitches as well as anybody and had, you know, a better fastball than everybody, but he was the kind of guy that I felt if he threw 88, he could probably win just as many games.
xlete.com Commercial: (16:39)
Now, a quick walk to the mound, as we pause excellence with Greg Maddux, we hope you are enjoying this episode of magnifying excellence. Be sure to download our other episodes, which can all be found at xlete.com. Also visit the site and join the magnifying excellence club and receive a first in a series of magnifying excellence. eBooks. You can also share your definitions of excellence with us now back to Greg Maddux
When you win 355 games, as Maddux did, indelible moments are too many to mention, but there are a few that do stand out above the rest, barely out of his teens. Greg made his major league debut, which turned into a complete game victory.
Well, I was 20 years old and there wasn't a lot of thought process back then, I was still developing, you know, I was excited to be in the big leagues., I was able to make my first start against the reds, which was the team I grew up idolizing a special day. Pete Rose was player manager that day. And, you know, we're talking 30 years ago, 40 years ago, however long ago it was you know, I just remember being real excited, real nervous, real antsy, and striving for, you know, the last four years in the minor leagues to, to one day, get to the big leagues and, and to have this moment I did try to take a couple minutes to enjoy it before the game started, but I remember being extremely nervous and we scored a lot of runs early in that game and I was able to relax and just go up there and let it fly.
Another dream-like moment occurred in 1996, when Maddux twirled a three hit shutout at Yankee stadium to put the Braves up two games to zero in the world series.
Well, it was pretty special. It was special in the fact that it was my first time in Yankee stadium and had never been to the ballpark kind of, kind of right around inner league. We had get to play them and you know, to make your first starting Yankee stadium, it's kind of one of the ideal places you get a chance to pitch in and to do it in the world series was pretty special. Also we had just won the first game, small T had just pitched and got the winning the winning game won. And I remember that game. It put us up to nothing and going back to Atlanta, I thought we're in pretty good shape, but, you know, as you know, we lost the next four against them
While 96 ended like a nightmare, 1995 finally saw the Braves breakthrough after some other disappointing playoff and world series losses.
It was pretty cool. It was cool for, you know, cause it was something you share with your teammates, your neighbors, your city, your fans I didn't realize it at the time, but after we had just won the world series, we're in Atlanta the next day and the neighbors are coming up and thanking us for winning the world series. And, you know, then you go to the parade and it was just, it was something that the whole city took pride in. It, it wasn't something just you as a player took pride in. So that, that was, that was, that kind of caught me a little bit off guard, but you know, it's the ultimate prize. It's the ultimate prize in baseball. And I remember leaving Chicago and I wanted to go to a place that had a chance to go to the world series. And at the time Atlanta was pretty good and they had a young staff, you know, you need to be around a lot of good teammates to win a world series. And it was pretty special.
And what would be one or two moments that stand out during that series that that you remember vividly, remember that you had excellence there on the field?
Well, game one was special because we ended up winning that game and it got us off on the right start. And, but the most memorable part of the whole world series would be a Mark. Waller's thrown that pitch to Carlos by Erica, that he flew out the left Senator Markey scripts and ran it down in the left center gap. And obviously the Dogpile at the end of the game, that was the last time I was in a dog pile was a high school state championship., it kind of brought back some memories of that, believe it or not. And you know, people might think you're crazy for comparing, you know, a high school state championship to the world series, but it was the exact same feeling. It was the, we got the w we'd won the ultimate prize this year
Playing at Valley high school for Maddux under hall of fame coach Roger Fairless was a foundational experience where excellence among other traits were instilled on a daily basis.
I didn't know it at the time Fairless was kind of hard on us. He was, you know, tough guy yelling at us, calling us names, toughness up., you know, he, he taught us grit. He taught us attitude. he taught us how to work hard for the first time. I never worked so hard in baseball until I played for him. So we, you know, developed work habits some, some mental toughness, some grit and we won then I didn't realize how well I was coached until I'd signed and went to rookie ball. And I knew the bunt plays I had to pick off move. You know, I knew how to do all the little things in baseball. And I was, I was kind of shocked the guys around me didn't know a simple bunk play and, you know, kinda got me off on the right start.
Right. And you talked about grit and tenacity and different things like that. What are some other things that Roger and steel instilled in you and the other players?
Well, again, I think it's worth ethic and he taught us the game. He taught us the game the right way. He taught us how to play it hard., and he taught us do what you have to do to win. And you know, kind of developed a winning attitude back then it was important to win. And, you know, that's kind of one of the big differences I see now with the younger players. It's it's more important to look good at at the at the scout camp than it is to actually go out there and help your team win
Greg's Valley Vikings won a lot, but it was also around that time when a legendary Vegas baseball coach started to teach Maddux, there was much more to pitching success than being blessed with a live arm.
I was about 16 years old, pitching over at Valley high school on a Sunday in the off season. And Ralph Meder, who was my pitching coach at the time, told me that velocity is going to get you drafted. And he said, you're going to throw hard enough to get drafted, but you need movement to have success and to win. And he started teaching me how to sink the baseball instead of throwing it for same straight as part as you can., he was trying to get me to sync it and pitch down at the knees. He taught movement and location any. He said that the hardest pitch in baseball, the head is a fast ball, is a located basketball with movement. And coming before me was Mike Morgan and my brother, and they both kind of tried to do that. And I had two good examples that I kind of grew up watching and listened to Ralph trusted what he was telling me. And kind of just took off from there.
To the outside, A hall of fame career might seem like it is filled with only golden moments. That's never the case. And quickly after leaving Fairless and meter Maddux received a dose of reality.
Well, for me, I loved baseball. I enjoyed playing baseball and you know, the hardest time for me was probably when I signed my first contract and left Vegas and I had to go play in Pikeville, Kentucky, which is I think our ballpark was like three or four miles from the Hatfields and McCoys graveyard and you know, 18 years old, first time away from home, stuck on the buses, winding through the Appalachian mountains., after about two weeks, I'm thinking, what am I doing? I could have went to college. I could I would still be in Vegas in the summer getting ready for college. And one of my teammates, Bob Mandeville, you might know him he's over at TPC too. He was on that team and he kind of took me under his wing a little bit and a lot like small. So he showed me how to enjoy life in general when you're away from the ballpark,
Sometimes overlooked on the journey to excellence are the struggles along the path. For many, these obstacles will halt progress and lead to quitting for the truly excellent challenges, only strengthen, resolve, and provide learning moments. For Maddux, those learning moments came early when nerves nearly derailed his career. And then later when he didn't enjoy as much success in the playoffs as he did during the regular season,
I understand, you hear a lot of people say that no matter how good you are, this game will humble you. And, I was humbled very humbled and, you know, just kind of taking the advice I've heard so many times from older players and coaches that, okay, I'm humbled. Now you got to get, you got to get yourself back up and start working again. And, you know, why'd you fail? I think it's always important to understand it was important to me to understand, okay, why did I fail today? And then hopefully if I got in that situation again, I wouldn't make that same mistake twice.
Can you take us back to one of those professional moments that maybe you remember and you figured out why you failed and share with us why you failed and how you overcame that?
Well, the first time I failed, I was failing because I wasn't able, I wasn't able to pitch slow my first shear in the big leagues., my fast ball was good. My off-speed pitches weren't good. So I understood in order for me to have success, I'm going to have to pitch slower, better. So I worked hard on, on pitching slower and at the same time, trying to keep my basketball where it was at and location and all of that you know, after I had some success on the mound, first time in the playoffs I failed. And the biggest reason I failed in that, in that game was I wasn't able to control my nerves. Nerves, got the best of me. And I, made very bad decisions mentally on pitch selection. And I blame that on the nerves. So I needed to learn how to not pitch nervous, but think nervous. And I did see a sports psychologist. He did help me out with that. I was able to separate the two and understand when I was nervous and not let it affect my thinking.
And how did you do that? What was the advice that, that allowed you to overcome that that seems like you know, for an athlete to come to terms with that's pretty big moment and then to take the steps to overcome it and realize it, how did you do that?
Well, the first thing I didn't lie to myself. I think it's very important to not lie to yourself. And, you know, I'm not afraid to look weak by saying I was nervous and it got the best of me. I knew that was why I lost. And, and I want to correct it. I want to fix it. So you have to, you have to be honest with yourself to tell yourself the truth. And I knew the truth and I needed help trying to fix it. So sports psychologists seemed like the place to go. And Harvey Dorfman was the guy, very good sports psychologist back in the late eighties, early nineties., one of the first in baseball took advantage of his ability to help me, help myself think correctly. And, if you think correctly, now you just have to perform correctly.
Speaker 3: (29:20)
Not only did Maddux need to develop mental toughness on the mound. He also had to be steely off of it.
You know, I've heard that, I heard that, especially coming in the minor leagues, I heard I wasn't big enough to pitch 200 endings every year size wise. Stuff like 'I'll never last; he doesn't quite throw hard enough. He throws hard, but he needs to throw a little bit harder.' I've heard those things. And I just figured if I won, they would all go away and it was never a size contest or speed contest. It was always a pitching contest. And, and as long as I felt like, as long as I was able to outpitch the other pitcher that that would be good enough. Constructive criticism is different than a negative comment. It's it was a negative comment., usually it just, you know, you put your crash helmet on, you let it hit you and bounce right off. You don't let it soak in
For more than two decades. Maddux continued to overcome each challenge. And what it added up to is one of the most statistically excellent careers in baseball history, a high level of consistency over time equals excellence. He struck out more than 3000 with less than 1000 walks. He won 15 games for 17 straight seasons, and he won 18 gold glove awards for fielding excellence was on display all over the field. Plus, the little things can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Well, because there's such a fine line between winning and losing. Okay. And I figured if I could get three outs, a game on my, you know, with my glove, whether fielding a bunt, catching a ground ball covering first, whatever it is, if I can get three outs a game, and you do that 35 times a year, you're looking at, you know, over a hundred hours defensively. And you know, you, you take your ERA (earned run average) and you add a hundred outs to it, of zeros, and now watch your era. So to me, I knew it was important to be able to take advantage of the outs. You get the opportunities you get to get out. So it doesn't always have to be throwing a nasty slider or locating a basketball. Sometimes it could be just filling a bucket correctly or catching one hopper hit back to you,
Greg Maddux embodies true excellence and baseball. And much of his success was because of mental toughness, grit as Roger Fairless, his high school coach would call it. So what advice does Greg have for the rest of us striving for our own personal excellence?
Again, I think it's just determination. It's like, do you want to be good? I think that's the question you have to ask yourself is, ' am I willing?' How bad do I want to be good? Am I willing to make the sacrifices to do what it takes to be good? I mean all the really good players, you go to an all-star game and all the guys are working out before the game. Guys, guys are still working hard. They're taking ground balls, they're taking extra BP, they're there, they're working their craft, so to speak. And, you just have to have that desire to want to be good. Obviously you want to win. I think sometimes people forget that winning is the most important thing when you're out there playing a game and you know, we've all had teammates that would rather go four for four and lose, then go one for four.
And I can't stress winning kinda is what it's all about. What do I have to do to help my team win? what sacrifices do I have to make during the game to help my team win? And, you know, that's kind of the winning type attitude that I think will take you a long way in life. Well, looking back on my career, I mean, it was, you know, I got a chance to do something I loved for 25 years and feel very privileged and fortunate to be a baseball player for that long and, and to have some success on the field and just the opportunities that it opens up off the field as well. It's, it's incredible. And you know, I try to pass along that you don't have to be gifted. You know, you don't have to be, have this great natural ability to be good. You just have to get the most out of your ability.
BH : (34:06)
Another huge, thank you to Greg Maddux for allowing us to magnify his excellence. Be sure to visit xlete.dot com to download our other episodes, which feature Greg's brother, pitching coach and former pitcher, Mike Maddux, NFL player, and Naval Academy graduate Napoleon Macallan, entertainer and businesswoman, Susan Anton, and basketball hall of Famer, Bill Walton. Also, please join the magnifying excellence club and get the first in a series of Magnifying Excellence e-Books, and other access. You can also share your definitions of excellence with us and share any excellence you have witnessed. We are always on the lookout to honor true excellence, no matter where it happens. This has been THE Magnifying Excellence podcast powered by xlete.com and broadcast from Las Vegas, the sports and entertainment capital of the world, production and music by J Hurley productions. And thank you for being a part of a new era of exegesis. Any brief celebrity quotes do not imply endorsement of xlete.com or the magnifying excellence podcast, all rights reserved.