Maddux Not Quite But Almost Retired

By Murray Chass

November 25, 2008

The previous column on this Web site said that Greg Maddux had retired. The report, as it turns out, was premature. However, by the end of the week, it might not be.

“I haven’t officially decided yet,” Maddux said in a telephone interview Monday, “but I will do so very shortly. I’ll try to figure it out in the next couple days.”

Maddux didn’t say if he was leaning one way or the other, but earlier this month he told the Review-Journal in his hometown, Las Vegas, “I’m thinking more about not playing than playing.” And during the Monday interview his tone suggested that he would retire after 22 years.

“My position right now,” Maddux said Monday, “is I’m going to talk to a couple people and make a decision very shortly. I just got back from vacation and haven’t had a phone for two weeks, which was kind of nice.”

A decision to retire could help create an unprecedented development. It is conceivable, though not very likely, that Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, the three musketeers of the Atlanta Braves for a decade, could all retire and, hand-in-hand, march into the Hall of Fame together in 2014.

Glavine said the other day he’ll know in about a month when he starts throwing in his return from elbow surgery if he’ll be able to pitch next season and if he wants to pitch next season. Smoltz isn’t saying how his recovery from shoulder surgery is going, but a source close to him said he is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and is optimistic about his chances of continuing his career.

“The way he was throwing before he got hurt last year he could still do it,” Maddux said of Smoltz. Maddux is the only one of the trio whose decision will not be based on his arm.

Smoltz made only five starts this past season, all in April. He had a 3-2 record and 2.00 earned run average before going on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. He returned to make one relief appearance in June before having season-ending shoulder surgery June 10.

Dr. James Andrews, the celebrated orthopedist, repaired Smoltz’s labrum and also worked on the pitcher’s rotator cuff, a.c. joint and shoulder capsule.

Smoltz is accustomed to serious surgery. He had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2000, missed that entire season and much of the next. After he returned, he moved from the starting rotation, where he won 24 games and the Cy Young award in 1996, and became a brilliant closer for three seasons, amassing 144 saves. He switched back to starting in 2005 and posted a 44-24 record in three seasons.

If Smoltz is able to pitch next season, it’s not certain if he’ll do it as a starter or a reliever. He prefers starting, but he is prepared to do whatever he needs to do to play baseball. Playing is his primary goal.

Smoltz isn’t ready to talk about his status or the future, but people familiar with his situation said Smoltz’s rehabilitation has gone well and that he is throwing pain free. Meanwhile, lines of communications are open between Smoltz and the Braves, as they are between Glavine and the Braves.

“Nothing has been decided; that’s the gentleman’s agreement I have with both of them,” said Frank Wren, the Braves’ general manager. “They’re both in the midst of rehabilitation and neither had a whole lot of information about where they were. We’re just going to play that by ear as the winter goes along, see where they are in rehab. We told both we’d love to have them.”

Smoltz will be 42 years old May 15, Glavine 43 March 25. If their repaired body parts are sound, they could very well still help the Braves as starters. The Braves, however, won’t sit around waiting for them. 

“We’ve got to construct our pitching staff as if they’re not coming back,” Wren said. “I’m not sure the role, what they’ll be able to do, so we have to construct our pitching staff as if they’re not coming back. If they do, it’s gravy. We don’t have an answer. We expressed a willingness to work with them and have them work with us. We’re trying to rebuild our pitching and need to have a bit of flexibility.”

Without Smoltz and Glavine in their rotation, the Braves have a corps of young starters: Jair Jurrjens (13-10), Jorge Campillo (8-7), Charlie Morton (4-8), Jo-Jo Reyes (3-11).

“Jurrjens and Campillo both had good rookie years,” Wren said. “Morton and Reyes, whom we have high hopes for, had good times but also struggled. We have to add some depth with veteran pitchers. If we’re able to get some veteran guys other than Smoltz and Glavine and if they come back and unseat the kids, the kids can go back to Triple A.”

For the veterans he wants, Wren is looking at free agents and has also explored possible trades. He spoke with San Diego about Jake Peavy, but those talks have ended. “We’ve kind of focused our efforts in other directions so I’d have to say we’re not in it.”

Maddux is not one of the veterans Wren has considered. However, the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom Maddux finished the past season after a trade from San Diego, have indicated they would welcome Maddux back.

But Amanda (14) and Chase (11) would welcome their father at home, and as Maddux ponders his decision, they most likely exert a greater pull. “It would be nice to see them,” Maddux said.

Some players might find it irresistible to forgo the millions of dollars another contract would offer, but Maddux said, “I stopped playing for the money seven, eight years ago.”

And facing the reality of his age (43 April 14) and his 2008 record (8-13, 4.22), he said in his characteristic self-deprecating way, “I figured I was getting closer to the end when the bullpen catcher started taking his glove off before I was finished throwing.”

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