Chicago Cubs: A crown jewel of his class
His first start with Atlanta came in the 1993 season opener against a familiar group – the Chicago Cubs. He outdueled Mike Morgan and won the 1-0 ballgame, unfazed by Wrigley’s booing fans. Maddux understood the fans’ reaction but was hurt by comments made by former teammates, such as Ryne Sandberg, who accused Maddux of using the Cubs as a bargaining chip to obtain a larger contract elsewhere.
Maddux vehemently denied these claims, stating that he repeatedly made calls to the Cubs front office during the final stages of negotiations and, had they put their original offer back on the table, he would have “heavily” considered re-signing with them.
While the Cubs dipped further into mediocrity, the Braves added what Houston Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker called, “the greatest free-agent signing in baseball history.”
Maddux didn’t disappoint and was stellar in his first year in Atlanta going 20-10, leading the Braves to their third straight NL West title and leading the league with a 2.36 ERA – the first of four ERA crowns he would capture. He became the lynchpin and crown jewel of Atlanta’s much-vaunted rotation that also included John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.
During the next two strike-shortened seasons, Maddux was practically untouchable – going 16-6 with a 1.56 ERA in 1994 and then following that with a 19-2 mark in 1995 that included a 1.63 ERA, a minuscule in any historical relation in any era. That same season, in June and July, he threw 51 consecutive innings without issuing a walk.
Maddux continued rolling into the postseason, going 3-1 and helping the Braves win the World Series, topping the Cleveland Indians in six games. He set on early tone in the series with a nine-inning, no walk, two-hit performance in Game 1 against Orel Hershiser.
During his four straight Cy Young Awards from 1992-1995, Maddux dominated opposing hitters, with a 75-29 record and a 1.98 ERA. He became the first player ever to win the award four consecutive years – a record that went unchallenged until Randy Johnson tied it from 1999 to 2002.
Maddux continued to improve his control every year, notching 889 1/3 innings from 1994 to 97, walking just 102 batters in that span. Writers, analysts, and fellow ballplayers touted him as the best right-handed pitcher since Walter Johnson.