CHICAGO | The Hall of Fame got a welcome respite Wednesday from years of controversy over candidates tainted by performance-enhancing drugs.
The cleanest candidates possible — all-time Sox offensive leader Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux, the best and brainiest pitcher ever developed by the Cubs — were swept into Cooperstown with huge majorities of the 600 voting baseball writers.
“I think you don’t speak for others but I can speak for myself — I’m 100 percent clean and I’m so happy and proud of that,” said Thomas, his statement drawing one of the three rounds of applause from Sox employees in a packed press conference at U.S. Cellular Field.
“It’s something I prided myself in because I came from an Auburn University program and there were no shortcuts. You got to the weight room at 6, 7 o’clock in the morning, basically killing yourself, or you weren’t going to get any better. I was taught early, I took that through my career and every year I tried to work harder and harder and harder to be the best player I possibly could be.”
Maddux would never be confused with a juicer. Rail-thin, looking almost like a batboy in his early Cubs years, then sporting a growing paunch in his late 30s coming back to Chicago, Maddux used intellect, not artificial enhancements, to win 355 games.
Joining longtime Maddux Braves teammate Tom Glavine in the 2014 Hall of Fame class, Maddux’s and Thomas’ careers are intertwined with their original Chicago franchises despite their comings and goings.
Maddux, in fact, departed the Cubs as a free agent in the winter of 1992—93 in the biggest contract screwup in team history. He had already agreed to a five-year, $25 million deal. But the brass pulled the contract off the table because Maddux did not give his “yes” by a 5 p.m. Friday deadline.
“I did everything possible to stay there after the ’92 season," Maddux said in a teleconference from his Las Vegas home. "Things didn’t work out. I was fortunate enough to go back 11 years later. I loved the city of Chicago. I came up a Cub.
“I was in Chicago for about 11 years and in Atlanta 11 years. I kind of split my time with the two teams. Chicago’s a special place. I would love to see them win a World Series here shortly. It would be awesome.”
Thomas also came back to his original team after finishing his playing career in Oakland and Toronto. The Hall of Fame election completed Thomas’ homecoming to the Sox. He departed on acrid terms after the 2005 season, exchanging barbs with then-general manager Kenny Williams.
But Thomas always maintained a good relationship with Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. In the 2006 season with Oakland, Reinsdorf made a beeline for the visiting clubhouse trainer’s room to see Thomas.
“I’m not afraid to talk about that,” Thomas said. “I have said right now. I’m a Hall of Famer and the Chicago White Sox have a lot to do with that. For me, leaving here was the hardest thing I had to do in my life. I wanted to start here and finish here and I didn’t get that chance. I felt it was taken away from me a little bit, but I had something to do with that.”
The other Chicago angle was Maddux developing an extra eye to watch hitters for weaknesses and distractions, like a predatory hawk. He out-psyched and out-guessed hitters much of his career.
“It probably started with (pitching coach) Dick Pole in Double-A,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to have him again in the big leagues (starting in 1988). And being around Rick Sutcliffe. He kind of brought it to my attention as well.
"Hanging a lot around the veteran pitchers, and kind of learning to teach yourself, I think is the big key in that. You’ve got to trust your eyes and trust what you see. You talk to as many guys as you can, including the hitters. Listen to what the hitters say between at-bats, the guys on your team."
When he was just 26, Maddux became a de facto assistant pitching coach on the Cubs. He called pitches for fellow starters Frank Castillo and Las Vegas buddy Mike Morgan through a secret set of signs relayed from his seat on the bench through the catcher.
Maddux tried to not admit the sign system over the years. But now that he’s in the Hall of Fame, storytelling and even embellishing is necessary. He’ll now have a chance every mid-summer induction ceremony to compare notes with smart hitter Thomas.