This interview, conducted in 1997 when Maddux was at the height of his powers, is unbelievably revealing of Maddux’s mindset, character, and general disposition. (It’s been redubbed as something of a motivational tape for pitchers, so you can skip through the first minute of corny music and tutorial graphics if you wish.) You see his quiet confidence and unassuming demeanor, unique traits among elite athletes. You learn that he was wise enough to seek out a sports psychologist during a rough patch in Chicago and the positive effect that had on his career. And despite all the praise hailing him as a sorcerer, Maddux is insistent that he focuses on one thing and one thing only: making good pitches. That’s it. While the hyperbole begins early–the piece opens with “An ability to simplify the complex is the hallmark of genius. Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves is one such genius.”–the remainder of the tape more or less consists of Maddux denying he is anything of the sort, and doggedly insisting the only thing that separates him from other pitchers is his ability to execute quality pitches over and over again. The defining piece of wisdom comes at the 5:35 mark:
It just goes back to: if you make good pitches, it makes you smart. If a guy doesn’t make good pitches, well then he’s stupid–that’s just how it works. That’s what I do–I pitch.
Is it possible that Maddux is oversimplifying his mentality? Sure. There are a tons of anecdotes out there about little things Maddux noticed or strategies he deployed that are downright brilliant. He’s not going to reveal every little trick in his playbook during an interview. But it’s also possible that his message of simplicity explains, well, everything. How do you become a great pitcher? You keep people from scoring runs. How do you keep people from scoring runs? You don’t walk people or let them hit homers. How do you do that? You make pitches.
It’s really simple, guys.