Fabulous at 40
Rededicated aftera subpar season, the Cubs' venerable Greg Maddux is back in shape and off tothe best start of his career
Last October,Keith Kleven, a 63-year-old physical therapist in Las Vegas, got an unexpectedphone call from his old office boy. On the line was Greg Maddux, who as ateenager spent his summers helping out at Kleven's gym for extra cash. Madduxhad just wrapped up his 20th major league season, a disappointing year in whichhe went 13-15, falling short of 15 wins for the first time since 1987. The Cubsrighthander told Kleven about his off-season workouts. "Keith, I have tostart doing more than I'm doing," Maddux said.
And so it was thatin early November--two months before Maddux typically begins to get in shapefor the season--the two men began meeting at Kleven's Physical TherapyInstitute at 7 a.m. for 90-minute workouts three or four times a week. Maddux'sthree months of training with Kleven, who has worked with Tiger Woods and MikeTyson, is a big reason why the master changeup artist is enjoying anastonishing rebirth at age 40. "Greg wasn't satisfied with his season [in'05]," says Cubs bench coach Dick Pole, who has known Maddux since thepitcher was in his first tour with Chicago in the late 1980s, "so he wasabsolutely going to do something about it."
May 7, 2006
Last Friday atWrigley Field, befuddling the Brewers with an array of floating changeups andsinking fastballs, Maddux improved to 5-0 for the first time in his career. Healso lowered his ERA to 1.35, the second-best mark in the majors, and hisopponent batting average to .197. "He's as good as he's ever been,"says Milwaukee manager Ned Yost, who was bullpen coach in Atlanta when Madduxpitched for the Braves in the '90s. "When you're not overpowering to beginwith and you do it all on savvy and pinpoint control, that stays with you. Butnow he also has himself back in tip-top shape."
Like 40-year-oldTom Glavine (3-2, 2.29 ERA at week's end), 37-year-old Mike Mussina (4-1, 2.31)and 39-year-old Curt Schilling (4-1, 2.88, league-leading 40 strikeouts),Maddux has turned back the clock this spring. The always understated Las Vegasresident downplays his off-season training--"Everyone works out, that'spart of the game," Maddux says--but acknowledges that better conditioninghelps him be more precise about his craft. "I have to be better than I wasbefore," he says. "The stuff's not as good, so I can't make as manymistakes. I have to locate better. You don't get away with the same pitch yougot away with when you had more life on the ball. If you can locate and changespeeds, you'll still have a chance, and that's all I'm doing."
From the end oflast season to the start of spring training, Maddux doubled his upper-bodystrength, tripled his lower-body strength and lowered his body-fat percentagefrom 18.8 to 15.3. "You could see right away [in spring training] that hewas in a lot better pitching shape," says Cubs catcher Michael Barrett."He's throwing harder. Where he was throwing 83 to 86 on his fastballbefore, he's throwing 86 to 88. Overall, the stuff is a lot more crisp than thelast couple years. But the biggest thing is that he's recovering better fromstart to start. After every start he's gotten better, and stronger."
Maddux'sresurrection could not have come at a better time for the Cubs, who were 13-10at week's end. Righthanders Kerry Wood (recovering from right-shoulder surgery)and Mark Prior (right-shoulder strain) have yet to make a start, and firstbaseman Derrek Lee (broken right wrist) is out until June. "Without[Maddux] at 5-0, boy, we wouldn't be close to where we are now," saysmanager Dusty Baker.
Of course Madduxremains as masterly at the mental game (and as reluctant to tip his hand) asever. Last Friday, after he allowed two runs over six innings to win the 323rdgame of his career, a reporter asked him about his strategy in pitching toMilwaukee's young slugger Prince Fielder, whom he struck out twice, once withthe bases loaded. Maddux, who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of hitters,replied with a wry smile, "I don't remember."
Some things neverchange.
After sitting outfive of Texas's first 15 games with a sprained toe in his right foot,rightfielder Kevin Mench visited an orthotics specialist in the Dallas area whofound the problem: Mench's size 12 cleats were too small. "The last time Ihad my feet measured was when I was about 15," says the affable 28-year-oldfrom Wilmington, Del. "I didn't know feet could still grow likethat."
It was on April20, near the end of a West Coast trip, that Mench switched to a size 12 1/2,and when the Rangers returned home the next day, Mench--no longer feeling painin his toe--hit his first homer of the season to begin a historic binge. LastFriday night in Cleveland, after his eighth-inning blast cleared the leftfieldwall by inches, Mench became the first righthanded hitter in major leaguehistory to go deep in seven consecutive games. His quest for the overall record(Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly and Dale Young homered in eight straight) fellshort on Saturday, when he singled, struck out twice and hit a sacrifice fly infour plate appearances. "I had fun," says Mench, who hit two grandslams and drove in 19 runs during the streak. (He had no RBIs through his first43 at bats.)
This winter theRangers' front office fielded several trade inquires for Mench but opted tokeep him because they believed he was poised for a big year. "He's a guythat is capable of carrying his team with his bat," says first baseman MarkTeixeira. "He gets hidden in our lineup." Not anymore.
Red Hot Arroyo
Cincinnati, which won a franchise-record 17 games inApril en route to the best record in the National League through Sunday, hasfound an unlikely ace in Bronson Arroyo (right). The 29-year-old righthander,traded to the Reds on March 20 for outfielder Wily Mo Pe√±a, loves his new home."It's a more relaxed atmosphere," says the mellow Key West native, whowas 4-0 with a 2.34 ERA through five starts with Cincinnati, after going 14-10,4.51 for Boston last season. "I feel I can control my emotions a littlemore, control the game a little more. In Boston you're expected to win everynight. Here, they're picking us to run neck and neck with the Pirates for lastplace." Maybe not for long.