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Braves retire Maddux's number as he enters Hall of Fame
Maddux 4 col BW
Former Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux waves to the crowd during a ceremony to retire his number 31 before a game against the New York Mets in Atlanta Friday. - photo by Associated Press

ATLANTA — On the day the Atlanta Braves retired Greg Maddux’s(notes) number, his former manager Bobby Cox led the praises.

“I get asked by managers and press people all the time, how good was he?” Cox said. “Was he the best pitcher I ever saw? Was he the smartest pitcher I ever saw? Was he the best competitor I ever saw? Was he the best teammate I ever saw?

“The answer is yes to all the above.”

Maddux was always grouped with Tom Glavine(notes) and John Smoltz(notes) as the team’s most dominant starting pitchers. Maddux said his former teammates also deserve their places in the team’s history.

“When you talk about Atlanta pitching, there’s always three names you mention, there’s never just one,” Maddux said Friday.

Many predict each of the three are bound for baseball’s Hall of Fame. Glavine, released by the Braves last month, has not announced his retirement. Smoltz is in his first season with the Boston Red Sox.

The 43-year-old Maddux was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame at a luncheon attended by about 900 fans. He had his No. 31 retired Friday night before the Braves played the New York Mets.

“Now Greg, it is yours forever,” said team president John Schuerholz, pointing to the jersey in the pregame ceremony.

Maddux’s jersey was painted on the field behind home plate, and the number was unveiled on the outfield facade.

“Thank you, and let’s beat the Mets tonight,” Maddux said.

Cox directed the Braves’ run of 14 straight division championships from 1991-2005. Maddux joined the staff in 1993, the first of his 11 seasons in Atlanta.

Maddux won the 1992 NL Cy Young award with the Chicago Cubs and then won three straight with the Braves from 1993-95, becoming the first to win four straight. Glavine won two Cy Young awards in the 1990s and Smoltz won one.

“The three of us were able to do something pretty special,” Glavine said in a video message to Maddux. Glavine said he, Smoltz and Maddux created “at least pretty good speculation” about forming the greatest pitching trio in baseball history.

Schuerholz, who as general manager signed Maddux after the 1992 season, said there is “no doubt, no question” that Maddux is the greatest right-hander he has seen.

Maddux, who retired after pitching for San Diego and the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, ranks eighth in career wins with 355. He won 15 or more games a record 17 consecutive seasons and won 18 Gold Gloves.

Maddux was 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA in 1995, when the Braves won the World Series.

“As a broadcaster I used to watch and think that’s not the best fastball, that’s not the best curveball, that’s not the best slider and not even the best changeup, but that’s the best pitcher in the game,” Don Sutton said.

Sutton said in his 44 years around baseball he has seen such great pitchers as Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver.

“None of them ever gave me the thrill and joy of watching a game like watching you did,” Sutton said to Maddux. “It was a remarkable experience.”

Maddux appeared stunned by the compliments.

“It was very humbling, very exciting,” he said. “If I had known I was that good, I’d probably still be playing.”

Maddux insisted the speakers at the luncheon were “forced to say something nice.” He acknowledged the praise from Cox was special.

“It was nice to hear,” Maddux said. “I have a lot of respect for Bobby. It meant a lot coming from him.”

Former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone said he and Cox rarely had to visit the pitcher they called “Mad Dog” on the mound. Mazzone said Maddux once complained “It gets lonely out there” and asked that Mazzone come out to the mound in the sixth inning.

“Sure as heck in the sixth inning he’s got a three-hit shutout going and he gets the first guy out and then he’s looking in the dugout,” Mazzone said. “Bobby goes ‘Leo, Mad Dog is looking for you. Go out there and find out if he’s OK.’

“I go running out there and he said ‘How you doing coach?’ I said ‘Hey, Mad Dog.’ He said ‘How do I look?’ I said ‘You’re doing a great job. You’ve got a three-hit shutout.’ He says ‘OK, well it was nice talking to you,”’ Mazzone said.

Maddux is the sixth Braves player to have his number retired, joining Hank Aaron (44), Eddie Mathews (41), Dale Murphy (3), Phil Niekro (35) and Warren Spahn (21). The Braves and all major league teams also retired Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.

Niekro and Murphy attended the ceremonies.

It was the second time Maddux’s 31 was retired this season. Maddux and Ferguson Jenkins, who each wore No. 31 for the Chicago Cubs, were honored together in May.