CHICAGO — Greg Maddux returned Monday to the place where it all started back in 1986 when as a fresh-faced 20-year-old he first put on a major league uniform with the Chicago Cubs.
Now 42 and with another milestone tucked away after he became the ninth pitcher to get 350 wins Saturday, Maddux could be making his last stop at Wrigley Field as the San Diego Padres come to town for four games.
“Could be. Who knows?” Maddux said.
But as he sat in the dugout two hours before Monday’s game and looked across the field, Maddux offered this observation about the old neighborhood park and the city where he launched his Hall of Fame career.
“Everything now is just as good as it was 20 years ago,” he said.
Maddux has long loved the game he plays. During his second stay with the Cubs — when he got his 300th win and his 3,000th strikeout — he even ventured out one night to watch a softball game.
“I enjoy the game, enjoy playing the game,” he said in his typical low-key fashion. “Let’s face it. If you don’t play it good enough, they’re going to fire you. I want to keep pitching good, pitch good enough to always have a job. I enjoy coming to the park every day. ... I think the longer you play the more you enjoy it. The more you know how to enjoy it.”
Maddux shrugged off a suggestion that he could stick around long enough to reach 400 wins.
“I’m not even thinking about it. I never look past my next start. I know I’m going to pitch Thursday here against the Cubbies and do what I can to get ready for that and move on,” he said.
His game is now more than ever predicated on location and changing speeds with his pitches. Obviously, he doesn’t throw with the same velocity he had during his first stint with the Cubs when he won the first of four straight Cy Young Awards in 1992 before leaving to sign with the Braves — a transaction that still bugs Cubs’ fans to this day. But his approach, he said, is pretty much the same.
“I don’t think I’m any different. I think I really do the exact same thing, just slower, that’s the difference,” Maddux said.
The Cubs traded him away at the deadline in 2006 to the Dodgers, who were making a playoff push. Maddux said he expects to be with the Padres for the rest of the season, despite their poor start.
“You never expect to be traded. I never expected the Cubs to trade me, but it happens,” he said. “I don’t know what is going to happen down the road. But I like being on this team.”
Maddux, 3-3 this season with a 3.60 ERA, gave a lot of the credit for his long career and all his accomplishments to staying healthy. He’s started 715 regular-season games.
“I think I’ve been pretty fortunate to have a made a lot of starts. If you go to the mound every fifth day and you do it long enough, I think the numbers are going to start to add up,” he said. “It’s not any special thing. I’ve just been lucky enough to make my 30-plus starts every year.”