Maddux, Wells form ultimate odd couple
Padres' soft-spoken right-hander, garrulous lefty transcend age
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Greg Maddux and David Wells went golfing together on Saturday after practice. The next day, Boomer confided that he was on his way "to buy a golf club -- I broke one."How it happened, his partner couldn't -- or wouldn't -- say. "Really? I didn't see that," Maddux said with a rare straight face. Clearly, he wasn't about to betray Boomer. No wonder everyone raves about what a great teammate Maddux is. Around the San Diego Padres' training camp at Peoria Sports Complex, Maddux, 40, and Wells, 43, are emerging as a fascinating new version of "The Odd Couple." On a surface level, they couldn't be any more different.
One could be an accountant or Sunday school teacher, remarkably average in height and build, soft-spoken, introspective, right-handed.The other is the polar opposite. "You need players, pitchers," Maddux said when asked about his relationship with Wells, his garrulous new teammate. "He can pitch. "Personalities are a luxury. Good personalities are nice to have, don't get me wrong. But I'd rather play with a good pitcher than a good guy." Here's a man who could write volumes on his craft, yet chooses to keep it short, simple and direct. "You have to locate your fastball and change speeds to pitch," Maddux said. "It's something we both do." Period, end of story, Maddux style. While Wells has been known to hunt big game in Africa, Maddux rarely strays from a golf course. While Wells has been known to be the loudest, most visible guy in the room, Maddux is happy to slip off into the shadows, grinning slyly as if he has a secret he intends to keep to himself. While Wells is an open book, hiding nothing, Maddux is so discreet he could be a CIA operative for all we know. What brings the two men together, on the same intellectual plane, is an engineer's approach to pitching -- precise, concise and controlled, no unnecessary energy or motion expended. Low pitch counts and high strike ratios are the secrets that keep both men ticking and collecting large paychecks a decade after most pitchers are former pitchers.
Wells and Maddux have something else in common besides their resourceful styles on the mound.Both men are right where they want to be, pitching for the Padres in a city they love -- Wells because he was raised in San Diego, Maddux because, as he puts it, "I've never heard anyone say anything bad about the city." They have come together with their 563 career wins -- 333 by Maddux, 230 by Wells -- to lead a pitching staff that could be as talented and as productive as any in Major League Baseball. While neither throws as hard as he did 10 years ago, both have enough ammunition left, their manager believes, to make profound impacts as the Padres bid for a third consecutive National League West title and a deeper advancement into October. "They have different personalities, obviously," Bud Black said of his twin anchors in a rotation that includes young starters Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Clay Hensley. "But both guys are strike throwers and don't walk anybody. "You'll find that most guys that have long-term success have great walks-to-innings ratios. They have the ability to command the ball, to go to both sides of the plate and up and down." Maddux (1.84) and Wells (1.86) are second and third among active pitchers in walks per nine innings for their careers, trailing only Philadelphia's Jon Lieber (1.71). Maddux, according to computations in an article in the 2007 Hardball Times Baseball Annual, is the fourth most valuable pitcher of all-time behind Roger Clemens, Walter Johnson and Cy Young, in that order. Wells ranks No. 52 on the list, his career value higher than such luminaries as Dazzy Vance, Orel Hershiser, Early Wynn, Sandy Koufax, Dwight Gooden, Ron Guidry and Jack Morris. Wells, who pitched for the Padres in '04, is 19-15 in the NL with a 3.67 ERA, compared with 211-133 in the AL with a 4.11 ERA. Maddux has spent his entire 21-year career in the NL, going 333-203 with a 3.07 ERA. He has pitched at least 200 innings in 18 of the past 19 seasons, missing by two outs in 2002. "That's really an astonishing accomplishment," said Young, thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from the two 40-something legends. "I mean, that's one error. If a guy doesn't make an error somewhere along the way, Greg gets his 200 innings that year, too. "You can't help but admire Greg and Boomer. They have a lot of knowledge for us younger guys to draw upon. It's going to be an exciting year for all of us."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.