There is a notion, not uncommonly held, that the greatness of one man can extract greatness from another.
This is especially true in sports. It might explain why Princeton beat UCLA that one year in the NCAA Tournament, and almost beat Georgetown as a No. 16 seed in another year. UCLA’s inability to defend Princeton’s back door when everybody knew what was coming also might have had something to do with it.
But here’s the deal: Mickey Morandini, who is not being enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame today, batted a robust .344 against the greatness of Greg Maddux, with an on-base percentage of .371, which is also robust.
Michael Robert Morandini must have been a pretty good ballplayer, or he wouldn’t have lasted nine years in the big leagues. His lifetime batting average was a respectable, if nonrobust, .268. I’m assuming he was pretty good with the glove and at turning the double play, too, or Baseball Reference.com wouldn’t have listed his nickname as “Dandy Little Gloveman.”
But Mickey Morandini is not going into Cooperstown on the first ballot today.
That’s the beauty of baseball and of the other games, isn’t it? That a guy such as Maddux can paint the outside corner like a combination of Charles Rembrandt and Christy Mathewson, and every now and again — and sometimes even more than that — a guy such as Mickey Morandini can flick one of those perfect pitches over the shortstop’s head and into left field for a clean single.
When Maddux was packing his things for the Adirondacks and Catskills, I stumbled onto that Maddux vs. Morandini item on a Cincinnati Reds blog, though neither man played for the Reds. Curiosity was aroused. Were there others the ilk of Morandini, who “owned” Maddux, as the announcers and other ballplayers like to say? And who owned Maddux the most?
The answer among players who came to home plate at least 60 times against Maddux wielding a stick carved of northern white ash or hardened maple was the late Tony Gwynn. No surprise there. In this landmark case of Greatness v. Greatness, Gwynn batted .429 with an OPS of . 485. That’s a lot of OPS.
Gwynn told the R-J’s Ed Graney how Maddux, who never once struck him out, teased that a lot of his hits were of the “cheap-ass” variety.
“I just tried to put a good swing on the ball against him and hoped it found a hole,” Gwynn said, which wasn’t exactly Ted Williams breaking down the art of hitting against a master craftsman, though it did seem to work for Gwynn.
It still seems unfathomable that Tony Gwynn will not be around to watch Maddux join him in the hallowed Hall today. His stunning death leaves Geoff Jenkins of the Milwaukee Brewers (and 115 games with the Phillies on his way to the golf course and new car salesroom) as the man among the still living who had the most success hitting a baseball where Greg Maddux pitched it.
Jenkins was a good ballplayer; he was a first-round draft choice in 1995 whereas Maddux was selected in the second round in 1984. Jenkins hit 221 home runs and .275 in 11 major league seasons. Those are solid numbers. They are not Tony Gwynn numbers.
But against Maddux in 69 plate appearances, Geoff Jenkins batted .426 and reached base at a rate of .478. Those are Tony Gwynn numbers, or as close as anybody’s ever going to get to them.
An attempt to reach Jenkins resulted in a swing and a miss; he’s a coach with a team called the Peoria Explorers of the Arizona-based independent Freedom Pro Baseball League. A Twitter post on the league website said they hoped to have news on the start of the season soon.
“First, we have to get the right stadium deal finalized,” it said.
This is what Jenkins told Sports Illustrated a few seasons before those Freedom League ballpark leasing talks began: “I try to be aggressive against him and attack early in the count, because the deeper you get in the count against him, the more he seems to mess with you and outthink you. It just seems like he hits his spots and all of a sudden it’s the end of the night and you have a comfortable 0-fer.”
Here are 14 men who batted at least 60 times against Maddux with limited 0-fers. They also hit .300 against him: Tony Gwynn (.429), Geoff Jenkins (.426), Bobby Abreu (.400), Mickey Morandini (.344), Andy Van Slyke (.343), Gregg Jefferies (.341), Milt Thompson (.338), Jeff Kent (.330), Vince Coleman (.328), Scott Rolen (.314), Luis Gonzalez (.313), Reggie Sanders (.309), Jeff Bagwell (.305), Marquis Grissom (.300).
It was Maddux who once famously said that chicks dig the longball, so Gonzalez took him deep 10 times. Barry Bonds belted eight homers in his dealings with Mr. Outside Corner. Barry Bonds also had a giant head.
But only one man with multiple at-bats against Greg Maddux can say he was a perfect 1.000 against him.
Dave Parker went 6-for-6 with two doubles and three walks in nine plate appearances.
But should the Cobra watch today’s ceremony with his grandkids, I’ll bet there’s only a small chance he mentions the small sample size.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.