As much as physical advantages are important when you're pitching — a 6-foot-4 Randy Johnson probably wouldn't have been as dominant as the 6-foot-10 presence that he was — a mental advantage can serve an even greater purpose. Knowing which pitch to throw and when. Exploiting an opposing batter's weak spots. Calling an appropriate game in concordance with your backstop to change up your pitches every once in a while.
And for someone like Greg Maddux, who had some of the greatest pitching seasons we've ever seen in the heart of the steroid era, that mental battle was something he often won and used to his advantage. One way in which he did so, however, was unique.
The longtime Cubs and Braves hurler and 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee stopped by the Barstool Sports "Pardon My Take" podcast and shared some insight as to how he'd gain an edge in the mental game after the hosts asked him whether or not he intentionally gave up a home run to Jeff Bagwell.
"I didn't intentionally give up a home run, but there are times where you try to have the hitter have some success off you so you know he'll be sitting on them the rest of the year," Maddux said. "...I had a coach that told me what hitters remember, and they remember success. So, [if] they get you on a certain pitch, they're gonna be sitting on it for a long time.
"...I did it mostly in spring training. I think you try to plant a seed in guys' heads in spring training and try to get away from it once the season starts."
There's actually been quite an extensive and thorough investigation into the so-called "Bagwell Gambit" deployed by Maddux by baseball writer Cyril Morong, who doesn't believe that it, a) happened as it is so often told and, b) had a profound effect on Maddux's postseason success or later appearances against batters.
Still, the fact that Maddux confirmed this strategic approach and explained the logic behind it is cool to see and, not too surprisingly, it makes a lot of sense. When you're going up against a pitcher of Maddux's caliber, you're likely going to be thinking and overthinking everything about the plate appearance. Why not let a batter think they beat you in a meaningless circumstance, only to use it against them in the future? And all this, combined with his devastating control, likely built a lot of his success.
Maddux's run from 1992 to 1998, with one season on the Cubs and the rest on the Braves, was perhaps the most dominant seven-year stretch we've ever seen from a pitcher. He went 127-53 with a 2.15 ERA in those seven seasons, including four ERA titles and four consecutive Cy Young Awards.