Wednesday, July 18, 2012

#401 - Elliott Maddox

Back in the mid-Seventies, right before the Yankees got playoff-good, this guy was one of the reasons to be hopeful for the future. When NY picked him up – by the time this card came out he was there – Jersey Yankee fans were mildly psyched that one of our own was going to be a regular. The mildly part was due to Elliott’s rep as a good fielder/poor hitter type but then in ’74 he turned that notion on its head as he took over the regular center fielder job, hit .303 with a .395 OBA, and finished eighth in AL MVP voting. Then in ’75 he was running at about the same pace until Shea Stadium got in the way. That year-plus was definitely an uptick from the way things had gone recently in Texas. After missing the end of the ’72 season with a broken hand he had a great spring training – where this shot was taken – and got the starting center gig where he was hitting north of .320 by the end of April. He cooled off a bit, got hurt, and when he returned Vic Harris had taken over his position and Elliott got a bunch of pine time. Then he got a new manager in Billy Martin – more on that below – for whom he won his first game. But Elliott and Billy didn’t hit it off and prior to the ’74 season he was sold to NY. So maybe he knew something was up when he posed for this photo. We get a couple of his teammates in the background. The guy on the mound looks huge so I’m going with Jim Bibby and maybe Toby Harrah at shortstop. 

Elliott Maddox was born in East Orange and shortly thereafter moved to nearby Union, NJ. There in high school he was a shortstop/third baseman all-stater his junior and senior years of ’65 and ’66. That spring he also won a regional title with his American Legion team and got drafted by the Astros. But Elliott wanted to go to school and so opted for the University of Michigan where he played the outfield and his sophomore season won the Big Ten hitting crown with a .467 average. He also hit three homers and had 16 RBI’s which doesn’t seem like a whole lot until you realize their seasons only ran about twenty games back then. That summer he was selected by Detroit in the first round and then hit over .300 for a couple of Single A teams. After a .301 at that level while playing third and the outfield Detroit brought him up for the ’70 season.

The Tigers were big fans of Maddox’ diversity position-wise so they jumped him three levels to get him on the roster which was a bit unsettled – mostly by age – in his best positions. That first season up top he played in all three spots and seemingly endeared himself to the guys in charge so when he was included in the deal that dumped Denny McLain on Washington for Jerry Coleman, Aurelio Rodriguez, and Ed Brinkman he attributed the decision to trade him to new Detroit manager Billy Martin. Elliott had a good spring his first year to get manager Ted Williams all excited, but then didn’t produce too well during the regular season. He upped his average a bunch in ’72 and then had that injury. When he finally returned to the line-up after his injury in ’73 his hitting woes continued and then to top that off his friend Billy became his manager again. Despite winning Martin’s first game for him, there was no love lost between the two and Martin sent Elliott packing during spring training of ’74.

After his big year. Maddox kicked off ’75 at a good clip and was hitting .307 when that June his leg got caught in the slop of the Shea outfield and as he made a throw to the infield he did some nasty damage to his knee. That ended his season right there and he didn’t return until late in the ’76 season, stroking a double in his first at bat. In the meantime the Yankees got a new manager in – who else – Billy Martin. The two had had a showdown in ’75 spring training when Elliott opined that Martin couldn’t handle him, Martin replied that Maddox was a flash in the pan, and their first game in the spring Elliott got plunked by a Jim Bibby pitch that he said Martin called. That led to a fight on the diamond and some more words so Elliott wasn’t exactly enthused at the managerial change later that summer. But they had a chat, settled on playing ball, and despite not playing too much that year, Elliott got into five post-season games. But then he was gone again as before the ’77 season he went to Baltimore with Rich Bladt for Paul Blair. Elliott had to do more rehab that year on his knee and didn’t get into an O’s game until July and though his ability to move was severely hampered now, pushed up his average a bunch in some late games. After that season he signed with the Mets as a free agent, returning to Shea, and spent most of the next two years playing right field and some third base. In ’80 he became the regular guy at the latter position against his wishes, fielded pretty well, and was then released to make room for new guy Hubie Brooks. Elliott signed with the Philles for whom he put in a partial season in the outfield in Triple A before he was released. He finished up top with a .262 average, a .358 OBA, and is in the top 75 for outfielder fielding percentages. He hit .214 in his five post-season games.

Maddox stayed occasionally high-profile after he played. At a lawyer’s suggestion he sued the City of NY, the Mets, and the Yankees for contributing to the ’75 knee injury that wrecked his career. He got his suit all the way up to the state supreme court but lost in ’85. In the meantime he had taken on an investment banking career which he did through most of the Eighties. In ’89 he was a US representative on a tour of former Eastern Bloc countries in the wake of the Berlin Wall coming down, sent over there to help start various Little League teams. From ’90 to ’91 he was a Yankee coach. He then relocated to Florida where he continued to do some spring training work for NY, did some local baseball camps, and worked for the state’s Division of Children’s Services as a councilor and coach. He got into a little trouble with that when the state accused him of putting in for disability from that job while he was running around in his camp. He lost that gig, stuck to the baseball camp thing, and continued to coach local ball. He also got some press about his faith. While attending Michigan he took some religion classes and decided Juadaism was particularly appealing. He visited Israel a couple time, coached there in 2006 with ex-teammate Ron Blomberg, and had his bar mitzvah in 2009. He continues to reside and work in Florida.

I’m sure that second star bullet made old fiend Billy Martin happy. Maybe Topps was sticking it to Billy after the manager flipped them the bird on his ’72 card. Elliott is another big music guy.

Ironically I could link these two up through Martin, but there’s a quicker way:

1. Maddox and Don Mincher ’71 to ’72 Senators/Rangers;
2. Mincher and Harmon Killebrew ’60 to ’66 Senators/Twins.

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