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Bill Madlock

Bill Madlock

Position(s):
3B, 2B, 1B, DH
Nicknames:
Mad Dog
Born:
January 2, 1951
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 11"
Weight:
180 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-07-1973 with TEX
Allstar Selections:
1975 AsMVP

The winner of four National League batting titles, Bill Madlock gained a reputation during his 15-year career as one of baseball’s finest pure hitters.  Spending most of his peak seasons with the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates, Madlock became the first player in major league history to win a pair of batting crowns with two different teams, and one of only 11 players to bat over .300 on 10 separate occasions.  The third baseman topped the senior circuit with batting averages of .354, .339, .341, and .323, becoming in the process one of only three right-handed hitters to win multiple N.L. batting titles since 1960 (Roberto Clemente and Tommy Davis were the others).  A solid line-drive hitter with occasional power, Madlock won more batting titles than any other third baseman except for Wade Boggs.  Yet, his reputation for being a mediocre fielder, a somewhat one-dimensional hitter, and a clubhouse distraction prevented Madlock from ever being seriously considered for the Baseball Hall of Fame.  After being mentioned on only four percent of the ballots in his first year of eligibility, Madlock had his name dropped from the ballot, making him ineligible for future consideration by the members of the BBWAA.

Biography

Born in Memphis, Tennessee on January 2, 1951, Bill Madlock grew up in Decatur, Illinois, where he spent his formative years in organized baseball competing in the local youth leagues.  After playing basketball, football, and baseball for four years at Decatur’s Eisenhower High School, Madlock was selected by the Washington Senators in the fifth round of the secondary phase of the 1970 amateur draft.  He spent the next four years in the minor leagues, earning his first call-up to the majors late in 1973, after hitting 22 home runs and batting .338 at Spokane, while also leading the Pacific Coast League in runs scored.  Making his debut with the Texas Rangers, who had relocated from Washington at the conclusion of the 1971 campaign, Madlock appeared in 21 games over the season’s final month, batting .351 and hitting his first big-league home run.

Chicago Cubs years  

In desperate need of pitching, the Rangers traded Madlock and utility man Vic Harris to the Chicago Cubs for Ferguson Jenkins at the end of the year.  Madlock replaced longtime fan favorite Ron Santo at third base for the Cubs, batting .313 in his first full season in the major leagues.  His .313 batting average represented the highest mark posted by a Cubs’ third baseman since Stan Hack batted .323 in 1945.  Madlock followed up his outstanding rookie performance by leading the National League in hitting in 1975, with a mark of .354.  He also hit seven homers, knocked in 64 runs, and scored 77 others, en route to earning the first of his three All-Star selections.  Madlock continued to shine during the annual Midsummer Classic, sharing All-Star MVP honors with New York Mets’ left-hander Jon Matlack.  Madlock won his second straight batting title in 1976, edging out Cincinnati outfielder Ken Griffey, Sr. on the season’s final day by collecting four singles to raise his average from .333 to .339.  The 25-year-old third baseman also established new career highs with 15 home runs and 84 runs batted in, earning in the process a sixth-place finish in the league MVP voting.

Playing style and reputation

The 5’11”, 190-pound Madlock had a short, compact swing that usually enabled him to make contact with the opposing pitcher’s offering.  He rarely struck out, never fanning more than 53 times in any single season, and striking out a total of only 510 times in almost 7,400 total plate appearances over the course of his career.  Although he didn’t hit a lot of home runs, Madlock had good extra-base power, seven times accumulating at least 26 doubles in a season.  He also had good speed, surpassing 15 stolen bases on six separate occasions, and compiling as many as 32 steals in 1979.

In spite of his sweet swing, Madlock developed a reputation early in his career for being a somewhat moody player who occasionally chose to sit out against particularly tough pitchers.  His fiery temperament and fierce competitive spirit, which earned him the nickname “Mad Dog,” also caused him to be viewed by many as something of a “loose cannon.”  Madlock’s growing reputation prompted the Cubs to trade the two-time batting champion to the San Francisco Giants for All-Star outfielder Bobby Murcer prior to the start of the 1977 season.

San Francisco Giants 

Madlock posted solid numbers for the Giants over the next two-and-a-half seasons.  After batting .302 in 1977, he hit .309 the following year.  However, he grew increasingly unhappy after the Giants shifted him to second base in 1978.  He also became dissatisfied with the losing attitude that pervaded the San Francisco clubhouse.  Madlock expressed his anger towards teammate John Montefusco early in 1978, when he blackened the pitcher’s eye during a clubhouse altercation.  After interrupting an interview being conducted with the pitcher, Madlock later explained, “I’ve heard and read where Montefusco has said this team is a team of losers.”

Pittsburgh Pirates years

The disgruntled infielder received a reprieve when the Giants traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 28, 1979.  Back at his more familiar position of third base, Madlock batted .328 over the season’s final three months, with seven home runs, 44 runs batted in, and 21 stolen bases, to help lead the Pirates to the N.L. East title.  He then batted .375 and compiled a .483 on-base percentage against Baltimore in the World Series, which the Pirates won in seven games.

Madlock’s batting average dropped to .277 in 1980, as the Pirates finished third in the National League East, eight games behind the eventual World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.  Madlock’s reputation as a “loose cannon” continued to grow on May 1, when he poked umpire Jerry Crawford in the face with his glove after being called out on strikes with the bases loaded.  National League President Chub Feeney subsequently fined the third baseman $5,000 and suspended him for 15 games.  Madlock chose to appeal the suspension, and he remained in uniform before finally agreeing to its terms on June 6, after National League umpires threatened to eject him from every game in which he attempted to play.

Madlock followed up his turbulent 1980 season by winning his third batting title in 1981.  He batted .341 and compiled a career high .413 on-base percentage during the strike-shortened campaign, earning in the process his second selection to the N.L. All-Star Team.  Although Madlock finished second to Al Oliver in the batting race the following year with a mark of .319, he had the most productive season of his career, establishing career highs with 19 home runs, 95 runs batted in, and 92 runs scored.  Madlock’s outstanding performance earned him an 11th-place finish in the league MVP voting. 

Final seasons as active player

Named captain of the Pirates after Willie Stargell retired at the conclusion of the 1982 campaign, Madlock captured his fourth batting title by topping the senior circuit with a mark of .323.  He spent parts of two more years in Pittsburgh, leaving the Pirates after the pennant-contending Dodgers offered them a package of young prospects for the 34-year-old third baseman just prior to the trade deadline in late 1985.  Madlock batted .360 for the Dodgers over the season’s final month, with 15 runs batted in and 20 runs scored, helping Los Angeles advance to the postseason.  Although the Cardinals defeated the Dodgers in six games in the NLCS, Madlock batted .333 against St. Louis pitching, with three home runs and seven runs batted in. 

After one more year in Los Angeles, Madlock was released by the Dodgers early in 1987.  He subsequently signed with the Detroit Tigers as a free agent, helping the Tigers capture the A.L. East title by batting .279 and knocking in 50 runs in his 87 games with the team, spent mostly as a DH.  Released by Detroit at the end of the year, Madlock announced his retirement.  He ended his career with 163 home runs, 860 runs batted in, 920 runs scored, 2,008 hits, a .305 batting average, and a .365 on-base percentage.  Madlock batted over .320 five times, compiled an on-base percentage in excess of .400 on four separate occasions, hit more than 15 home runs four times, and knocked in more than 80 runs three times.  He finished in the league’s top five in batting a total of seven times, and he also placed in the top 10 in the MVP balloting twice. 

Post-playing career

After retiring from Major League Baseball, Madlock spent the 1988 campaign playing for the Lotte Orions in Japan.  He subsequently got into coaching, serving first as a coach for the Michigan Battle Cats in 1998, before becoming the hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers from 2000 to 2001.  He later coached for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons and managed the Newark Bears.  More recently, Madlock worked as an on-field operations supervisor for the Commissioner's office.  He has also been regularly involved with international baseball and alumni association activities.

Despite often being portrayed by the media during his playing days as someone who frequently put his own interests before those of his team, Madlock revealed his true team spirit when he cited the 1979 World Series as easily the highlight of his career: "Any time you win something as a team, and of course to get a chance to play with Willie Stargell was just great."

Madlock also displayed the appreciation he had for many of his teammates when he said, "I loved San Francisco because I got a chance to play with Willie McCovey.  I loved Chicago because I loved playing with Billy Williams.  But the Pirates, any time you win, and getting a chance to play with guys like Dave Parker, Stargell, and Ed Ott was truly a treat…Chuck Tanner was my favorite manager.  He was just unbelievable."

Tanner, who managed Madlock in Pittsburgh, once said of the last Pirates’ player to be named team captain, “When the club takes the field, Madlock takes charge.”

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Tagged:
1979 World Series, Baseball History, Batting title, Bill Madlock, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, thirdbase
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