Who: Pitcher Greg Maddux, who played primarily for the Chicago Cubs and the Atlanta Braves:

Why: As in “Why am I writing about baseball in December?” This column was planned for Opening Day, but Greg Maddux outfoxed me by retiring today. And that’s par for the course with Maddux. His nickname was “Mad Dog,” suggesting a lack of control like contemporary Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams. But Maddux was the anti-Wild Thing. He was the greatest control pitcher of all time, one who valued movement over velocity. He defined the strike zone for umpires by painting the corners, and would put subtle changes into his pitches so they’d break at the least expected times. Every trip to the mound was a battle of wits with opposing batters, hardly a fair fight. Maddux earned another nickname, “The Professor,” because he studied his opponents. The stories are legion: how he let up a home run to Jeff Bagwell to make him think he’d see that pitch in the playoffs months later, or how he called José Hernández’s line drive into the chest of the first-base coach. He delighted in inventing and experimenting. He was “Mad” all right—”Mad” as in “Mad Scientist.”

Impact: Maddux began with the Cubs in 1984, his first start being a complete game win. He soon became their ace, and led them to the division championship series in 1989 (this being a fairly rare thing for the Lovables). He won the Cy Young Award that year, but couldn’t reach a contract to remain a Cubbie for life. So he went to the Braves, where he joined John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Steve Avery in one of the greatest pitching lineups ever. And to stick it to the Cubs brass, he reeled off three more Cys in a row. During the span of those awards, he went 75-29 with a staggering ERA of 1.98. It’s impossible to list all his accomplishments, but here’s a sampling: Only five pitchers since the 1920s have had full-season ERAs under 1.65, and Greg Maddux is two of them. His countless amazing catches of precisely orchestrated line drives earned him an untouchable 18 Gold Gloves for fielding. He once threw 72 1/3 straight innings without a walk. He spent only 15 days on the disabled list in 23 years. He won at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons, and ended with 355 wins, the last player who will ever top 350. If there could be a zeroth-ballot Hall of Famer, Maddux would be it.

Personal Connection: I’m a White Sox fan, so you might imagine how I feel about putting a Cub as my greatest ever. But Maddux’s time in Chicago overlapped mine neatly, and I made sure I saw him pitch every chance I could. I once said that with a sufficient bankroll to make it interesting, I would play poker against any baseball player except him. He’s the Howard Lederer of baseball. It didn’t surprise me one iota when, in his news conference today, he said he’d miss the poker games with his teammates. I’m guessing they won’t.

Other Contenders: pitcher Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown, for whom the answer to the trivia question is “8 1/2”; outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, whose speed, laser-like arm, timely hitting, and demeanor make being a Mariners fan tolerable; Sandy Koufax, whose six-season run of pitching mastery is only surpassed by his iconic status to Jews everywhere; stolen base king Rickey Henderson, who is right now somewhere referring to himself in the third person.