|Outfielder / Third baseman|
December 21, 1947 |
East Orange, New Jersey
|April 7, 1970, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 1, 1980, for the New York Mets|
|Runs batted in||234|
Maddox grew up in Vauxhall, New Jersey, and graduated from Union High School in Union County, New Jersey. As a senior, he was selected by the Houston Astros in the fourth round of the 1966 Major League Baseball draft, but chose to attend the University of Michigan, instead. As a sophomore in 1967, he won the Big Ten batting title with a .467 batting average. In June 1968, he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the first round (20th pick) of the draft (secondary phase).
Maddox spent just two seasons in the Tigers' farm system, never playing higher than high A ball, before making his major league debut as a 22 year old in 1970. An exceptional all around fielder, Maddox split his minor league career between the outfield & third base. Likewise, when he joined the Tigers, he served as both a fourth outfielder & third baseman Don Wert's backup. He batted .248 with three home runs and 24 runs batted in his only season in Detroit to earn "Tigers Rookie of the Year" honors from the Detroit Sports Broadcasters' Association. The day after Commissioner of Baseball Bowie Kuhn lifted former Cy Young Award winner Denny McLain's indefinite suspension from Major League Baseball, Maddox was packaged with McLain, Wert & pitcher Norm McRae, and shipped to the Washington Senators for pitchers Joe Coleman & Jim Hannan, and infielders Ed Brinkman & Aurelio Rodríguez.
Maddox spent much of the 1971 season batting below .200. He was batting .171 with one home run & twelve RBIs at the All-Star break, but managed to bring his average up to .217 with a hot August (.357 avg.) & September (.273 avg.). While he began the season in a similar utility player role to that which he had in Detroit, as he began to hit toward the end of the season, Manager & baseball legend Ted Williams began using him in a lefty/righty platoon with Del Unser in center field, where he led all American League outfielders in range factor per 9 innings (3.05). On September 30, the last day of the season, Maddox drove in the final run in franchise history.
Owner Bob Short moved the Senators to Arlington, Texas for the 1972 season, where they became the Texas Rangers. In his new location, Maddox once again found himself in a platoon in center. This time, with former first round pick, Joe Lovitto. Williams took advantage of Maddox's speed, using him in the lead-off spot far more than he had the previous season. For the season, he scored forty runs & stole a career high twenty bases. Under managers Whitey Herzog & Billy Martin, Maddox's playing time dipped substantially in 1973. Especially Martin, with whom Maddox had a strained relationship. During Spring training 1974, the New York Yankees purchased him from the Rangers.
New York Yankees
Maddox's Yankees career began slowly, as he batted just .174 in April. In May, Maddox batted .371. Add to that the eight walks he drew, he had a .488 on-base percentage for the month, prompting manager Bill Virdon to move Maddox into the lead-off spot. He also started the season playing right field, however, soon switched positions with All-Star center fielder Bobby Murcer. For the season, he finishing sixth in the AL with a .303 average with a career high 75 runs scored in a career high 550 plate appearances. He also logged career highs in at bats (466), RBIs (45), doubles (26), on-base percentage (.395), walks (69) & OPS (.781). He had fourteen assists from the center field (18 total) & four double plays, leading all AL center fielders in both categories.
In a Spring training game with the Rangers on March 21, 1975, Maddox was hit by a pitch from Jim Bibby in the first inning. In the third, Maddox's bat "slipped" out of his hands toward Bibby on the pitchers mound. In the sixth, Stan Thomas fired a pitch over Maddox's head. In the seventh, Yankees pitcher Mike Wallace retaliated by throwing two pitches close to second baseman Dave Nelson's head. The second one knocked him down, causing both benches to clear. The whole situation was incited by negative comments about Billy Martin Maddox had made in the press a week earlier.
Maddox proceeded to have another great season in 1975, until an injury cut it short. In the ninth inning of a night game against the Chicago White Sox on June 13, he slipped on the rain-soaked field in Shea Stadium (where the Yankees played home games in 1974 & 1975) running after a fly ball. At the time of the injury, he was batting .307 (.369 against lefties, and .360 with 2 outs, and runners in scoring position) with a .382 on-base percentage. He'd been hit by a pitch seven times during the regular season, including once by Thomas, and once by Bibby. In a bizarre twist of fate, the Rangers fired Martin 95 games into the season. Shortly afterwards, the Yankees fired their manager, Bill Virdon, and replaced him with Martin.
Maddox did not return to the Yankees until June of 1976, and only appeared in five games before reinjuring his knee. He returned in September in time to be, and was part of the Yankees' post season roster. The only time Maddox reached the post season in his career, Maddox went two for nine with an RBI in game three of the 1976 American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals. He had one hit, a triple in five at bats against Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" in the World Series.
In January 1977, in a trade involving three center fielders, the Yankees traded Maddox & Rick Bladt to the Baltimore Orioles for Paul Blair. Maddox's Orioles debut was delayed by a second knee operation. By the time Maddox finally joined the O's in mid July, Al Bumbry established himself as a .300 hitter, and earned the starting center field job. The Orioles were on the road when Maddox joined his new club on July 14. When they returned home, Orioles PA announcer Rex Barney mistakenly referred to him as "Lester Maddox," mixing him up with the segregationist former governor of Georgia.
Maddox went two for twelve to start his Orioles career. A return to Yankee Stadium helped get him out of this slump. He went three for four with a double & a walk in his first game back. The next day, he delivered an eighth inning two run single in his team's come from behind victory over Martin & the Yankees. He batted .262 with two home runs & nine RBIs in a part-time role in his half season in Baltimore. After which, he filed for free agency.
New York Mets
Maddox became just the second free agent in franchise history when he signed with the New York Mets on November 30, 1977. While Mets manager Joe Torre considered Maddox his best defensive center fielder, the one star the ninety loss Mets had in 1978 was center fielder Lee Mazzilli. Therefore, Maddox was shifted to right field upon his return to New York. Unfortunately, that return was delayed until the eighteenth game of the season due to a pulled leg muscle suffered in Spring training.
Maddox's bat was cool when he first got activated (.233 avg. through May), but his propensity for drawing a walk still had him on base at a .362 rate. By the end of the season, he brought his average up to .257, while drawing a career high 71 walks for a .370 on base percentage. He also made 43 appearances at third (38 starts), the most in his career. This displeased Maddox, and the following Spring, he indicated that he would like to be traded.
Regardless, Maddox went into the 1979 season with the Mets. His wish to play right field was granted, however, a mid April ankle injury knocked him out of the line up for eighteen games. Meanwhile, Joel Youngblood, who was in a similar positionless situation as Maddox, took over in right field. In Maddox's absence, Youngblood batted .327 with four home runs & eleven RBIs to take the right field job away. When Maddox returned, his role was, once again, undefined. He was sidelined a second time in late July by a pulled hamstring, which kept him out of the line up for another month.
By the time Spring training 1980 got under way, the Mets were set with Maddox at third & Youngblood in right. Maddox, once again, expressed displeasure with this decision. Regardless, he did a more than adequate job at third (.956 fielding percentage. League average, .948) while putting together his first full, healthy season since 1974. He hit a career high four home runs, and led the league in being hit by pitches (6), however, his overall production dipped (.246 avg.).
With young prospects Mookie Wilson (center field) & Hubie Brooks (third base) both set to open the season with the Mets in 1981, Maddox became the odd man out, and was released with a year remaining on his contract. Maddox returned to the Yankees during Spring training 1981, but failed to make the club. In June, he signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent the season with their triple A affiliate, the Oklahoma City 89ers, before retiring.
He had a career .989 fielding percentage as an outfielder. Every season of his career, his fielding percentage in the outfield was better than the league average.
Maddox v. City of New York
Maddox sued the New York Yankees as his employer, the New York Mets as lessees of Shea Stadium, and the City of New York as owners of the stadium following his injury in 1975. While a lower court ruled in Maddox's favor in 1983, the New York Court of Appeals ruled five to none against Maddox in the notable decision Maddox v. City of New York (1985). The decision read as follows:
|“||The deposition testimony of plaintiff, a professional baseball player, that he was aware of the wet & muddy condition of the playing field on the night he was injured and of the particular puddle in which he fell, that he had during the game called the attention of the grounds keepers to the fact that there was puddling on the field and had previously commented a couple of times to the baseball club manager when the field was wet, established his awareness of the defect which caused his injury and of the risk involved. His continued participation in the game in light of that awareness constituted assumption of risk as a matter of law, entitling defendants to summary judgment. There should, therefore, be an affirmance, with costs, of the Appellate Division order.||”|
Maddox was arrested for grand theft in 2000 on charges of workman's comp fraud related to this injury. Working as a counselor for Florida's Division of Children & Families, Maddox collected $36,000 in pay & medical benefits in 1998 & 1999 after filing a claim that he was too hobbled to work. DCF Investigators videotaped Maddox walking, running, bending both knees, performing pitching windups & carrying baseball equipment while running baseball camps in his hometown of Coral Springs, Florida. He was cleared of charges in 2003.
Maddox began considering Judaism in high school, and took Judaic studies courses while at the University of Michigan, and converted to Judaism in 1975. Maddox also took pre-med courses before switching to pre-law, and graduated in 1976 in the midst of his baseball career.
After retiring from baseball, Maddox became an investment banker. He returned to baseball as a hitting instructor with the Yankees in 1990 & 1991. Shortly after his move to Coral Springs, he became a foster care counselor for Broward County.
Maddox enjoyed world travel, and coached baseball and football in his part-time home of Israel. He also established the first Little League teams in Poland. In 2004, he was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. In 2007, Maddox was inducted into the Union County Baseball Hall of Fame.
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Ruttman, Larry (2013). "Elliott Maddox: Major League Outfielder; Black Convert to Judaism". American Jews and America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball. Lincoln, Nebraska and London, England: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 267–278. ISBN 978-0-8032-6475-5. This chapter in Ruttman's oral history, based on a March 9, 2008 interview with Maddox conducted for the book, discusses Maddox's American, Jewish, baseball, and life experiences from youth to the present.