Memorial Day: Garry Maddox in Vietnam
Garry Maddox was raised in what he called "a very tough section of Los Angeles."
"I ran with a rough crowd, kids who got into almost every kind of trouble you could get into but somehow, I stayed out of trouble," Maddox said. "I grew up with kids who tried everything. Drugs of all kinds, you name it, but I never used drugs myself. Don't ask me why. I've just been able to sort out the good from the bad."
While growing up in the ghetto, Maddox played baseball well enough to attract the attention of baseball scouts, and the San Francisco Giants picked him in the second round of the 1968 draft. The Giants gave him a $1,000 bonus and paid him $500 a month to play in a rookie league in Salt Lake City. When Maddox discovered that the rest of the Giants rookies were paid much larger bonuses, he went to the front office and asked them to "set things right," as he put it. When the front office rejected his request, Maddox quit baseball and joined the Army.
"I never intended to play baseball again," Maddox insisted. "I was only 18 years old and very naive but I didn't think I wanted to be part of a business that was so unfair to me."
After basic training, Maddox volunteered to serve in Vietnam.
"I wanted to defend my country and I thought it was the right thing to do," Maddox said. "I didn't even know current events at the time. I had also thought about trying school and I knew the Army would send me to school after I got out. But mostly, it was out of loyalty to my country."
Maddox served a year in Vietnam before receiving a hardship discharge.
"My father got very sick while I was over there and since there was nobody else to support the family, I had to do it," Maddox said. "You couldn't get a hardship discharge unless you had a job to go back to and since baseball was the only job I ever had, I had to play again."
For Maddox , the year in Vietnam was "pure hell."
"I draw a lot of blanks on things that happened over there," he said. ''And from what I've heard and seen, a lot of Vietnam veterans have developed mental blocks on that war. There's a lot of bitterness. I know because I still have a lot of bitterness in me. I couldn't even talk about Vietnam for 10 years. I only talk about it now with the hope that people will understand some of us who were over there and with the hope that we won't let it happen again.
"I had no idea what Vietnam was like until I got there. We didn't get Army training by people who had been there. In fact, we didn't even train with the weapons we used over there. We were attacked the first day we arrived at our base. I jumped in a bunker and found out what fear was like in a hurry. I didn't eat for the first two days because the Vietnamese prepared the food and I couldn't tell the Vietnamese from the Viet Cong.
"Fear does strange things to your mind. It deadens your mind. There's no way you can deal with that kind of fear, fear for your life, on a day-to-day basis. You fear the enemy but the biggest problem wasn't the enemy, it was ourselves.
"We had race riots in the camp. It was so bad for us, they took our weapons away. They were afraid we would hurt each other. If we were attacked, we all had to line up to get our weapons. They took the weapons away from both blacks and whites to protect ourselves from each other. Nobody was neutral. The lines were drawn. There were all kinds of beatings and I was involved in some of them.
"I don't know why it happened. Maybe it was the pressure from being in Vietnam . It's strange. I can't think of more than four or five guys I would remember in our outfit but I had a fear of a lot of guys who I thought would hurt me.
"I had a friend of mine, a pretty good friend. He took a hand grenade and he threw it at an officer's barracks but it didn't go off. He walked over, picked it up and stuck the pin back in. I had to leave then, I don't remember why, but I left and a little bit later, I heard this explosion. I thought we were getting attacked again but I didn't see anybody running for cover so I walked up there and my friend was just blown up. He had blown himself up. It got to the point where if any ordinance was missing, they searched everybody until it showed up. The officers were afraid for their lives.
"I was a perimeter guard, which wasn't so bad. You were vulnerable, but I'd stand guard three days and then get a day off. I was shot at and I shot back. I shot at shadows and movement but I don't know if I ever hit anybody. You didn't go out and check.
"We were attacked the first day I was there and we were attacked the last day. The last day, I didn't even get out of my bunk. You would think that a guy going home would head for cover. I was going home to play baseball and it didn't seem that important."
Garry Maddox received a hardship discharge after a year of fighting in Vietnam and recalled he came home to "almost nothing."
"I didn't expect anything," he said. "I wasn't a hero or anything like that and I wasn't looking for any parades. When you don't win a war, there aren't any heroes. That was a war everyone tried to forget.
"One good thing happened to me in Vietnam : I was baptized over there. I was in and around a lot of bad things over there and I didn't let it affect me in a negative way. I realized and recognized that God had a plan for my life. I didn't get baptized out of fear. I just didn't like the direction my life was headed, the riots, guys getting beat up.
"I had been away from basebahl for over two years and yet I got to the major leagues a year after I got out of the Army. That showed me God wanted me to stay in baseball."
Maddox played three successful seasons with the San Francisco Giants and in May of 1975 was traded to the Phillies for Willie Montanez. He has won eight consecutive Gold Glove awards for the Phillies and has a lifetime batting average of .286. But now, at the not-so-old age of 34, Maddox is marking time on the Phillies roster, unwanted and unappreciated.
Maddox has two years remaining on a guaranteed contract, a contract that also gives him the right to veto a trade. And it's no secret that the Phillies front office has tried to move him. The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates showed some interest in him during the winter but, according to Phillies president Bill Giles, "There's nothing in the works right now."
"The Pirates are still interested in Garry but the Cubs deal is dead," Giles said. "Jim Frey and Charlie Fox wanted Maddox but Dallas Green didn't."
"I would only go to the Pirates if I could improve my playing situation," Maddox said, "but I don't see phat happening in Pittsburgh. If I'm going to sit on the bench, I would rather it be close to my family. I'm not going to put my family in a worse situation just to please the Phillies front office.
"I would agree to a trade if it's something I like. I would have gone to Chicago if Dallas Green had told me he wanted me. Dallas and I have never gotten along and I'm not particularly blaming him. We've never communicated that well and part of that was my fault. But he didn't make much of an effort to communicate with me, either."
Despite the fact he is playing for a team that has made it obvious it didn't want him, Maddox is working hard in spring training.
"If things don't work out, they still might have to go to me," Maddox said. "And a trade is still not out of the question so I'm getting myself ready for whatever happens.
"It's not easy playing for a team that doesn't want you and sometimes I don't think it's fair. I haven't changed any. I'm about the same player I always was, but the Phillies' needs have changed. When I came here, they needed a centerfielder who could cover a lot of ground for (then leftfielder Greg) Luzinski. Greg had enough offense for two players but he needed help in the field. Now, they feel they need more offensive help out of the centerfielder.
"This is the first spring training camp I've ever attended where there is absolutely no pressure on me. For the last three years, I've had to try and win a job. But this year there is no job for me to win.
"The Phillies haven't tried to deceive me and I'm thankful for that. Giles, the Pope (manager Paul Owens) and (vice president of baseball administration Tony) Siegle called me in this winter and told me exactly what was going on. They told me they were trying to move me and kept me informed as to the clubs they were dealing with. They also told me they wanted me on the club if I had the right attitude and if I was willing to work with the younger players. I've always worked with young players because I've liked them.
"They seemed to be worried about my attitude. They seem to think I brooded too much. Well, I only brood when I'm not playing. Would they rather I didn't care whether I played or not?
"Baseball is a funny game. I know that I can still compete and I have a feeling that I will get a lot of playing time. I don't care who they play - everybody has their slumps. I'll hang in there and see what happens."