"Bobby Cox is holding a hell of a hand," says Pittsburgh Pirate manager Jim Leyland of the Atlanta Brave skipper. Leyland, perhaps inspired by his team's circular, green-felt-covered ballpark, draws frequent analogies between the baseball field and the poker table. And as he well knows, at either venue it's impossible to beat five aces.
Ask Dave Maddux. He's a poker dealer at the Excalibur in Las Vegas. In addition to producing aces professionally, Maddux has done so procreatively: His two sons are both big league pitchers. Thirty-one-year-old Mike is a middle reliever for the New York Mets. And as his deadpan biography in the Mets' media guide will inform you, "Mike's younger brother Greg pitches for the Atlanta Braves and was the 1992 National League Cy Young Award winner."
You might say that two of the Brave pitchers are from Michigan (Smoltz and Avery), two are from Massachusetts (Glavine and Smith) and one is from everywhere else (Maddux). An Air Force brat, Greg was born in San Angelo, Texas, and lived in Westport, Ind.; Minot, N.Dak.; Riverside, Calif.; and Madrid, Spain, before his father finally settled in Las Vegas in 1976. "I think growing up the way we did helped prepare us for what we do now," says Mike, who is five years older than Greg.
Their itinerant life before Las Vegas rendered Greg and Mike as close as Siegfried and Roy. Greg is quiet and poker-faced. Mike is chatty—and mustachioed, like the king of clubs. The brothers lived together in West Palm Beach for the first two weeks of spring training, before their respective families arrived in Florida. Both live in their beloved Vegas in the off-season.
"Las Vegas is just like any other place," says Greg. "It has churches and parks and Little League and movie theaters. The only difference is that when you go to the grocery store at three in the morning, it's open. And there are a couple of slot machines outside. And the weather is usually nice. And the gaming industry gets us out of paying state taxes."
And it gives the neocelebrity Brave a convenient cover when he returns home in the winter. "We both lay low there," says Mike. "It's easy. Las Vegas is a city of stars. Really, you can't mention me and my brother in the same sentence with Don King, Suzanne Somers, Robert Goulet, Wayne Newton...."
"Quality entertainment," Greg says when Newton's name is invoked. "They call it the entertainment capital of the world, and it is." But the brightest new star in that desert-sky galaxy may be Greg. Consider that he won the Cy Young for the Chicago Cubs, a fourth-place team. In seven of his 11 losses last season (how are those, for Vegas numbers?), the Cubs scored zero runs for him. He has won three consecutive Gold Gloves and 87 games in five years. All of which is why Greg hit the free-agency jackpot on Dec. 9, eight days before Mike was traded from San Diego to New York for reliever Roger Mason and a minor leaguer.
"I'm happy for him," says Greg's big brother. "I'm happiest that he stayed in the National League. Now we can still see each other during the season." And at season's end, if Bobby Cox hasn't won the World Series, he may still have a shot at the World Series of Poker.