Maddux comes home to Cubs

Who says you can’t go home again?

Certainly not Greg Maddux, who has returned to the Chicago Cubs, with whom he started his baseball career.

The right-handed pitcher signed a three-year, $24 million contract last week and already is toiling in spring training in Mesa, Ariz. The Cubs, White Sox and Brewers all are working in Arizona, and will play their first games of spring training on March 4.

The contract calls for Maddux to be paid $6 million in 2004 and $9 million in 2005. He also will be paid $9 million in 2006 if he totals 400 innings pitched in 2004 and ’05 combined. Otherwise, the third year will be negated.

“I don’t know what happened in the past,” Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry said on the Cubs’ Web site about Maddux’s split with the team after the 1992 season. “Obviously, when he left it didn’t work out too well for the Cubs, and it worked out awfully well for the Braves.

“Greg’s coming home because Greg can still pitch and Greg can win games. We wouldn’t want it any other way,” Hendry said. “It’s a great story and a wonderful ending to his career, but the past doesn’t have much to do with what we’re trying to do.”

The Chicago Tribune told the story about Maddux leaving the Cubs when the news first broke in December that he might return to Chicago this year. It’s worth repeating here:

Maddux’s departure from the Cubs was a drawn-out story that left a scar on the Cubs organization for years. Before the 1992 season, the 25-year-old Maddux signed a one-year deal for $4.2 million, making him the highest-paid Cub in history at the time.

He later said that he had accepted a five-year, $25 million deal, but Tribune Co. management “declined to sign it” only two days later. (His agent Scott) Boras broke off contract talks with the Cubs after a heated negotiating session in July, and Maddux announced on July 16 that he intended to file for free agency.

Maddux then won 10 of his last 13 decisions and finished with a 2.18 earned-run average, winning the first of his four Cy Young awards and solidifying his status as one of the game’s top starters. In his final start as a Cub on Sept. 30, 1992, Maddux shut out division-champion Pittsburgh 6-0 before 11,547 at Wrigley to become the first 20-game winner in a Cub uniform since Rick Reuschel in 1977.

The New York Yankees made the highest offer (for Maddux) at $37.5 million, acceding to Maddux’s demand of an extra $5 million for the “psychological hardship” of living in New York. But Maddux wound up signing a five-year, $28 million deal with the Braves, rejecting the Cubs’ offer of $27.5 million for five years, plus another $1.5 million in incentives.

Boras even made sure Maddux was somewhat protected against the threat of a players’ strike, with a salary that dipped $1.5 million during the ’94 strike year, then went back up again in ’95.

Atlanta won a division title every year Maddux pitched for the Braves, but its only world championship came in 1995 against Cleveland. With the money the Cubs saved by not signing Maddux, General Manager Larry Himes wound up signing free agents Jose Guzman, Candy Maldonado, Dan Plesac, Willie Wilson, Randy Myers and Steve Lake.

It turned out to be one of the worst free-agent classes in Cubs history, while Maddux went on to go 194-88 with a 2.63 ERA in 11 seasons in Atlanta, winning three more Cy Young awards.

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