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updated: 12/8/2012 11:28 PM

The day Cubs tossed Maddux out the door

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  • Braves Greg Maddux won 194 games -- and four straight Cy Young Awards -- in 11 seasons with the Atlanta Braves.

       Braves Greg Maddux won 194 games -- and four straight Cy Young Awards -- in 11 seasons with the Atlanta Braves.
    Mark Welsh File Photo | Staff Photographer

 
 

Not all anniversaries are meant to be celebrated. Some, naturally, are mourned.

"I suppose," says Greg Maddux, "it depends on your point of view."

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And that brings us to what happened 20 years ago Sunday.

Negotiations with the Cubs began in December 1991 and fell apart, but it appeared as though something might happen in San Diego the week of the 1992 All-Star Game, when the Cubs' front office asked for a meeting with Maddux and agent Scott Boras.

Maddux had won at least 15 games four straight years, a pair of Gold Gloves, made two all-star teams and was about to lead the league in starts for the third straight season.

And he was 26 years old.

But the Cubs had a different message for Maddux at midseason 1992. Rather than tell him how good he was, GM Larry Himes reminded Maddux of what he hadn't done.

"They told me I had never won 20 games or a Cy Young," Maddux remembers. "They basically told me I wasn't very good."

Maddux was on the verge of free agency, and entering his prime he was about to become the best pitcher in baseball.

He went 10-3 in the second half of '92 with a 1.93 ERA, 92 strikeouts against 32 walks, 5 complete games and 4 shutouts. He led the league in innings pitched (268), starts (35) and victories.

He got his 20 wins and ran away with the Cy Young, defeating defending champ Tom Glavine.

"I messed up," Maddux says now with a laugh. "I made myself too expensive."

He did everything the Cubs asked, and still Himes didn't seem all that interested. He had intentions of spending that money elsewhere, on free agents like Jose Guzman, Randy Myers, Willie Wilson, Dan Plesac and Candy Maldonado.

So 20 years ago -- and unwelcome in Chicago -- Greg Maddux signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Braves, becoming the Lou Brock of his generation, creating a memory that will haunt Cubs fans forever.

The Cubs never offered more in 1992 than they had in 1991, despite Maddux answering Himes on the field, and Maddux went to the Braves for five years and $28 million, turning down the Yankees' offer of $37 million.

"It was a blessing in disguise," Maddux said Friday from his car while driving home from -- you guessed it -- the golf course.

"It was a chance to go to Atlanta and win. I spent 11 good years there, got a chance to pitch in the postseason every year and got a (World Series) ring.

"I made a lot of friends and got to pitch for Bobby Cox. It worked out great for me."

Not so much for the Cubs, who had to watch from afar as Maddux became a Hall of Famer, though they saw him close up when the Braves began the 1993 season at Wrigley Field, where Maddux started Opening Day and beat the Cubs 1-0.

The Cubs had done a nice job spinning it, and the Chicago media ate it up and pulverized the reigning N.L. Cy Young as the bad guy, so bad that he got booed on Opening Day.

"I didn't know Deion Sanders very well, but he came up to me in the dugout and he said, 'You know, they only boo good players. You gotta be a good player to get booed,' so I took it as a compliment," Maddux said.

"I was here in Vegas and that was before the Internet, so I didn't read what was being said back there.

"I got a taste of it when I came back to Wrigley and they booed me pretty good.

"They were so mad that when I hit a foul ball, they threw it back. I couldn't hit a home run, so they threw back foul balls," Maddux laughed. "I was talking to the catcher and we were just hoping they didn't throw them at us."

It took Maddux by surprise, but getting shoved out the door only served to focus the Braves' new ace.

"It was good motivation. You always look for reasons to pitch well," Maddux said. "I used it to find out how good I could be. I wanted to prove to Larry Himes that he made a mistake."

Four straight Cy Youngs and 194 wins in Atlanta certainly made his point, but Maddux was long over it, thinking of himself as a Brave, not a Cub, when he got the chance in 2004 to bury the hatchet and return to Chicago.

"You know, time heals everything and I was glad I got that opportunity to come back," Maddux said. "I feel like I was pretty fortunate to have six good years in Chicago to start my career. Would I have liked to stay? Yeah, obviously.

"I never wanted to leave, but I'm very grateful the Cubs drafted me and gave me the opportunity to play this game.

"What happened at the end of '92 in no way tarnishes my baseball career in Chicago."

There was a report last year that if his brother Mike had taken the Cubs' managing job last fall that Greg would have come back again as pitching coach.

"Not even close to true," Maddux said. "I'm not ready to go all in and never said I would do that.

"My son has still got some growing up to do, and I want to be a part of that. I love the part-time thing."

His daughter Paige is now in college and son Chase is a high school sophomore, but Maddux doesn't see full-time coaching anywhere in his future.

He's got a dream life, with as much golf as a human can handle, he teaches his son to pitch and play golf, he dabbles in baseball with the Texas Rangers, and he'll be the pitching coach for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic in a couple of months.

"I don't see myself ever doing it every day, but I guess you never know," Maddux said. "I do enjoy being around the players and being in the game part time. I'm looking forward to seeing how the WBC thing goes.

"I have tremendous respect for how my brother coaches and manages his pitchers and I love being around that coaching staff. The atmosphere reminds me a lot of Atlanta, where winning is expected and how they go about it."

Maddux knows a little bit about winning. His 355 victories are eighth all time, and in his first Hall of Fame chance one year from now he could be among the highest vote getters of all time.

Anything less than 95 percent would be surprising, though only 12 players have hit 95 percent or more. Tom Seaver tops the list at 98.84.

"Up until now I haven't given it much thought, but with the voting getting talked about so much right now, you kind of think about how your class is next," Maddux said. "I just hope I get enough votes to get in. You never know how people are going to vote."

Classic Maddux, never giving away too much, never revealing more than necessary.

That hasn't changed at all in 20 years.

brozner@dailyherald.com

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