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Welcome Back

Welcome back,
Your dreams were your ticket out.
Welcome back,
To that same old place that you laughed about.
Well the names have all changed since you hung around,
But those dreams have remained and they're turned around.

-- theme from "Welcome Back, Kotter"

On September 30, 1992, 26-year-old Greg Maddux
threw a 7-hit shutout at the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning his 20th game of the season (for a 78-win Cub team), becoming the first Cub pitcher to win 20 since Rick Reuschel in 1977. (This is the highlight video of Maddux in a Cub uniform that has been airing on various stations all day today.)

We knew he was a free agent then, and at the time, had no idea it would be more than eleven years before he'd put on the blue pinstriped #31 he'll don in Mesa, Arizona, either tomorrow or the next day, pending a physical, which he'll surely pass.

As you know if you haven't had your ears and eyes closed all day, the soon-to-be-38-year-old Maddux agreed to a contract with the Cubs late last night.

The deal is now confirmed to be two years for $7.5 million each, with an option year for $9 million in 2006, if Maddux reaches certain incentives. What we don't know yet is exactly what those incentives are.

Wednesday evening update: the deal is now officially announced as: $6 million in 2004, $9 million in 2005, and $9 million in 2006 IF he pitches a combined 400 innings in 2004 and 2005. I stilll think this is eminently fair to both player and club.

I've been in favor of this signing for a long time, and the dog-and-pony show that Scott Boras has put on for five weeks has been the reason I haven't written much about this. I give huge credit to Jim Hendry for not falling for Boras' stunts, for Boras' attempts to get the Cubs to bid against themselves (the ludicrous breathless reports coming out of New York a couple of days ago about the Yankees, a case in point), for holding his ground and reaching what seems to be a very fair compromise, given today's market.

Yes, we wish we could have had Maddux in a Cub uniform the last 11 years, given his success and the fact that he is one of the most intense competitors ever to play the game, and his intelligence trumps nearly every other player playing today. But rehashing the mistakes made by a previous Cub management regime is silly. Maddux won 95 games as a Cub from 1986-1992 (to tell you how long ago his rookie September call-up year was, among his teammates that fall were current Cub batting coach Gary Matthews, current Red Sox manager Terry Francona, and soon-to-be-Hall-of-Fame inductee Dennis Eckersley), and 194 as an Atlanta Brave, but he will, barring injury or complete collapse, win his 300th game in a Cub uniform this season, we hope sometime in late July or early August.

For the practical side of this signing, it's clear to me that even a 38-year-old Greg Maddux is a better option for the rotation than an unproven Juan Cruz. Cruz will make the club in the bullpen, and he's very valuable there, since he can go one inning or three, or even start in an emergency. It increases the depth of the staff and means that none of the prize prospects (Blasko, Brownlie, Ryu, Guzman, Sisco, Jones, and others) have to be rushed.

It's a win-win situation. Let's hope this signing brings us the World Championship we've dreamed of for so long. The Cubs, I believe, now have the best starting rotation in the majors; as it says here: (on's "page 2")

Don't coronate A-Rod's Yankees just yet as baseball's 2004 champs. Picture this:

Assuming even that the Yankees can, say, get by deep A's pitching in the Division Series, then, oh, escape another seven-game thriller with the rival Red Sox, here comes the World Series:

Game 1: vs. Mark Prior
Game 2: vs. Kerry Wood
Game 3: vs. Greg Maddux
Game 4: vs. Clement/Zambrano
Game 5: vs. Prior
Game 6: vs. Wood
Game 7: vs. Maddux

The Yankees may have the All-Star lineup to win 110 games and a division; in signing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, the Cubs have the All-Star rotation to win a World Series.

Remember that mantra: Lineups win divisions; pitching wins championships.

The irony is so sweet: If the Yankees and Cubs face each other in the Series and it goes seven, A-Rod (loudly introduced yesterday) can lose directly to Maddux (quietly signed late last night).

You won't hear much "best-ever" fawning about this Cubs' rotation, but historical placement is overrated: What matters "best" is that the Cubs have baseball's top rotation this season.

That's a good summary. In a practical sense, I might put Maddux in the rotation between Wood and Prior, to split up the power guys, but it really doesn't matter after the first time through. And if they make him #4, he would start for the Cubs in Atlanta on April 9, a delicious irony after he shut out the Cubs 1-0 (with help in the 9th) in his first start as a Brave in 1993.

Welcome back, Greg. Welcome home.