You all know the story of how Greg Maddux came to leave the Cubs after the 1992 season. There's no need to re-hash it now; of course, they should have kept him. Can you imagine the 1998 Cubs with Maddux in his prime? Or even the 1993 or 1995 teams, that came close to contending, might have been postseason possibilities with the Maddux of his Cy Young years.
Oh. Wait. I said I wasn't going to re-hash it, and did anyway. Let's move on, shall we? Here's the story of Maddux's final game in a Cub uniform -- at least until his return more than 11 years later.
The Cubs had briefly contended in 1992, but despite an 18-12 August, fell farther behind the Pirates, who went 19-8 that month. By late September it was another "playing out the string" month; all that was of real interest was to see if Maddux could become the first Cubs 20-game winner since Rick Reuschel 15 years earlier.
So it was that Maddux went out to face the Pirates -- who had clinched the division four days earlier -- with three days remaining in the season and nothing on the line except pride, and that 20th win. The Cubs put the game away with a four-run sixth, but it was Maddux who sparkled, wrote Joey Reaves in the Tribune:
Maddux shut them out, striking out nine and walking just two (one intentionally), despite having just a so-so fastball. "He wasn't as sharp early in the game as he usually is," said catcher Rick Wilkins. "But it was vintage Maddux. As the game went on, he kept getting better and better." Maddux may have been at his very best, though, coming off the mound instead of pitching from it. That was in the eighth inning, with two outs and runners at first and third, when Pirates catcher Tom Prince hit a ball that tipped off Maddux's glove and dribbled slowly toward second base. It appeared to be a run-scoring infield single, but Maddux-winner of the Gold Glove as the best defensive pitcher in the league the last two seasons-wheeled off the mound, staggered after the ball, picked it up, wheeled again and fired to first base in time to get Prince.
The Cubs won the game 6-0. A few weeks later, Maddux would win the first of his four consecutive Cy Young Awards, becoming the third -- and to this date, last -- of three Cubs so honored.
Then the waiting game began, to see if he'd stick around. Asked after that game whether he'd stay, Maddux told the Tribune:
"I like Chicago. I like my teammates. The fans here are the best and I enjoy the city. But I'm not closing any doors."
Thanks, Larry Himes and Tribune Company, for depriving the Cubs of the best pitcher of his generation, and one of the best of all-time. There will be Cubs fans at the expected induction of Greg Maddux into baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in July 2014. But those fans will have to gaze at a visage of Maddux wearing an Atlanta Braves cap on his plaque.