Manager Dusty Baker casually mentioned Thursday morning that Cubs right-hander Greg Maddux was contemplating retirement after the season, a revelation that came as a surprise to almost everyone but Maddux himself.
After pitching his 106th career complete game in an 11-4 victory over St. Louis that halted the Cubs' eight-game losing streak, the 39-year-old Maddux conceded he would take some time over the winter to consider whether he wants to return in 2006.
"I'm not getting any younger," Maddux said. "I really want to finish out strong and I want to come back and play next year, as long as I feel like I can play. Obviously I'm not going to play it like I did 10, 15 years ago. But as long as I can feel like I'm one of the best five guys we can put in the rotation, I'm looking forward to coming back."
The option year in Maddux's three-year, $24 million contract guarantees 2006 at $9 million if he pitches 400 combined innings in 2004-05. He's 302/3 innings short with approximately 10 starts remaining, making it a virtual lock.
Maddux insisted money would not be a factor.
"When you negotiate, it's about the money," he said. "But you don't play the game for the money, at least not now. I've had my day where I played for the money. Believe it or not, I do like the game. I look forward to coming to the park the days I'm not pitching just as much."
So what will be the determining factor?
"Sit down, look in the mirror, and if you're good enough to play, you play," Maddux said. "If you're not, you quit. It's that simple.
"If I'm deserving enough to come back and play and wear a shirt with my name on the back, believe me, I want to do it."
On Thursday, Maddux earned his 314th career victory, moving into a tie for 16th place alongside Gaylord Perry. He allowed four runs while scattering 12 hits on a season-high 114 pitches, squaring his record at 9-9.
Maddux leads the team in victories, and since he rejoined the Cubs last year, his 25 combined victories leads the rotation, followed by Carlos Zambrano's 24 and Mark Prior's 13.
The "R" word first surfaced before the game when Baker was asked whether he would give Kerry Wood a chance to replace Ryan Dempster as closer in the final six weeks.
"It's hard to take the ball out of [Dempster's] hand when he just got it himself and is doing a very good job," Baker replied. "We need [Wood] next year to hopefully go back to that starting role, or else you're going to have to replace that too.
"Then, I don't know what Maddux's contractual obligations are. What if he [says], 'I've had enough.' Then you have to replace two or three guys."
Baker then was asked if he expected Maddux to retire.
"No, but you get to a certain age, man I don't expect it to happen, but it's always a possibility," he said.
Why would Maddux turn down a guaranteed $9 million?
"Maybe he has a bunch of money already," Baker said.
"This guy has a lot of pride. He's not going to go out there and get beat around for nine innings. He's not going to do that."
Baker said he wasn't implying Maddux would be ineffective if he returns at age 40.
"I was just using that as an example," he said. "Don't create a story. [Retirement] is just a possibility. It's not up to us, it's up to him. This guy loves to pitch, and he loves to pitch well."
Maddux's 4.54 earned-run average is his highest since 5.61 in 1987, his first full season. He said determining whether he's finished will be easy.
"The hitters let you know," he said. "If you're out there throwing batting practice, who needs it?"
Baker gave Maddux a heads-up that he had discussed Maddux's possible retirement. After patiently answering several questions following the game, Maddux had had enough.
"Let's just shut it down right now," he said. "I've said what I feel and I've been totally honest. Let's just worry about it and play baseball. Please. I'd love to play for another 10 years, but this is something that is not an issue right now."
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