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MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Maddux's Hall of Fame career nearly took different turn

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NEW YORK -- This is about what might have been.

The announcement won't be made for a few days, but new Hall of Famer Greg Maddux is a cinch to be wearing an Atlanta Braves cap on his plaque when it is unveiled in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 27.

Maddux won 194 games and three National League Cy Young Awards during 11 years pitching for the Braves, but it almost was different. The cap might have had an NY on it.

Maddux came within a whisker, or make that a few hours, of signing with the New York Yankees in 1992. But just when it looked like the Yankees had locked up the 26-year-old coveted free agent that winter, the Braves landed one of the greatest pitchers in history.

And for nearly $10 million less than the Yanks were offering.

The newest Hall of Famers, at their official unveiling Thursday in the Waldorf Astoria, each pulled on what Hall president Jeff Idelson called uniforms of their final team. Maddux, former teammate Tom Glavine and the effervescent Frank Thomas said all the right things. You can fill in the blanks. They were up to their "A" game.

Later, I asked Maddux about almost becoming a Yankee.

Regrets? There was a pause, and a slight smile.

"No," Maddux finally said. "I don't regret it, but I don't think there's any question wearing a Yankees uniform is one of the most special jerseys you can wear in baseball.

"Things worked out pretty well in Atlanta, because I got a chance to play with Glavine, John Smoltz and Bobby Cox."

There was another pause and Maddux reminded me of Frank Sinatra when he croons "My Way":

"Regrets, I've had few, but far too few to mention."

"Regrets?" Maddux asked the question again, then answered it: "Absolutely not, but there have been some 'What if?' nights."

After pitching seven seasons for the Cubs and winning his first Cy Young Award with a 20-11 record and 2.18 ERA in 1992, Maddux became a free agent. He was represented by the powerful Scott Boras.

"Atlanta was my first choice, but things weren't working out. They needed some time, I guess, to try and make a roster spot for me," Maddux explained. "They weren't able to do that, and I was definitely coming to New York."

The Yanks had finished fourth in the American League East in 1992, while the Braves had gone to the World Series in 1991 and '92, losing both times. Maddux felt Atlanta gave him the best and most immediate chance to get to the World Series.

But had Maddux been wearing Yankees pinstripes, he likely would have been involved in their four World Series championships from 1996-2000 and the fantastic Joe Torre era.

The late George Steinbrenner, the best salesman the Yanks ever had, was suspended at the time and not permitted to take part in negotiations for the prized pitcher. General manager Gene Michael took that responsibility, and for two days, he gave Maddux a tour of the area, especially New Jersey neighborhoods where many of the Yankees lived during the season.

The tour received a lot of publicity, especially from the New York media. Maddux received the red-carpet treatment and even got to see "Miss Saigon" on Broadway.

"It was cool," he said. "Gene Michael showed me around, took me to a show. It was really a good time."

Maddux was a hot topic at the Winter Meetings that December, and I remember the word spreading that the Yanks once again had landed one of the game's premier players.

"I really thought I was coming here to be a Yankee," Maddux repeated. "When the Braves were unable to work things out, I was coming here."

And just before the Yankees deal was completed …

"Something happened that day where the Braves were able to work it out for me," Maddux said.

On Dec. 9, 1992, the Braves signed Maddux to a five-year, $28 million contract. The New York Times reported at the time the Yankees had proposed a five-year, $34 million contract. Boras had countered with a $37.5 million deal, and before the Yanks responded, the Braves finalized their offer.

When Michael learned of the Braves' signing, he called it a "steal."

I've often thought had Steinbrenner been involved up front, Atlanta might not have gotten Maddux. The Boss was enormously persuasive, plus he knew his way around the Big Apple. Chances are he would have introduced Maddux to places and people that might have swayed the final decision.

Maddux pitched his first game for the Braves as their 1993 Opening Day starter against his former team, the Cubs, at Wrigley Field. He won, 1-0. He went on to win 19 more games that summer, had the lowest ERA (2.36) in the NL and took home the first of three consecutive Cy Young Awards with Atlanta.

Pitching for the Braves in Atlanta is in huge contrast to performing in New York. Maddux was asked Thursday if the pressure with the Yankees might have been diffrerent.

"No, I think it's the same," he said. "It's easy to say that when I've never played here. You always hear that, but I always thought pressure is something you put on yourself.

"It's hard for the media or the fans to put pressure on you. They can make it harder to relieve the pressure, but usually the pressure comes from within."

For Maddux, it's obvious he handled that well, as he became the winningest pitcher of his generation and punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

And 194 of those 355 wins were for the Braves.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"event":["hall_of_fame" ] }
{"event":["hall_of_fame" ] }