Chicago — I can think of a lot of emotions a city might have after a big-time trade - anger, disbelief, relief, unbridled joy, etc. - but I never thought guilt would be one of them.
The gnawing feeling here is that we somehow let down Greg Maddux, who deserved better than what he received during his second stint with the Cubs.
That can happen when a classy player meets a catatonic franchise.
Remember the boatloads of promise surrounding Maddux's signing before the 2004 season? Remember the hope that he would team with Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement to form one of the best rotations in baseball? That he would show the other Cubs pitchers how to be a professional? That the Cubs would go beyond the strip tease of 2003?
That a wrong - the franchise's decision to let him walk away after the '92 season - finally would be righted?
Instead, Maddux received a second helping of the futility that has been on the menu around here for almost 100 years.
There's nothing to do but roll your eyes at what the future Hall of Famer had to witness in almost three seasons here. The dueling rehabs of Wood and Prior. The inability of management to fill holes. The botching of defensive plays covered in "Baseball for Dummies." The meltdown of the 2004 Cubs. The realization that 2004 was the highlight of his stay here.
It was as if Maddux, on his way to pick up doughnuts, happened upon a grisly, three-mile accident scene.
He wasn't perfect. You don't lose six games in a row, as he did this season, and not take some blame for the way the year has gone. He's not what he used to be. No 40-year-old is.
But he's Greg Maddux. He's a player with impeccable stats and an impeccable reputation. He's what a ballplayer is supposed to be, and if you think all those glowing comments about Maddux made by teammates after the trade were obligatory, think again. Teammates saw how he carried himself, how hard he worked, how he fielded his position, the way he helped other pitchers if they asked. He didn't feel it was his place to intrude. Imagine that from a superstar.
On Saturday at Wrigley Field, in what turned out to be his last game as a Cub this season, he was his young self again, striking out six and walking none while picking up his 327th career victory. All of his pitches moved like butterflies, and the helpless Cardinals didn't have a net.
In the seventh inning, when Maddux walked off the mound for the last time, the crowd rose to give him a standing ovation, to show its appreciation and, maybe, just maybe, to apologize. Sorry it turned out this way. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
He lifted his cap, and if you looked hard enough, you might have seen that he was sorry, too, for how it ended. He had more to give. Later, he said he liked everything about his return to Chicago except the results, which, OK, is sort of like enjoying everything about an orange except the fruit.
He had come back with the idea that the ever-sedentary Cubs were going places. But surely there was a voice in his head telling him to remember the team with which he was dealing. Surely he had dark suspicions, given the history.
It's great Maddux was able to get his 300th victory and 3,000th strikeout while wearing a Cubs uniform. But those were supposed to be nice collectibles on the way to something bigger, something like the World Series.
There was supposed to be so much more. The pragmatists among us will say Maddux got his proper due, in the form of about $8 million a year. And there's some truth to that. But some of these athletes think differently than the rest of us, and this particular athlete is even more driven. He came here to win, period.