Originally created 08/13/97

Mike Berardino: Don't assume Maddux deal was generous



Just because the Atlanta Braves made Greg Maddux the highest-paid baseball player in the world doesn't mean they did him any favors.

The Braves just may have hoodwinked Maddux with that five-year, $57.5 million contract extension finalized over the weekend.

Yes, we realize how crazy that sounds. But when you step back and consider his sustained excellence, not to mention the current landscape of professional sports - and entertainment in general - you can see the inequity of the deal.

Tuesday, Kevin Garnett turned down a six-year, $102-million offer from the Minnesota Timberwolves. He didn't ponder it. He showed the T-Wolves the back of his bony hand.

That offer averaged $17 million a year, far more than the $11.5 million annual figure Maddux settled for. Garnett's agent wants $132 million for his client, and he'll get it.

This is Kevin Garnett we're talking about. Three years ago he was just a skinny kid towering over his high school friends in Mauldin, S.C. Now he's insulted by an offer that roughly approximates the gross national product of Belize.

And don't forget Shaquille O'Neal. Ol' Taco Neck still has six years left on his $120 million deal with the Lakers. Huge money. Sick money. And he still can't shoot free throws!

Of course, Jim Carrey makes $20 million per movie and he can't act.

Then there's the King of All Contracts, Michael Jordan, who is about to re-up with the Chicago Bulls for some $40 million. That's for one more season, mind you. No wonder Jerry Reinsdorf's White Sox have been frantically teaching the split-finger to bat boys. They'll need all the cheap labor they can find.

So maybe Maddux simply plays the wrong sport. Maybe he should have shelved the change-up as a boy and instead begged his dad for a pair of those goofy shoes that are "guaranteed" to improve your vertical leap at least 15 inches.

Actually, even as a lowly baseball player, Maddux probably could have commanded near-Shaq money had he been willing to test the market.

Albert Belle lives as though he's auditioning for the lead in a Stephen King movie and he gets $55 million from one of the game's most frugal owners. Isn't Maddux - the quintessential pitcher and teammate - worth far more than that?

It's not just the four Cy Youngs and 121 victories he's picked up since 1991. It's not just the Sports Illustrated assessment that Maddux has become the greatest right-hander since Walter Johnson. It's not just those 78-pitch complete games, which sure make life pleasant for the working press and significantly reduce Turner Field electric bills.

It's the whole frightening package. It's the fact that Maddux almost always delivers. It's the fact that, at 31, he has elevated his craft to an art form and has done so using a steady, cerebral approach that isn't likely to taper off any time soon.

He could have done what John Smoltz did a year ago and taken the Soap Opera Express into November. Just imagine what kind of offer the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks could have made. And Maddux would have been a puddle-jumper flight away from his Las Vegas home.

But Maddux didn't want any part of that. Even with the benefit of one of the most laid-back local media situations in the majors, he worried about distractions. He remembered his final season with the Chicago Cubs and didn't want a repeat of the daily inquisition.

So he sent his agent, Scott (the Anti-Christ) Boras, into the Braves' front office with a number. A relatively modest number. And it must have taken every ounce of restraint in their bodies to keep Stan Kasten and John Schuerholz from slapping high fives right then.

Still, Maddux is happy.

"They made me a nice deal," he said. "I'd be a fool not to take it. Sometimes the grass isn't greener on the other side."

And sometimes $57.5 million isn't nearly as obscene as it sounds.