Sutcliffe's homecoming happy for all but Cubs Second-guessers greet vet in Chicago

May 16, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Ever since he decided to sign with the Orioles as a free agent last December, Rick Sutcliffe's return to Chicago has been anticipated by the media.

It's not that he'll get a chance to pitch against the Cubs, his former team, or even the White Sox in this weekend's series. It's just that Sutcliffe comes home with a 5-2 record, a 3.02 ERA and the right to scream, "I told you so," loud enough for Cubs general manager Larry Himes to hear in San Francisco, where he's on a fact-finding mission with his team.

Sutcliffe repeatedly has said he doesn't have anything to prove to Himes, only to the Orioles. But, as easily as he has adapted to his new residence, Sutcliffe does not try to hide the fact his preference would have been to finish with the Cubs.

"There's no way to forget 7 1/2 years," Sutcliffe said as the Orioles prepared to open a three-game series against the White Sox last night. "There is no vengeance on my mind. Larry Himes is just one person.

"It was his personal opinion that I couldn't help his club. I still can't say he's wrong, because it's early in the season. It's going to take a couple of months."

Because he pitched Wednesday, beating the Texas Rangers, 4-2, Sutcliffe won't appear in this series -- but he says, "It's not a disappointment to me."

"This [Comiskey Park] is not Wrigley Field. If it was, I'd want that assignment. There's no way it could be as difficult going to Comiskey as it would be to go to Wrigley.

"From where I live [in the northern Chicago suburbs], County Stadium in Milwaukee is closer than Comiskey Park."

That, however, won't keep Sutcliffe from dominating the pass list this weekend. Nor will it keep the media from poking fun at Himes for his insensitivity in the Sutcliffe negotiations.

When Himes replaced Jim Frey as general manager he, in effect, took the Cubs' standing offer off the table, even though it was a modest one. Sutcliffe said he would have stayed for a base salary of $500,000 -- with another $500,000 coming if he survived spring training. From that point, he could earn another $1 million in bonuses by starting 30 games.

That is basically the same contract Sutcliffe signed with the Orioles, except the spring training clause was waived so the up-front guarantee was $1 million. "I don't think Larry Himes cared about my feelings about wanting to come back," said Sutcliffe, who was one of the community's most popular athletes in a city that counts superstars in four major sports.

"I wanted to end my career with the Cubs, but he didn't see fit to give me that opportunity, so now I'm performing for the Baltimore Orioles.

"The way it stands," said Sutcliffe, "Larry Himes doesn't owe me anything and I don't owe him anything."

But in the meantime, every time Sutcliffe wins another game, Himes catches a little more flak. And, even though he says he doesn't have any vengeance, Sutcliffe didn't say he couldn't enjoy a little extra satisfaction.

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