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Athletes returning to roots does not always work out for best

| Friday, July 1, 2011

Jaromir Jagr once was a remarkable hockey player, probably the best in the NHL during his prime. He is 39, but his health is good and many of his skills still sharp, by all accounts. There is no reason to believe a return to the Penguins after a 10-year absence wouldn't be a good thing for him and the club.

No reason except perhaps this: History.

Stars as bright as Ken Griffey Jr. and Peter Forsberg have dimmed considerably after returning to familiar, supposedly friendly confines. Age and injury are the usual suspects.

After an eight-year separation, the Pirates in 1993 brought back former pitching ace John Candelaria, who they traded to the Angels because his performance had slipped and he also called the general manager a bozo. The Candy Man went on to pitch for six more teams before returning to Pittsburgh as a 38-year-old reliever who clearly was finished, going 0-3 with a save and 8.24 ERA before his release and subsequent retirement.

"I'm going out the same way I came in," Candelaria said at the time. "With my head up."

Mark Recchi made a successful return to the Penguins in 2005, more than 13 years since he played for his first NHL club. The right wing scored 48 goals in less than two full seasons, sandwiched around a trade to Carolina and subsequent re-signing with Pittsburgh.

But Recchi slumped in 2006-07, clashed with Pens coach Michel Therrien and was waived. Therrien said Recchi was outperformed by younger players. Perhaps, but earlier this month, at age 43, he helped Boston raise the Stanley Cup.

Other NHL homecomings have fared worse. Forsberg, a former Hart Trophy winner, returned to Colorado last season after seven years and lasted two games, the result of his age (37) and chronic foot problems.

Fortified by a two-year, $12 million contract, All-Star defenseman Rob Blake returned to Los Angeles in 2006 more than five years after a bitter departure. Two unproductive, injury-marred seasons later, the 38-year-old was gone yet again.

Mario Lemieux made a mini-return, of sorts, to the Penguins, retiring after the 1997 season and coming back in December 2000 at age 35. The current co-owner and one of the greatest players in NHL history had a goal and two assists in his first game back and ended the season with 76 points in 43 games. He wasn't quite as good after that, playing parts of four more seasons before hanging up the skates for good in 2006.

The NBA has had its share of unfortunate returns (Magic Johnson, Moses Malone), although Jason Kidd's Dallas homecoming worked out well this past season. Because of wear and tear and short careers, relatively few NFL players come back home.

But Major League Baseball has had an abundance of decisions that might have been reconsidered. Griffey, Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Tom Glavine and Gary Carter are among the big names who went back to where they launched their big league careers, and it generally wasn't pretty.

Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver returned to New York in 1983, six years after his trade to Cincinnati left Mets fans in tears. He went 9-14 for his old team before going to the Chicago White Sox when the Mets left him unprotected in the now-defunct free agent compensation pool.

During his jam-packed news conference with the Mets announcing his signing, Seaver wryly noted, "I don't know what the public will remember or expect. I'm not going out next season with a sign saying, 'It's 1983, and I'm 38 years old.' "

He didn't have to.

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