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Wood's return to Cubs not about the money  

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

By the sounds of it, the Cubs and former ace Kerry Wood struck a lifetime deal with a one-year contract.

‘‘That’s something that I’ve always felt strongly about,’’ said the hard-throwing right-hander who remained an iconic figure in recent Cub history even as he pitched for Cleveland and the New York Yankees the last two seasons.

‘‘I’m a Cub. And this is just the perfect fit for myself and my family at this point. It’s never been about the money for me. I did leave some money out there. But it’s about being home, it’s about being here at Wrigley, which is home.’’

Wood’s stunning below-market deal worth $1.5 million — an agreement made possible only by Wood initiating talks last week while in town for Ron Santo’s funeral and teammate Ryan Dempster’s charity event — gives the Cubs a higher-end version of the bullpen arm they hoped to land this winter, while leaving enough payroll flexibility to continue their pursuit of a starting pitcher.

For Wood, 33, the deal that became official Friday is a chance to put family first — both in context of what he considers his baseball family as well as his wife, Sarah, a Waukegan native, and their three kids.

‘‘From a personal standpoint … we really feel this is where we belong,’’ Wood said. ‘‘And not just this year, but for many years to come.’’

The Woods will be spending their second full winter in Chicago, with son Justin preparing to start school next year and younger daughter Charlotte facing a few health concerns right now that make home especially important.

‘‘New York was great. The kids loved being there. The family loved being there,’’ said Wood, who turned down multiyear offers from the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, as well as a $3.5 million deal from the White Sox. ‘‘But at this point, this is where we need to be.’’

Cubs management and players seemed as thrilled as they were surprised by the deal that came together quickly once Wood proposed the return a week ago — a deal being compared to Hall of Famer Andre Dawson’s famous blank-check deal in 1987.

‘‘What Woody does on the field will just be a bonus compared to what he does in the clubhouse,’’ said Dempster, one of several players who talked about the leadership loss when Wood left as an All-Star closer following the 2008 season when the Cubs didn’t have the payroll room to come close to the two-year, $20 million he got from Cleveland.

‘‘It’s awesome, man. He’s going to help a lot of guys on our team. And we’re not signing back Woody because we like him and he’s a Cub and all that kind of stuff. What he did in New York was dominating.’’

Wood, who was traded by Cleveland to the Yankees last summer, went 3-4 with eight saves and a 3.13 ERA last season, including 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in 26 setup innings with the Yankees after the trade.

‘‘It says a lot about him as a person,’’ Dempster said of Wood’s willingness to return for less money. ‘‘We as a society spend too much time talking about greed, whether it’s athletes or actors, the people making all this money playing a sport. Don’t get me wrong: Woody’s getting more than most people dream of making in their lives to play for one season. But the fact is he turned down millions of dollars to play in Chicago. That says a lot about him and the city of Chicago and the fans in Chicago and what it means to him.’’

And both the Cubs and Wood expressed the desire Friday to make this one-year deal a renewal of what they plan to become a lifetime commitment — details of which to be revisited after the season, and again once his playing career is over. It’s something he discussed with chairman Tom Ricketts during talks early this week.

‘‘I see Kerry Wood living here the rest of his life,’’ general manager Jim Hendry said. ‘‘It was awfully hard on all of us when he left. … And I think he’ll raise his children here and be a part of the Cubs forever.’’

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