Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You're Not Wrong, You're Just an Asshole

A few of us (actually, all three of us, Kevin, John, and I) were holding court over a few Guinness on Friday night and happened to see the clip of the most recent Carlos Zambrano dugout escapade, which took place during that afternoon's Cubs-White Sox game. Long story short, Zambrano got torched for four runs in the first inning and blamed it on first baseman Derrek Lee not diving to stop the grounder down the line hit by Juan Pierre, a grounder that became a leadoff double. A few snap judgments from this situation:

-Number 1, if a slap hitter like Juan Pierre pulls you down the line, it's on the pitcher, not the fielder.
-Number 2, I could almost understand if there were two outs and runners on base when it happened and Pierre's hit directly led to runs, but he was the leadoff man. Go earn your money and pitch around a leadoff hit like a #1 starter is supposed to be able to do.
-Number 3, it's idiotic to call out your fielders when you get hit the way he did in that inning. Kinda tough to catch the baseball when it's careening off the wall or landing 10 rows deep in the bleachers.
-Number 4, I'm not against confronting teammates when you feel their effort is lacking. It's been done effectively before. But keep it out of sight, and especially out of camera view. Players never win by showing up their teammates publicly. Coaches can do it occasionally (just ask Todd Haley, who practically owes his head coaching job with the Chiefs to a well-publicized sideline spat with Anquan Boldin in the NFC Championship Game), but even then it's not exactly advisable.
-Number 5, if you are going to try to use this type of motivation on your teammates, your performance itself had better be exemplary. Everyday players hardly ever want to hear it from a pitcher, so you can imagine what it feels like to be berated by a guy who had just nudged his way back into the starting rotation after an early-season bullpen banishment.

This is hardly the first time that Big Z has blown up like this. In fact, when we first saw the highlight, we weren't sure if it was something that happened that day or if it was a replay of a prior fracas. Zambrano has had several good seasons, yes. But recently he's gotten more publicity for his big mouth than for his big arm. You know how certain guys such as Derek Jeter, Ichiro, and Chipper Jones are known as the face of their respective franchises? Well, Carlos Zambrano has taken another big step in becoming the face of the Cubs franchise, and these days that's no compliment. Right now he is the portrait of overpaid and underperforming, of too much flash and too little substance. The Cubs have been a hot mess since the end of the 2008 regular season, and what they have in star power they more than match in volatility.

It's an interesting dynamic. For generations, the Cubbies were lovable losers, a team known as much for billy goats, black cats, and ill-fated foul popups down the left field line as for Ernie Banks, Harry Caray, and Ryne Sandberg. Now, judging by their record, the Cubs are certainly losers, but they are anything but lovable. Maybe it's the undue amount of attention they still get nationally. Maybe it's the fact that seeing Alfonso Soriano swing at (and try to pull) every freaking pitch gives me flashbacks to some of his prolonged slumps from his Yankee days. Maybe it's the party-first, baseball game-second atmosphere that's become prevalent at Wrigley Field. Or maybe not. Maybe we wouldn't be so quick to criticize all aspects of the Cub teams of recent years if its $18 million a year starting pitcher would ever learn to keep his mouth shut and stopped doing so much to turn his team into the media's canteen of water in the desert of the 24-hour news cycle. Oh well. I'll look at the bright side - as tired a story as a Carlos Zambrano controversy is, at least it takes a few minutes a day away from any more talk about vuvuzelas or LeBron sweepstakes speculation.

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