A Nation Divided

Another implosion rocks the Cubs. No wonder they call this “Division Central”.

You’ve seen it. Or at least heard about it. Carlos Zambrano blew a gasket after giving up 4 runs in the first against the White Sox. And now there seem to be 3 groups of baseball fans in Chicago: Sox fans, Cub fans, and Z fans. With Zambrano now suspended “indefinitely” by the Cubs, with 3 full months left in the season, a decision will have to be made as to whether he is still a viable member of this team. And there are already battle lines.

I’m still a naive little boy when it comes to the Cubs. I fall in love with some aspect of just about every player who puts on the pinstripes. I rooted like crazy for Corey Patterson. Thought Kyle Farnsworth was the greatest thing to happen to baseball since the resin bag. Was sure Hee Seop Choi would put up hall of Fame numbers. And when Cubs of the future go down in flames, a little bit of me goes with them. So I have a lot of emotion tied to a guy like Big Z, and so far this morning I find that I’m torn between the pitcher we all think he is, and what we all thought he could be.

The past season and a half have not been what we expected from our “ace”. The emotion that we loved from him has been there; it’s been the “getting outs and victories” part that’s lacking. And make no mistake, he was given that huge contract to be a great pitcher, not an emotional leader. To me, yesterday’s blow-up was all emotion, no lead. If (and it’s a big “if”) Carlos’ intention was to wake up his team, to get their attention and light a fire under their dead butts (as Bob Brenly sorta put it), he went about it the wrong way. The big-time wrong way. You don’t do that in the dugout, or on the field, or in the parking lot, or at Portillos. You do that in the clubhouse. Oh, and it’s also helpful if you’ve put yourself in a position to be the guy to snap your teammates to attention. Carlos has not.

Z’s performance the last 2 seasons does not qualify him to call out anyone on this team. Frankly, I’m not sure the Cubs have anyone to fill that role this year. Derrek Lee seems to be the defacto captain, yet along with being known as a relatively quiet, lead-by-example type, his own performance on the field has been seriously lacking in 2010. Among other Cub veterans, Aramis Ramirez has been completely unproductive, Alfonso Soriano seems too casual to lead by example, and a guy like Ryan Theriot might just be too “scrappy” (read: little) to be the call-out boy. So who should take charge?

Obviously, Lou Piniella is the manager, which brings us to another gaping chasm in Cubdom; those who would fire him yesterday, and those, myself included, who don’t fault him for lack of production from the offense and bullpen. Now, I was not a fan of Lou when he was hired, but I was also confident that the Cubs would win with him at the helm. And isn’t that what I really want as a Cub fan? Should it matter to bits two me who walks out to change pitchers, or am I going to root for the players and not the coaching staff? So should Lou be the one who screams and yells when someone needs screaming and yelling at? I don’t know. Not so sure today’s athletes respond very well to loud coaches and managers. Of course, no amount of pep talking will get production out of players who stink. But remember, to me, the eternal Cub optimist, these players don’t stink. They’re just mired in a season-long slump. There’s a huge difference, you know.

So what should happen now? Trade Zambrano, who is owed a ton of money, and has lost significant trade value over the last 2 seasons? You aren’t gonna get much for him now. Keep him on the team, have a big ole group hug, and hope he starts pitching like Big Z again? ( I always suggest piling the team into the station wagon and heading to Dairy Queen as a good bonding exercise, especially now that there are no more Blackhawks games.) I don’t know. I’d miss him if he left, just like I was crushed when Gracie and Woodie and Julio Zuleta (yes, Julio Zuleta! He was a stud, and I’m still ticked he didn’t get a decent chance to play here) all left. But I got over them, and cheered for the new Cubs that took their places.

What say you, Cub fans? Be the GM for a minute or two (let’s not get into the “fire Hendry” war just yet). I’ll turn on my email alerts, so I can get your replies even if I’m outside. On the ledge.

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4 thoughts on “A Nation Divided

  1. Personally, I like Lou Piniella, and don’t blame him for all of the team’s woes. Regardless, I would probably start by firing him. It’s easier to fire a manager than to trade a player, and Lou is about at the end of his Cubs tenure, anyway. Would it help snap the team out of it? I wouldn’t hold my breath, but you never know. It did help the Royals, after all.

    I would actively shop Zambrano, Lee, Ramirez, and Fukudome. Don’t get me wrong, I like all those guys, but they have huge salaries and lack of production this year to justify it.

    In the off season, fire Jim Hendry. He did well at one point, but has now has this team in a bind with his high salaries and ridiculously long contracts. Hire someone new to shop for solid first and third basemen. Move Cashner to starter, and shop for a new setup man, and another decent reliever (dump Grabow).

    • Can’t disagree with you at all, Jen.

      I don’t expect Lou to be back next year, but I do think he’ll last the whole season. Although, it wouldn’t surprise me if he got fed up, handed Tram the lineup card, and walked home during the next double-digit loss. By my way of thinking, a manager with as much experience as he has can’t take the fall for a team this bad.

      I don’t think Hendry is as stupid as everyone else does, but there’s probably too much heat on him to be back next year. If the Ricketts have paid any attention to the pulse of Cub Nation, they might want to make a big splash to let us all know they’re awake. Those empty seats lately have probably been noticed too; Hendry likely goes.

      I assume all 4 of those players you mentioned are already being shopped. Problem is, since they’ve all been pretty bad this year, their value is a fraction of what their baseball cards say they should be. That makes it very difficult to get anything in return. I read a very compelling article somewhere about keeping Ramirez for next year for that very reason. I think Lee and Zambrano still have worth to other teams; I can’t see any reason why anyone would want to trade for Fukudome.

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