Friday, January 6, 2012

Special Comment: The Dismantling of the Chicago Cubs

Not long ago on my facebook wall, I posted a link to my last post on Flying Houses about the Cubs—a report card for every player at the end of the 2009 season. Appended to this was a comment that included five things the Cubs must do to win in 2012. Here is what they were:

Top 5 things to do to win in 2012:
5) Re-sign Carlos Pena, or else an awesome 1st baseman.
4) Get another high quality starter - an ace. Matt Garza is okay, but I don't think he qualifies as an ace.
3) Give Carlos Marmol one more chance close - if he blows 5 saves by the all-star-break, we can say that he is suffering from "mark wohlers-syndrome" and should be sent to AAA and given mental health therapy.
2) Keep Zambrano for pinch-hitting purposes. Allow him to pitch if he promises to behave himself. Reign him in. Turn him back into the player he once was. Get him to make the all-star-team. Get him to win the Cy Young. Turn him into a different person. Make it the feel-good story of the year. Numbers such as 19-7, 3.26 e.r.a. 200+ IP 200+ K's, 10 HRs, no hitter #2.
1) Hire the right manager to make #2 happen. Since Sandberg is not an option, and I am not exactly excited about Sveum, convince Tony LaRussa to reconsider his retirement by offering performanced-based incentives involving a sliding-scale of donations up to $10 million to ASPCA.
-November 13, 2011

Theo Epstein came in and was greeted as if he were the Messiah. He was 28 when he joined the Boston Red Sox, and helped lead them to their first World Series in a very long time in 2004. I recently watched Moneyball and (spoiler alert) apparently Billy Beane interviewed to be the GM of the Red Sox in 2003. Had he taken this job, perhaps Theo never would have made his big splash, and I would not be writing this post.

The Cubs are now a completely different animal than they were in 1998, 2003, 2007, and 2008, the four times they went to the playoffs in semi-recent years. These playoff runs were sparked by several players and managers: Kerry Wood, Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Mark DeRosa, Carlos Marmol, Derrek Lee, Ryan Theriot, Geovany Soto, and arguably Alfonso Soriano. With the trade of Carlos Zambrano yesterday, my anger reached its pitch.

I screamed, “NO!” This is was a far more emotional reaction than the one I had upon hearing that David Foster Wallace had just hung himself—the same night Carlos Zambrano threw his no-hitter against the Astros when the Cubs played as the “home team” in Miller Park. Probably, no one will agree with me on this issue, but the loss of Carlos Zambrano signals the end of an era. Everyone thinks we will be better off without him. Only time will tell, and truly, Ozzie Guillen and him are a match made in heaven. But Zambrano, who has said he will retire at 30, and now is about 30, may have ten good years left of pitching in him yet. He may still turn it around yet, and could still make the Hall of Fame if he were able to pitch the way he did from 2003-2007. There is no telling what is going on inside his mind at any time. But he was never boring to watch. That he was brought in to pinch-hit, and that he was more exciting to watch at the plate than nearly every other position player, further validates that he is a player of extraordinary talent that should have been given one more chance to stay with the Cubs. Instead, they’ll pay $15 million for him to pitch against them. Smart, very smart, everyone says. Volstad is younger, and may still be great yet, they say.

Theo Epstein has made many mistakes in his first couple months with the Cubs, and nobody seems to care except me. He is rebuilding the ballclub. They will not contend in 2012, unless some sort of miracle happens. They are aiming to win by about 2014—“Cubs win World Series – SWEEP – against Miami?” Well Miami will need to switch to the American League for that to happen, or at least there will need to be an NLCS showdown so that Back to the Future Part 2 will be prescient.
Regardless, the Cubs will not be a fun team to watch in 2012. The only players they have left that have any kind of entertainment value are Soriano, Soto, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Marmol, and obviously, Starlin Castro. Kerry Wood will be addressed later, and Matt Garza, it seems, is destined to leave as well. But now, it is important that Epstein’s major mistakes be highlighted:

#1: Not Hiring Ryne Sandberg as Manager
They had the chance last year, and they blew it. They had the chance this year, and they formally acknowledged that they would not ask him to join the team. This was the first sign that life was going to be miserable at Wrigley Field this year.

Ryne Sandberg (or “Ryno” as I like to call him) is a Hall of Famer. He played almost his entire career on the Cubs. He was a big part of their playoff runs in 1984 and 1989. I grew up watching and idolizing him. He was my childhood hero. I grew up watching the Cubs in the early 90s, when they had Sandberg, Mark Grace, Greg Maddux, and Andre Dawson. Two of the four are in the Hall, Maddux is undoubtedly going in immediately upon eligibility, and Mark Grace probably deserves a spot too, even though his only record may be compiling the most hits in the 1990s.

But Ryno was special, and has become more special since making it into the Hall. He was always a quiet player, but he decided to open up more, and his stints working his way up through the Cubs minor league system were attached with the presumption that one day, he would take the reins from Lou Piniella. He was ejected several times. He became a fiery manager. His teams did very well. Then Lou exited, Quade entered, Sandberg was passed over, went to the Phillies. The Cubs betrayed him, and I felt betrayed.

Theo had the chance to open up his tenure with a bold move that would have caused a riot. There is no manager that Cubs fans would have been happier with. I would have watched every single game just to see Ryno, and it would fill me with so much happiness to know that the player I grew up with, my hero, was back on the team, and playing as important a role as ever. Whatever excuses were made about any potential issues of Ryno’s experience are just lies used to justify a decision that is Theo’s attempt to change the “culture” around the Cubs. The “culture” (of losing, of drinking, and of ecstatic excitement in recent years when it looked like things were about to change anyways) is what makes the team great, the most popular team in baseball after the Yankees and Red Sox. Theo wants the Cubs to be like Red Sox, or maybe the Rays. Maybe it’ll “pay off” in a couple years, but the team I love is gone.

#2: Trading Sean Marshall

Sean Marshall was the lone bright spot on the extremely disappointing team last season (aside from Starlin). He was one of the best relievers in baseball. The Cubs got Travis Wood in return. I think he’s a starter, or something, and they needed one? Regardless, it shows that Theo has no idea what he is doing.

#3: Trading Tyler Colvin

I know, I know, Tyler Colvin had a terrible season last year. But he had a very good rookie year and it’s possible he can bounce back and be the all-star caliber player that he showed flashes of during his first year. Theo simply has no faith in certain players. Theo wants every single possible Cub to leave and start afresh. I want to throw up.

#4: Zambrano

Zambrano has already been addressed above. This is the move that really set me off though. I hope Carlos Zambrano wins the Cy Young award this year and beats the Cubs whenever he pitches against them. This sounds extremely perverse, but it would prove me right, and we all know I care more about being right than about the Cubs winning a championship.

#5: Garza, Wood, Etc. (Whatever Stupid Moves Theo Will Make Next)

It seems like a given that Garza will be gone – who was probably the only pitcher on the team that came close to being Ace material. If Kerry Wood leaves for another team, then I am going to kill myself. If he retires, that’s another matter entirely. Kerry Wood is not an essential element to the team, but he is the only player left from 1998. He is Pure Cub. He needs to stay on the team. He is still very effective. But if he leaves Chicago for another team, because Theo doesn’t want him there anymore, I’m going to kill myself. Kerry Wood is the best player to keep the “locker room” together. He is a “clubhouse” guy. On top of that, he is a nice person.

If Garza stays by some act of God, then MAYBE I can muster watching a game or two this year. Marlon Byrd is a great player, I love him. Everybody knows I have a soft spot for Soriano. Starlin is the Man. Carlos Marmol can bounce back. Ryan Dempster can be his old reliable self – arguably, the strongest “glue” player on the team after Kerry Wood. Soto can bounce back, call some great games, and be an all-star caliber player if he can get it together. Blake Dewitt, I’ve got no problem with, he can play every day as far as I’m concerned. (Mark DeRosa was available as a free agent, and Theo was moronic for not even considering bringing him back—I know he is past his prime, but I also know he was more effective in Chicago than any other place, and he was one of my personal favorites – I never saw him make any dumb mistakes.)

Theo did not try to get Pujols. This is understandable. Theo didn’t bother trying to keep Ramirez. That too, is understandable. Prince Fielder is the last major free agent left on the market. If Theo picks up Prince, then maybe, just maybe, I could applaud a single move he makes. But he has revealed himself to be a totalitarian dictator that wants to change the “culture” of the Cubs. You know what? I’ve been a Cubs fan all my life and I’ve loved this team as much as anyone – even when they were at their worst. But everything I’ve loved about them is gone, and they’ve been replaced with this “wunderkind” who plays stats just like everyone else is doing now and cares nothing for what the fans want to see. I hope Wrigley Field falls a hundred thousand visitors short this year. I hope real Cubs fans will boycott this team. I’ll be in New York, and I’ll pay attention, sure, but I really won’t care about missing the chance to watch them play on TV. They’re going to be terrible this year, and while all this nonsense may pay off one day, Theo has crushed my dreams. This could have been a really exciting year. The Cubs had enough guys, that, with a couple smart moves, could have gone the distance. Maybe Dale Sveum will be a good manager, but big bad Carlos was too much of a liability—they were too afraid to even bother giving him another chance.

Carlos’s anger at the team last year reflected my own – it was a team that had lost its will to succeed. “We sucks,” he said. They did. He was right. Make no mistake – he’s a loose cannon all right –and walking out on the team in Atlanta was kind of a messed up thing to do. Fighting with Derrek Lee, kind of a messed up thing to do. Fighting with Michael Barrett, kind of a messed up thing to do. However, throwing a no-hitter? Awesome. Hitting a bunch of home runs? Awesome. Carlos was unpredictable, and that is what made him fun to watch. He was never boring. He was as emotional and crazy as anyone in baseball this side of Miguel Cabrera. I loved him for it. And I prayed that he could stay—just one more chance—and that he could come back and carry the team on his back to the playoffs. But all those dreams are gone. Theo drew a line in the sand with this move. I imagine a lot of Cubs fans will be very happy to have Carlos gone, but not me. I’ve disagreed with every single thing that Theo has done so far. I may be no expert, but my knowledge of the Cubs is pretty darn good. I know this team is fueled by psychological nuance. Theo wants to forget about all that junk about curses and such. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s just the latest one to hit the North Side.

1 comment:

JK said...

See also:

(I want to puke.)