Big Z's Krazy Kubs

By Beachwood Reporter on Saturday, June 26, 2010

The problem isn't Carlos Zambrano, it's Kubs Kulture.

"I've seen more crazy shit since I've been here than I've seen anywhere else in my career," one unidentified Cub veteran told the Sun-Times.

"It's definitely a different level here than anything I've seen in other places," Tom Gorzelanny told the paper.

"We try to hide the crazy," Alfonso Soriano said. "Now it's a crazy team."

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It's actually not just the team - or this team. It's the franchise. Decades of dysfunction have yet to be eradicated. And a big part of the problem in the Jim Hendry era has been been a culture of enablement, from Sammy Sosa's boom box to Soriano's hops - both of which should have been shut down from day one. In a way, it made perfect sense that Milton Bradley would be a Cub. This is a franchise that rewards selfishness - and greed.

After all, Mark Grace is in Arizona, Joe Girardi is in New York and Steve Stone is on the South Side - hey, wouldn't that be a fine management team - while we're stuck with a noodle and a giant hood ornament.

The Ricketts' don't have their eye on the ball either.

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"Everybody's just mad about the attitude," Soriano said unironically. He may have been on one foot when he did so.

The attitude is nothing new, though.

"Zambrano had been involved in a public dugout fight once before when he punched catcher Michael Barrett on June 1, 2007. Barrett was traded two weeks later."

As Stone said at the time, they traded the wrong guy.

Two months later, Hendry signed Zambrano to a five-year, $91.5 million contract extension.

Selfishness rewarded. Enabling preserved.

"[Friday's incident] would be bad enough if it was an isolated event," the S-T's Gordon Wittenmyer writes. "It it wasn't part of a pattern that as recently as 13 months ago involved him reacting to an ejection by acting like he was ejecting the umpire, then throwing the ball 300 feet into left field - earning a suspension for 'violent' actions.

"If he hadn't called out or show up teammates throughout his career, including Matt Murton and Ryan Theriot."

Zambrano's "worst fits" as compiled by the Tribune's Paul Sullivan also include "[Throwing] at Cardinals' Jim Edmonds after screaming at Edmonds as he rounded the bases on a home run, earning a five-game suspension" in 2004 and in 2007 "[Pointing] to his head after Cubs fans boo him for being pounded by Dodgers, then rips them in postgame interview: 'They showed they just care about themselves.'"

Right. Cubs fans just care about themselves while paying Zambrano's $91 million salary. $91 million! He can afford a team of the most expensive shrinks on the planet!

Hendry called Zambrano's behavior on Friday part of "a tired act."

A tired act with Hendry at the helm.

"Certainly from my point of view and that of the organization, we'll play with 24 before we tolerate that kind of behavior," he said.

But the team has tolerated this kind of behavior for years.

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I love that Hendry is going to "play with 24 men" rather than let Z back on the bench.

24 men: Just like he planned it.

- Don Jacobson

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Lou Piniella may have lost his team long before Friday's embarrassing 6-0 shutout loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field," David Haugh writes for the Tribune. "And, yes, if this Cubs trend of light hitting and lousy defense continues, Piniella eventually even may lose his job.

"But lose his dignity? Nope.

"Even with frustration mounting to season-high levels, Piniella didn't sound like a man willing to let that happen."

What in the world is Haugh talking about? All that remains of Piniella's dignity is laying in the shards of another smashed Gatorade cooler. Piniella looks like a doddering old man these days, bereft of ideas and living in a land of confusion. All Zambrano has done is make Uncle Lou look even more ineffectual than he already did.

Consider: Zambrano was actually right, in a way.

"I thought Lee looked a little stiff failing to field that grounder," Haugh acknowledges, "though that didn't ruin the inning as badly as Zambrano giving up a home run to Carlos Quentin on an 0-2 pitch . . .

"'He was upset with how some of our players didn't dive,' Piniella said."

Piniella, however, wasn't.

"The ball in the seats couldn't have been caught.''

No, but plenty of others could have been. But the Cubs don't dive. They don't make plays. And even his biggest fans must admit: Derrek Lee is as laconic a player as they come. He's a team leader and indeed he helps set the tone. I always thought the big moment in the Cubs' turnaround in 2007 wasn't Piniella's orchestrated argument with a third-base umpire but when Lee actually took a swing at Padres pitcher Chris Young shortly thereafter. Suddenly it was the Fighting Cubs!

"I'm not a big believer in temper tantrums solving anything or creating momentum for your ballclub, but it's good to see somebody show some emotion in that first base dugout," Bob Brenly said about Zambrano during Friday's broadcast.

"This has been a dead-ass team for the better part of three months to start this season, and God knows there's been enough opportunities for guys to blow a cork. It's good to see somebody finally have an emotional involvement in the game."

Brenly is right - to a point. Zambrano's concern wasn't the team, it was himself. But when you consider comments this season by other Cubs, most notably Koyie Hill, about the Cubs' continuing lack of fundamentals - continuing for years - you can only conclude that something remains really, really wrong at Cubs HQ.

Jim Hendry signs (and re-signs) these players, and to the worst contracts in the game. His managers then coddle them. It's not a culture of losing; it's a culture of losers.

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Finally, the truth is coming out about Zambrano's move to the bullpen. It wasn't about the Cubs needing an eighth-inning set-up guy and deciding Z was the right man for the job. It was, Hendry said, about Z being the sixth-best starter in a five-man rotation.

What another management disaster. All you did there was ruin the guy's season and mess with his fragile head. From enabling to ham-handed. Can't anyone run a baseball team around here?

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