By Brian Hanley
Maybe the Cubs should have sent Carlos Zambrano to Washington instead of Miami.
If Z could unify Congress like he did his once fellow Cubs, maybe the country’s lawmakers could actually get something done.
Turns out the Cubs voice vote when it came to saying adios to Zambrano was as unanimous as if Mike Madigan, Illinois’ joke of a House Speaker (interesting title for an arrogant civil servant who doesn’t talk), had orchestrated it.
“Every player I talked to articulated to me that Carlos really violated their trust,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Thursday. “When you’re talking about physical altercations with players repeatedly, when you’re talking about physically walking out on the team, it’s very hard to then have that player come back into the clubhouse and be trusted. In order to be a good teammate, there has to be a certain degree of trust and accountability.
“Do I believe in second chances? Yes. Do I believe in third chances? Yes, in some cases, and even fourth chances. But I think you have to be realistic about it and recognize that players don’t dictate decisions like this, but you’re trying to establish a certain sense of unity in the clubhouse, and a sense of purpose. … The players here felt, and the organization feels, like there just wasn’t trust there, and it was a risky proposition to see whether that trust could be re-established.”
That was all Epstein needed to hear to know that bringing Z back until his next temper tantrum was counterproductive.
Even if the $15 million or so cost to the team could have bankrolled three illicit city and state six-figure pensions, each for the Madigan and State Senate President John Cullerton crooked cronies who have been gaming the system for decades.
This Cubs fan would like to thank Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts for agreeing to eat such a costly contract.
“With respect to subsidizing some of Carlos’ contract, I think the concept of a sunk cost was something Tom and I discussed at our very initial meeting,” Epstein said. “Tom showed a keen understanding of what that means. For better or worse, if you’re stuck paying $18 million for one year of Carlos Zambrano, and there is not a team willing to take him with any dollar relief whatsoever, then you have to decide were we better off with one year of Carlos at the $18 million paid, or are we better off paying the $18 million and getting a 25-year-old pitcher with three control years?”
“I was skeptical,” he said, adding: “I’m not big on labels, I’m not big on reputations dictating how I treat people or how I think about people. But this was one that was really consistent.
“People that have been around the situation over the years had heard before there was going to be change. They’d heard before there was going to be a new attitude. And they’ve been burned. Physical altercations, deserting the team, that type of thing. … It made it clear in my mind this wasn’t just a sort of mob mentality, or there was unfair momentum to run this guy out of town.”
Of course, Z tried to talk his way back into the Cubs’ good graces, just as he had done before. But this time, unlike with former general manager Jim Hendry, there was a guy with working brain matter sitting across from the oversized man-child.
“He said he didn’t want to talk about a trade,” Epstein said of his sit-down with Zambrano at a Wrigleyville restaurant. “He didn’t want us to use that word in the discussions. I said, ‘That’s fine, but just so you know, that’s something I think it’s our obligation to pursue that, and then we’ll have another conversation if and when that becomes a reality.’ We weren’t able to find any trade partners until this week, so that went on hold.”
Epstein said the trade talks with the Miami Marlins began this week, after the Cubs spent most of the offseason looking to deal Zambrano. Epstein indicated he was resigned to keeping Zambrano only a few days ago. Then Ozzie Guillen went to bat for his buddy Z.
Larry Beinfest, Miami’s president of baseball operations, said Guillen was “confident” he could keep Zambrano in check and restart his career.
Good luck, Ozzie! And don’t forget to duck went the stuff, literally and figuratively, starts flying.
“We just think that the change of scenery will be beneficial to him,” Beinfest said. “I think it’d be (fair) to say, ‘Well, is everything going to be perfect, or is it going to be incident-free?’ It’d be hard to say that, given the guy’s history. But Ozzie is very confident that he can help him. A lot of this is born from ultra-competitiveness.”
“Now there are a lot of different ways to show ultra-competitiveness. Carlos may have shown this in a lot of different ways in the past. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of guys that break bats and throw coolers and scream at umpire, etc. And they’re still very good players.
“I’m not condoning that in any way, but it does happen in the game. … and with some very good players that are demonstrative with their competitiveness. And I think that’s the way Carlos is in a lot of respects. It may happen that he has a blowup or two. We don’t know. With the history, there is a chance that will happen. But going back to Ozzie, and I hate to put it all on him, but he just feels really comfortable that the kid is going to do well here.”
Maybe Beinfest should take a look at pictures of Michael Barrett bloodied face after Z rearranged his appropriately named “battery” mate that infamous day at Wrigley.
“We went into this thing with our eyes open,” he said. “What has happened has happened. Carlos has some history of, um, outward behavior both on and off the field that could be termed as questionable. A lot of it comes from competitive fire, which we think is also a positive. I think a lot of those concerns were eased by his relationship with Ozzie, and Ozzie’s confidence in Carlos.”
Ozzie has said he can manage anybody. We’ll soon find out.
Because baseball, like politics, makes for some strange bedfellows.
Brian Hanley co-hosts The Mully and Hanley Show, weekday from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. on 670 The Score.