As Danny Glover once said, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”
Presumably he was talking about getting in car chases and explosions with Mel Gibson, but he easily could have been referring to watching the Cubs. Even at the ripe old age of 27, I couldn’t possibly think of a better application for that statement. As I am about to explain in laborious detail, this past weekend was a constant dick-slap-to-the face reminder that this year’s version of the Cubs is even more unlikable than the previous (and only) record-holder for that distinction, the 2004 squad. And the biggest culprit for the disaster-in-progress is the man in charge, General Manager Jim Hendry. (Though as you will see, there aren’t enough fingers for the amount of pointing to be done in this case).
I used to be among Hendry’s staunchest defenders. The guy flat-out stole Aramis Ramirez from the Pirates in 2003, and every single button he pushed that season — his first full season in charge — was the right one. He also made plenty of shrewd moves in ’07 and ’08 that led to division championships, though he didn’t hit 1.000 like that first glorious season. (Bob Howry, I’m staring at you).
However, in the course of one off-season, Hendry managed to piss away most of the good will he worked up in his previous six years. The actual season has been even more disastrous than the winter that preceded it, which has forced me to give serious consideration to becoming a Cub fan-in-exile until he is deposed. But more on that later. First, a look at every single shitty thing Hendry has done since the terrible ending to last season — which is to say, just about every single thing he has done.
THE BRADLEY EFFECT
After getting rolled over by the Dodgers in the playoffs last year (the Cubs were in the playoffs?), a full-fledged panic swept over the North Side. Even though they won 97 games, this team needed a left-handed bat with power! And some fire!
Enter the ever-volatile Milton Bradley.
When he came aboard, Bradley promised “Pretty much ain’t nothing Milt can’t do.” And boy, has he ever delivered on that double negative.
If, heaven forbid, Bradley should play in 75 games this season, his two-year, $20 million deal will boost to three years and $30 million. In the 60 games that he has played in, Bradley has hit an illustrious .242 with 5 home runs and 17 RBIs, which puts him well along the path of being remembered alongside former Cub free agency greats like Danny Jackson, Dave Smith and Mel Rojas. (If none of those names made you want to vomit or rip out your eyeballs, you are a lousy Cub fan and should stop taking up space at games).
So far, Milton’s biggest contribution to the team came when he decided to win over the hearts of the Wrigley Field fans during a game against the Twins, so he tossed the ball into the bleachers after making a routine catch in right. Problem was there were only two outs and a guy on third base.
Actually, that wasn’t his biggest contribution. Milton’s attitude seems to be paying huge dividends for the ballclub, which has adopted his fire. To wit:
– Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano have both violently attacked the Gatorade dispenser that was installed in the dugout this season, which has caused the dispenser to promptly be removed from the dugout. Of course, with Big Z such things are expected, but with Dempster it’s clearly some new-found fire.
– Theodore Roosevelt Lilly was ejected for arguing balls and strikes… in a game that he wasn’t even pitching in.
– Big Z was suspended for one of the greatest arguments with an umpire ever, tossing a ball into the outfield and then actually attempting to eject the umpire himself. Again, not surprising with Zambrano, but Milton Bradley gave it two thumbs up.
“That was pretty impressive,” he said. “That was on a Bradley level.”
This weekend’s disaster: Lou Piniella finally had enough of dealing with Milton, sending him home and calling him a piece of shit after a dugout tantrum during Friday’s game against the White Sox. At least Lou wasn’t lying. But should the fact that Lou and Milton had it in come as a surprise?
Let us take the way-back machine to June 28, 2007 and Paul Sullivan’s Chicago Tribune Cubs mailbag.
Milton Bradley was just designated for assignment. Should the Cubs try to acquire him? He has speed, outfield defense and offense the Cubs need. –Bob Davis, Las Vegas
I’m not sure Lou has the stomach for Milton Bradley’s special brand of me-first behavior, though he’s definitely an athletic outfielder, the kind Lou likes. He’s got a good clubhouse now, and the addition of a walking time bomb like M-B may not be the answer.
Hmm. You don’t say. I wonder if Jim Hendry ever happened to get this memo from two years ago.
Did we forget to mention that Milton feels like he has no friends on the team?
Speaking of clubhouse chemistry…
THE DeROSA DEAL
When Mark DeRosa was traded to the Indians on New Year’s Eve, it sent shockwaves through the Cub fanbase. DeRosa proved himself to be the most versatile player on the team in his two-year stint on the North Side, and seemed like a pretty invaluable chip to have on the team based on the fact he could play any position and was looked up to in the clubhouse.
But the Cubs were hunting for Jake Peavy in the offseason, and getting three pitching prospects for DeRosa seemed like a good move that could put the pieces in place for landing Peavy. Only that never happened.
Predictably, every conceivable bad thing that could happen in DeRosa’s absence has come to fruition.
– The only signing worse than Bradley has been DeRosa’s de facto replacement as a right-handed hitter at second base, Aaron Miles. Miles, who everyone knew sucked when he was signed, is currently on the DL which saves us from having to watch his flaccid .203 batting average in action.
– Aramis Ramirez gets hurt. A perfect guy to fill in at third, of course, would have been DeRosa. Instead, Mike Fontenot was taken out of his comfort zone and moved to third, which may help explain the season-long batting funk he hasn’t gotten out of. (Or perhaps he simply wasn’t ready to play every day after being a super sub for two years). Then again, if DeRosa is at third, maybe they don’t call up Jake Fox, who has been one of the few bright spots on this team despite being called up a month too late.
This weekend’s disaster: It was bad enough not having DeRosa on the team. Then, this weekend, the worst conceivable thing in all of humanity not involving the death of Billy Mays occurred. DeRosa was traded from the Indians to the most vile team of them all, the division-rival Cardinals. Now, DeRo will have a direct effect on the Cubs’ inability to make the playoffs. I suppose this is how Cards fans felt when Jim Edmonds ended up on the Cubs last year, so the pendulum was probably due to swing in the other direction.
Still, it’s a bitter blow to the balls, especially when the Tribe was apparently talking to the Cubs about dealing DeRosa back.
THE PITCHING STAFF
Pitching has been the only thing keeping the Cubs in games this year, but there are still a couple of regrettable offseason moves that can be addressed. In fact, we’ve already talked about both of them in recent months.
The first was shipping Jason Marquis to the Rockies for Luis Vizcaino. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time it happened, because it was another of the ostensible machinations for delivering Peavy into the rotation. By the time that Opening Day rolled around, though, it was clear the Rocks got the better of the deal. As far as No. 5 starters go, it’s tough to find someone who can consistently eat more innings than Marquis — which is a big deal when you have a shaky bullpen and an injury waiting to happen with Rich Harden in the starting rotation. And as we’ve previously noted, Peavy was not in a Cub uniform.
The other was parting ways with the longest-tenured Cub, Kerry Wood. Statistically speaking, that is the only move of Hendry’s that has made sense. Wood is having the worst year of his career in Cleveland with four blown saves in 13 chances and a 5.47 ERA. But with someone as crazy as Milton Bradley entering the fray, wouldn’t it have made sense for one of the proven clubhouse leaders like Wood or DeRosa to still be around?
But getting rid of Wood probably isn’t as egregious as who was picked to replace him. Kevin Gregg, has been shaky to say the least (though he is starting to look close to respectable as of late). But coming off a season in which he blew a league-high nine saves for Florida, I can see how this caught Hendry by surprise.
This season’s disasters: Luis Vizcaino, the pitcher accquired for Marquis, was a Cub for all of four appearances before being waived. Marquis, on the other hand, is leading the National League with 10 wins after a complete-game shutout of the Dodgers on Tuesday night. You know, the team the Cubs couldn’t beat in the playoffs.
Trevor Hoffman, whom the Brewers picked off the Padres’ scrap heap for $3.5 million more than Gregg but $4 million less than Wood, has saved 18 of his 19 tries and has an ERA two runs lower than Gregg’s. There’s no indication that the Cubs ever considered Hoffman, but we’re just sayin’ — he would have been a possibility that still would have allowed them to save a little money over Woody.
Oh, and did I mention that Peavy is on the DL for the Padres?
IS SOTO THE NEXT TO BE CURSED?
With the exception of Billy Williams in 1961, good things have not traditionally happened to Cub Rookies of the Year. Ken Hubbs, who won the award in ’62, was killed in a plane crash before the 1964 season. Jerome Walton, the 1989 winner, fell off the face of the earth after his second season. And Kerry Wood led an injury-riddled existence after winning in ’98, which began with missing the entire 1999 season. Even fictional Cub ROY Henry Rowengartner was done after one year.
So far Geovany Soto is on a similarly not good path in his sophomore season, hitting .224 and looking a bit like a guy who smoked a lot of weed and ate a lot of Doritos this offseason… which apparently he did.
Of course, the revelation that Soto failed his drug test during the WBC came on top of all the rest of last week’s drama, though I would hardly call it a disaster since it caused Lou to admit that that he had also “smoked dope one time.”
Are you sure that it was just a one-time thing, Lou? Because that might explain why Alfonso Soriano is still batting leadoff.
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
As noted approximately 25,000 words ago, the past weekend was a constant dick-slap to the face for Cub fans, and we have two more items to add.
It’s bad enough to see decent or good ex-Cubs succeeding, but nothing is quite as galling as seeing an ex-scrub rub it in. Naturally, on top of losing to the White Sox and seeing DeRosa become a Cardinal, we got to witness terrible former Cub reliever Chad Gaudin get named the National League Player of the Week.
Gaudin, who was released by the Cubs earlier this season, has done mostly unspectacular work starting for the Padres this year. But he managed to throw a two-hitter against the Rangers last week to help pile on the agony.
A little closer to home, former Cubs September call-up Casey McGehee blasted his first career grand slam for the Brewers. McGehee, who has played in 42 games for the Crew , now has 5 homers, 21 RBIs and a .325 average. All for some $9.5 million less than Bradley. Sigh.
If you’ve made it all the way through this, you’re probably a Cub fan. If you aren’t and you still made it through all of this, a) you have too much free time and b) you’re probably wondering why the hell I still stick to this team.
Believe me, I don’t really want to. As previously mentioned, I am beginning to despise this team in a way that was only matched by the 2004 edition of the Cubs, which was noteworthy for entering the season with a ton of expectations, not living up to them and then blaming everyone else for their problems, i.e. Kent Mercker bitching at Steve Stone for being too critical of the team on TV.
That particularly year had one of the most memorable endings in team history, with LaTroy Hawkins imploding multiple times in the final two weeks to knock the team out of the Wild Card lead, Sammy Sosa leaving the final game of the season (and his Cubs career) early and lying about it, and some still-unknown culprit going apeshit on Sammy’s boombox with a bat.
Anyhow, much like that team, this one appears as if it will stick in the playoff race by default. No one is running away with the NL Central — for Pete’s sake, the Pirates are only 6 games out of first and they keep trading every available good player on their team for complete rubbish.
I would like to see this team tank so everyone in charge is cast away while I go watch a far more fundamentally sound and entertaining club like the Rockies. Unfortunately, I realize that opportunity will never come. They’ll stick around all season until they finally find a new and creative way to stick the knife in.
If “The Bronx Is Burning” taught us anything, it is that there is precedent for a team like this getting its shit together. The 1977 Yankees added a high-priced free agent in Reggie Jackson, who was reviled by his manager and many of his teammates on a team that could never get more than two feet away from drama. The Yankees started off slow, but ended up World Series champs with Reggie becoming Mr. October.
Who was one of the guys on that team?
Can he re-channel that dysfunctional magic?
Only a Cub fan could ask a question like that.