In a move that surprised no one, the Cubs announced today that Carlos Zambrano will not rejoin the team once his stint on the Disqualified List ends on September 12. I will have more to say about it as the season winds down, but here’s just a few thoughts on what appears to be the end of his Cubs career.
- I’ve said before in this space that no one was happier about Z’s “explosion” on August 20th than the sportswriters who follow the team. Virtually every story about Zambrano for the last few years has revolved around either his lack of self-control or a tongue-in-cheek mention of his new-found maturity combined with open speculation about how long it would last. His departure from the team in Atlanta was a field day for most of the Cubs beat writers–especially the Tribune’s Paul Sullivan who has nurtured a grudge and an ongoing rivalry with Zambrano. As a consequence, almost month later we still know very little about Zambrano’s side of the story.
- And about that “explosion” on that fateful August night in Atlanta–of all of the examples you could give of Carlos’ bad behavior, his actions that night might be the tamest outburst of his career. Yes, he threw inside twice on a future Hall of Famer (Chipper Jones), probably to get himself taken out of the game. And yes, he did it on the road, on a night set aside to honor another future Hall of Fame manager (Bobby Cox). But aside from his poor timing, how and where did he actually lose his much-maligned temper? If anything, he was alarmingly stoic as he came off the mound and into the dugout. He didn’t beat up any water coolers or tear apart the clubhouse. In fact, if he hadn’t told the clubhouse staff of his impulsive intentions to retire, I doubt we’d have ever heard about the whole episode at all. Certainly he can’t be the first pitcher who got lit up by the opposing team and left the field early to avoid facing the media–especially if the media already has an axe to grind with him. In some ways, this is a case of self-fulfilling prophecy. Sportswriters had said for a long time that he would lose his temper, and they seized on the first opportunity he gave them to say, “look, look–he’s at it again.” I really do believe that if he just quietly let the team that night without saying a word, he’d still be pitching for the Cubs today.
- But before you think he’s a martyr, let me say clearly: Zambrano is not a victim of anyone but himself. Though his lack of self-control in his actions and his words, he’s built himself a long, well-documented reputation as a hothead. I love his passion, but what might have been excusable in his early 20’s doesn’t fly as a 30 year-old, $18M pitcher. I don’t think he lost his temper on August 12, but he hadn’t done enough before then and hasn’t since that night to prove his doubters wrong. Frankly, I think it’s a good example of the damage a few poorly chosen words can do.