One of the most attractive things about Lou Piniella when he was signed was his reputation as being a guy who wasn’t going to put up with any of the BS that had plagued the Chicago Cubs clubhouse during the Dusty Baker years. And, for the most part, it was true – for a couple years.
But in 2010, Lou was visibly checked out, and the inmates ran the asylum. None worse, of course, than Carlos Zambrano, who blew a gasket midseason, and spent the better part of a month away from the team in anger management. Of course, he came back and was the best pitcher in baseball over the final month and a half, so it wasn’t all bad.
Still, there’s reason to be concerned going into 2011, and I’m not sure I love how Lou Piniella’s replacement, Mike Quade, is talking about it.
“I expect Carlos to handle himself the way he finished up last year,” Cubs manager Mike Quade said of the right-hander, who finished 8-0 in his final 11 starts. “Whether he explodes or whatever the thing is, all right, so he explodes? Take a walk, see you in five days, pitch well.
“If it becomes a reoccuring thing, then we have a problem. If we’re going to have individual guys taking care of each guy who has emotional issues, man, we’re not going to have a big enough plane.”
That prompted more than a few laughs from the crowd at the Continental Ballroom.
Zambrano did undergo anger management therapy last season after a tantrum in the dugout on June 25. Quade said he likes Big Z’s enthusiasm for the game.
“One thing I don’t want to do is take all the passion out of Carlos Zambrano,” Quade said. “If a little bit of overexcitement results in him pitching and performing well, we’ll deal with that. There’s no question Greg Maddux will benefit him and everybody else. But I don’t want to make them roommates.” cubs.com.
Quade definitely said some good things – no recurring issues and all that. But he’s already explaining away and absolving Zambrano of temper tantrums and “explosions”?
Might situations occur that merit letting Z do his thing? Of course. Sometimes Z is going to be Z, and it’s better to let him pop and stew for a half inning than to ring him by the collar. But why would you set that up as the standard now? Wouldn’t it be preferable to say that you’re going to hold him to the same standard as the rest of the team? Passionate, yes. Under control? Yes.
It is, to my mind, not a coincidence that Zambrano pitched so well after counseling last year – it wasn’t just the counseling, but it was also the forced realization that he does not pitch well when he’s out of control. We’ve all seen it. So he controlled himself, and he dominated.
Does that mean that you have to keep Zambrano under lock and key, never letting him scream to the sky and pound his mitt? No. But surely it isn’t a good idea to encourage him to start rolling that boulder down the hill, right?
For whatever reason, the tone of his comments now strike me as substantively different from comments he made earlier in the offseason, which sounded more like “I’m going to handle Big Z,” and this sounds more like “I’m going to handle Big Z, but not until it gets really bad.” Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I just don’t like it as a starting point.