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On August 12, I started writing this post.

Carlos Zambrano had just lost his cool against the Braves, been ejected, and then walked out on his teammates. He told clubhouse staff he was retiring, and then-GM Jim Hendry immediately told the world that the Cubs were accepting Z’s retirement. I didn’t think Z would actually “retire” at that time, but I certainly thought he’d thrown his last pitch as a Cub. So I wrote.

But then Hendry was fired, Zambrano was squirreled away on the disqualified list, and this post sat in the can as a draft for almost five months. I knew I’d need it eventually.

I knew it in the same way that you knew it. We knew this day would come. Sure, there was talk of yet another return to the team – there’s a new man in charge, after all – and a reconciliation following a protracted process of regaining everyone’s trust. But that was merely a method of ensuring that this day, by way of a trade, would come. If you’re honest with yourself, you knew it all along.

For a long time, I loved Carlos Zambrano.

Perhaps my favorite Zambrano moment came in a summer game back in 2004, when he twice plunked St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Jim Edmonds, ostensibly because he thought Edmonds was showing him up. Zambrano was summarily tossed. Screw you, Edmonds. I love me some Big Z. Maybe it was kind of bush for Z to throw at you twice … but, whatever. It was great drama.

That was my relationship with Big Z for so many years. He did something reckless, hostile, or stupid, and I applauded him for it.

Beats the crap out of Michael Barrett? Well, that was Barrett’s fault, and the Cubs proved it by shipping Barrett out a couple weeks later (and giving Zambrano an extension). Z is so strong! Don’t mess with Z!

Angry outburst with an umpire? Z is so fiery! And funny! He just ejected the umpire!

Breaks his bat over his knee? Destroys a Gatorade machine? Sure, it’s destructive and dangerous, but Z is a bull! El Toro Loco!

Hurts his wrist typing too much on AIM? That’s so silly! Z is just like people!

Rips the team and says, “We stinks”? Well, the Cubs did stinks!

Engages in a very public fight with one of the best teammates ever, Derrek Lee? Well, Z just needs a little anger management. And, see? He came back better than ever!

Goes out to dinner with Ozzie Guillen after being sent home for the fight? Just Z being Z.

Repeatedly shows up his teammates while on the mound? But Z is so much fun! Look! He’s got a mustache!

It seems the Cubs and I were willing to accept all of those things – even excuse or defend them – so long as Zambrano was pitching well. Allow me to apologize now for my intellectual inconsistency, and my blind spots. Zambrano deserved far more criticism and admonishment than he received, at least from me.

There were unqualified good moments, too. The no-hitter, all the homers, his generosity in the community, his unbelievable athleticism.

Zambrano was a very good pitcher for the Cubs for a very long time. To ignore that fact today would be as irrational as our belief that his post-August dominance in 2010 was anything more than an aberration.

Outside of that statistical blip, Zambrano has been in deep decline for a half decade. His ERA and H/9 have been slowly creeping up, his WHIP and ERA+ slowly creeping down. Zambrano, the pitcher, is no longer what he once was.

Never was the decline more apparent than last year when his velocity dropped, his once dominant stuff fell off a cliff, and he became eminently hittable. It produced the worst season of his career, and there was reason to fear that things would only get worse next year.

For the past day and a half, I’ve discussed the Zambrano trade almost solely from the baseball perspective – which, given the aforementioned decline, makes some sense. I’ve tried very hard to separate the baseball reasons for the trade – money, performance, years under control, future projections – from the clubhouse and off-field impact. It’s usually fair to do that. But, with Zambrano, it probably isn’t. You can’t separate Z’s pitching from his antics. When you talk about wanting to see what Zambrano could do in 2012, are you so sure about that? You might want to see what he does when throwing the ball, but you might not want to see what he does at all other times. These are things I should have thought years ago.

You don’t get to keep Zambrano the baseball player without keeping Zambrano the repeatedly combustible, inexplicably immature, potentially detrimental teammate. There is no such thing as fairly evaluating this trade “from the baseball perspective.” I say, without a touch of glib bombast: Zambrano had to be traded.

Still, most of the time, Carlos Zambrano was so much fun to watch.

Like that time he threw at Jim Edmonds. Twice.

So I guess it’s fitting that, at the end of his days with the Cubs, it was a couple pitches thrown at an opposing player after Z was taken deep that set the ball unraveling.

And I see now what I should have seen many times before: Carlos Zambrano, as a baseball player, is a talented, unstable, petulant, man-child. Worse, he’s a bad teammate. I’m not one for affirmative chemistry, but I do suspect there’s some meat to the suggestion that a few bad apples can negatively impact the performance of the other players on the team – and the performance of the bad apples, themselves, if the situation gets ugly enough. The Cubs are probably better with Chris Volstad in the fold than Zambrano.

Maybe things really will turn around, both emotionally and physically, for Zambrano in Miami with his good friend Ozzie Guillen. How could I not wish him well, even after everything? I do. I hope he fares better there than he did here.

I can’t say I’ll miss Zambrano. But there will be many days that I miss watching him.

  • Rmoody100

    First time I’ve commented on this board, but couldn’t help but comment this time. This article summarized everything I have been feeling since the news of the Zambrano trade broke. For everything Zambrano has done for my baseball experience as a Cub fan I can’t help but feel nostalgic in his leaving. I know his time here has passed and not a more perfect time then now with the meat of the club leaving, but I personally will look back with fondness on what he did for us on the field both as a baseball player and occasionally entertainer in times where it was tough to watch baseball as a Cubs fan. Thanks for the site Brett you are my first stop for Cubs news.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks for the thoughts, and the kind words.

    • MoneyBoy

      Well said Rmoody.  It’s like (pardon my crudeness) a wife talking to a girlfriend about her husband, “Yeah, he’s an asshole, but he’s my asshole.”

      He provided a lot of highs but the lows were, cumulatively, intolerable.

      • Rick Vaughn

        “Yeah, he’s an asshole, but he’s my asshole.”

        Nailed it.

        • Rick Vaughn

          And by “nailed it”, I meant the quote. :)

           

  • Rancelot

    Great analysis, Brett. We shared a very similar affinity for the big man. I will choose to remember the nice run we all enjoyed in watching him take the bump from 2003-2008. The way things ended was unfortunate, but not surprising. Big Z, our Z…I wish him nothing but the best in Miami, but for the Cubs to grow, he had to go.

  • cubs4life

    well i cant say ill really miss big z, but ill miss the entertainment he gave us for all those years.. although i have a feeling we may see just as many outbursts from him down there in miami, but luckily we wont have to deal with him and we can all sit back with some popcorn, flip on espn and enjoy the show.

  • Nomar’s Left Glove

    Great article.
    Z was an amazingly entertaining ass when he wasn’t irrationally irrational. He was run-of-the-mill irrational most days, but some days he was off his meds. At least we’ll still see him fighting with Hanley Ramirez on Sports Center.

  • Brad Barber

    I haven’t advocated a Big Z trade because I think he can still be that dominant pitcher that he was. I know that he was bad for the clubhouse but I still see his talent. I will miss Big Z. My favorite moments were his pitching duels (I have always been a fan of pitching duels) against the Cardinals from about 2004-07. It seemed like every time he hooked up with Carpenter or another Cards pitcher during these years, it was a 8 or 9 inning, one or no run performance from El Torro Loco. Sure he is crazy and combustible and bad for the clubhouse, but he is very talented. It is sad that the Cubs were not able to “fix” Big Z and capitalize more on his talent.

    • MoneyBoy

      Brad … No, no, a thousand times NO.  All too often this year he could barely top 90 on the gun – especially in the early innings of a game.  Weather?  Maybe … but it was part and parcel of the (lordie – how do you call a man of his proportions a shell?) shell of a pitcher he had become.

      Talented? He was – emphasis on was.  He was a cancer in a clubhouse that had more than it’s fair share of difficulties.  Epstein was very clear in his quoted comments today.  He appears to have done at least some measure of a “survey” among the remainder of his now former teammates.  In a recent CTL appearance, Kaplan directly asked Kerry Wood about Z.   The response was extraordinarily chilly.

      As to the Cubs and “fixing” Z … sorry, wrong again.  “When you point a finger at someone, four more are pointing back at you.”  That statement – and the lack of understanding of it by – personifies Zambrano.   Think of Joakim Noah’s horrid game vs Atlanta.  Did he whine about not playing the 4th quarter?   No!!  He said, “It’s on me to play better, stay out of foul trouble, and rebound better.”  THAT is the quality Z never understood … oh, and it’s one that Garza also has …

  • Rick Vaughn

    Loved this, thanks Brett. It was like a montage of good memories as I read your words. The ‘stache was my desktop background for a couple weeks. I still defend everything Zambrano did up until his last embarrassment. Couldn’t excuse that one. I’ll miss watching him as much as I miss the early days of Wood and Prior.

  • Brian Myers

    I’ll miss the “show” that was Zambrano, he did make things interesting. Of course I miss Hector Villenueva, Jerome Walton, Scott Sanderson, Dwight Smith, Ron Cey and Jody Davis too. Forgotten parts of history by young Cubs fans, but parts of certain clubs you’ll never forget (for the good and the bad).

  • jandersonjr81 father of Caden

    Brett, this post is disappointing. I’m a Cubs fan first and foremost. This is the only sports I care about truly. That is why I hate this trade. Zambrano will be a better pitcher next year the Volstad. Add in the fact we ate basicly the whole contract, and this move makes no sense. I’m am not for the non sense, club house cancer BS. I guess Dempster struggles were Zambranos fault. I guess Milton’s bad year was Carlos fault. Oh, I guess Marmol lost break on the slider cause Big Z’s attitude. I have no problem with trading Z, my problem is with Dumping him for basicly nobody, while still signing his paycheck. Honestly, does anybody really think Volstad is a MLB starting pitcher. Sure he could pitch for Iowa, that was a joke saying he couldn’t. But If you think this is a net gain, wow, wow. Probably want even get tendered next year. I will miss Big Z. The guy nobody talked about when we had Prior and Wood starting, but tge guy who had the better career by far. I really wouldn’t be suprise if he has a better season then Garza, and hope I’m not saying I told you so when he’s shutting our horrible lineup down. By the way, Epstein is a liar. He never had intentions to bring Z back, giving guys like myself false hope of seeing Z turn it around in Cubbue blue. I prefer honesty, not trickery.

    • JR1908

      Janderson, I understand your disappointment in the Cubs return and the amount they paid. I think most thought they would get better salary relief than that. But, what were they suppose to do?? Have a guy (Big Z) who may have been slightly better than Volstad, but was a complete cancer in the locker room for young players who were learning to compete correctly? There not going to compete for the playoffs this yr anyway. There were no other options. All the other teams know he is an idiot. He had to go..

      • Sweetjamesjones

        You must have been drunk off of the Old Style when you posted your rant.

        What did you expect to get for Zambrano? Seriously.

        He was great to watch no doubt, but after the debacle in Atlanta, that shit was the last straw?

        It’s like you are a battered wife. Continues to act like an ass (when he swears that he has changed). When is enough, enough?

        I think it’s time to let it go.

        It’s not like the Cubs had a lot of leverage anyways. You take what you can get.

        Epstein is a liar? When? Baseball is a BUSINESS. Get over it.

        • BetterNews

          Do really think Theo is an “angel”? They wouldn’t have hired him!

          • DCF

            Calling Theo a liar on what he said about Z is 1000% wrong. When asked the right questions, I found that Theo has been as straightforward as he can be in his position.
            He always made it clear that he has strong doubts about Z, as he did on WGn radio then day before the trade was announced. Obviously he can’t tell the public about ongoing trade discussions with other teams, but he said change needs to come. Well, it came.

            BTW I also feel Tehos answer about LaHair was genuine. He could easily have beat around the bush or give some Ricketts-style answer saying nothing at all when asked about 1st base, but instead he gave a ringing endorsement of giving LaHair ample playing time.

    • Dougy D

      jandersonjr81 father of Caden,

      If you want to be pissed about the Cubs eating the contract, blame Zambrano. He truly screwed the Cubs chances of getting anything very worthwhile by being a ‘man-child’ and a terrible teammate. He is by far the biggest baby I have seen play professional baseball. The way he carried himself and the way he ended last season was pitiful and that is why the Cubs had to pay so much of his contract this year. What are you talking about as far as blaming other people’s poor performances on him? I haven’t seen anyone do that. I will fully admit that I enjoyed watching him back in the day when he was good, but I also enjoyed watching Leiber pitch 6 innings, followed by Farnsworth 1, Fassero 1, and Beck 1(not sure if that is the correct closer of that time, or combo for that matter). I also enjoyed watching Eric Young steal a base, and anyone lay down a  good bunt against the opposition (Brett Butler was a stud even though he was never a Cub). I love good baseball.

      I lost a lot of respect for Zambrano with the Barrett fight, and more with every childish thing he did after that. It is good to have fire in your belly, but not at the detriment of the team.

      I am sure that Zambrano will have a good year, as there will be no pressure on him and he will likely have better run support. He still has some talent, but he needs to learn limitations and learn to pitch again in order to harness that talent. He also needs to keep his mouth closed. I think that he will show Guillen respect and listen to what he says. Something he couldn’t do here for the last X number of years.

      Onward and upward. Welcome Chris Volstad. Sorry for the long post.

    • BetterNews

      While maybe not a net gain, not a loss.

  • JR1908

    Very well written Brett. I am angry at Z for where he has put the Cubs, but your piece put a smile on my face!

  • ty

    As you know Brett I lived next door to Z in Mesa for many years. In deference to his privacy I will hold comment but nothing would be negative. A beautiful family that he adores and so nice to us–my mother-in-law liked him so much and he would be riding his bicycle and stop and tease her often. He would hold nightly barbecues in the front driveway especially for the younger guys like Marmol and Caridad and kept a garage full of bicycles for players to ride around Fitch and HoHo..during spring training. so laidback all the time unlike game days! Hitting is what he really enjoys and pitching is secondary un-fortunately. The only wealth he ever flaunted was a couple cars and then he would loan then out to the clubhouse kids..I know some guys are going to knock me around for this piece of fluff but wish people could have known his other side. Alot of guys do not grow up until middle thirties and overcome some emotional issues. Jocks and emotions are treacherous issues. Nothing like the buzz of the crowd when Z started a game!

    • Katie

      That’s a cool perspective Ty, thank you for sharing that.

    • JR1908

      Ty, I am sure he was cool off the field in real life. But man that guy was a complete psycho on the field.

    • Rick Vaughn

      Yeah ty, thanks for sharing. Definetly one of my favorite players. Going to miss him.

      Now, give us the dirt.

    • Kansas Cubs Fan

      That must have been pretty badass. Not many Cub fans could say something like that!

  • JasonB

    I remember seeing Z pitch back in ’03 and thinking to myself “he could be better than Wood and Prior”.  Turned out he actually was, but the careers of the other two went way south after that season so who knows what would have happened if all three stayed healthy.

    I fell off the Z bandwagon in about 2006 or 2007 – can’t remember the exact year.  My brother came out for Labor Day weekend to watch a Cubs/Dodgers game (he’s a Dodgers’ fan) and Z was on the bump.  Things got rough so I turned to my bro and said “Z is about ready to fold”.  Sure enough, he did so at least he didn’t disappoint me at that particular moment.  At the time, I wasn’t very into Sabermetrics so the only bases for my dislike for him were 1) his attitude and 2) the fact that he seemed to fold whenever things didn’t go his way.  It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered how pedestrian of a pitcher he actually was.

    Happy trails, Z – don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya

    • Katie

      I’ve seen Z pitch several times. One year I got some amazing tickets to a rain out rescheduled game against the Astros. Z was on the bump and pitched a masterpiece and hit a home run which was the only run scored in the game. It was a great night! I think that was 2006. The last time I saw him pitch was the only time I’ve been to Wrigley and seen the Cubs lose. It was May and it was against the Pirates. In the bottom of the fourth he was up to bat and struck out to end the inning and broke his bat over his thigh. The person I was at the game with said, “oh, he’s pissed now. Watch this, he’s gonna go out there and strike out the side”. I said “No fucking way” and we bet a beer on it. Z walked the bases loaded and was yanked. I got a free beer.

      • Jason

        That’s the Z that I remember

  • chris margetis

    My sentiments exactly Brett. I remember the days when Z could throw 9 innings of 2 hit baseball vs the Cardinals. He was always his best in the most important games and opposing teams hated facing him. Those day are gone and his negative impact emotionally is now more impactful that any positive that could come from his talent. I’ll miss the Old Z. Hit the bricks, Current Z.

  • King Jeff

    I was also willing to forgive everything he did in the heat of the moment, until he quit on the team.  Everyone knew it was bad here and his teammates were sucking it up, still playing hard(well most were playing hard).  Zambrano’s on field decline coincided with his mental meltdowns, and he threw his teammates under the bus on too many occasions.  I don’t see anyway he could have come back and been the kind of leader that the Cubs would have needed him to be.  I’ll still get to see him pitch here in Miami all the time, but it will be bittersweet, especially if he turns it around for the Fish.

  • Cheryl

    Good article, Brett. Z is much better off now. Its too bad that someone with all his skills ruined it for himself. I hope he comes back as a different person but he is now Ozzie’s responsibility for better or worse.

  • NL_Cubs

    Now it’s time to work on moving Soriano? A very bitter and expensive pill to swallow whether or not he stays or goes..

    • die hard

      Orioles will take him off Cubs hands at 4 mil/yr as they need DH and want to lock in payroll for next 3 yrs before breaking the bank on long terming Adam Jones.

      • JR1908

        I wish u were right Die Hard. But I dont see anyone paying 12 mill over next 3 for Soriano. Especially after seeing what the Cubs got in relief for Big Z.

        • die hard

          if he could just DH, would save on his legs and he still has at least 100 Hrs left in those wrists…best wrists since Ernie Banks…worth a shot for Os

  • die hard

    Nice summary of the Big Z era. The final chapter could be started as early as April 1, 2012, when the Marlins put him on the 60 day disabled list to start the season from which he never leaves due to a dead arm for over working this winter in attempt to get in shape. They release him September 1, 2012 and thats that.

  • Diego

    He had to go! a player can’t never put himself before the team! By the way Brett, you misspelled “Torro”, its “Toro” just one “r”. Anyway, great piece!

  • Dunston to Sandberg to Grace

    Long time reader . . . first time commenter.

    Felt compelled to on this post. Very well done. Summed up my feelings perfectly about Z. I loved him but it was time.

    Love the site Brett

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks, DSG.

  • remmy

    I saw Big Z throw that no-hitter in Milwaukee and that was a GREAT game. thanks for the good times, but it’s a business and he totally did this to himself. People can forgive you to a point if your skills slip. People rarely forgive you if you inflict needless pain on yourself and others that have no choice to be around you (his teammates). See ya Big Z.

  • Ashley

    As always Brett you said just what I am feeling. Well done!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks, Ashley.

  • John Breslin

    Brett–I’m sure your column was interesting, and I planned to read it. But Big Z is really a frigging bore to me at this point, and I am so willing to have him be in the past. When big events happen, we all want to talk about them constantly. The ones that had meaning–we still talk about years later. The other ones, just disappear. Z we have to let just disappear. He is the Cubs’ past. We are in a new era–an era that will be painful come April, but no one will be able to fault us for letting him go. The bottom line is that the contracts given to Zambrano and Soriano were nothing less than INSANE, and the angst we feel is really a hangover of that insanity. Good riddance to this moron. In what other part of our lives do we put up with such idiots for so long? In our “real lives” we would tell an asshole like Carlos Zambrano to stay the hell away from us. In the fake sports world, though, we are humored by him because he is cartoonish. Let’s get on with the future, Cub fans.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      What if that’s exactly what I said? :)

      (I didn’t…)

  • Who knows

    Il like z he was great but I live volstad

  • aubreyblue2

    Well, I am really going to miss Zambrano. I would rather Dempster go than him. (You remember Dempster, one of the guys who pushed for Quade for manager.) Re clubhouse friction, if I remember correctly, the 1972-74 Athletics were at each others throats and won three WS in a row.
    I still think that what last years Cubs’ TEAM needed was middle relief. What derailed them was the idiotic management. Quade and cronies were possibly the worst management the Cubs have had since the College of Coaches. I was at the first game James Russell started in Houston. A huge black hole opened up during that game and got bigger and bigger. (Quade did no many stupid things last year I almost had a heart attack watching the games.) In that same series, Zambrano pitched a wonderful game (4/13/11) and was given a standing ovation when he left from the Cubs fans there. How soon we forget.

  • shane

    John rocker of our era

  • coal

    My high school baseball coach was once asked (by the mom of a kid that came to every practice, was polite, would play anywhere, practiced hard) why a certain other kid (who was more or less a slacker) got to play over her son. I’ll never forget my coach’s answer (nor the expression on her face) – “because he’s good.”

    This sums it up for Z and the Cubs. It’s [so] easy to look the other way when the talent is there. While the blowup in Atlanta was likely the final straw (because it brought national attention and embarrasment to the organization) I think his talent had just slipped below the threshold where the Cubs were willing to put up with him. If he was the Z of 2004 – 2006 we’d have found a way to work through it.

  • Brian Peters

    Brett, you are incredibly gifted.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thank you, Brian. I’m just a dude who likes to write.

  • Marv

    Brett,
    I’m a long-time reader, first time commenter. What I seem to recall about the game in which Zambrano knocked Jim Edmonds down twice is that Edmonds got up and hit the next pitch out of the park. I grudgingly raised my opinion for Edmonds.

    • BetterNews

      I don’t think thats accurate. Jim Edmonds was hit twice. However, it went down as hit batter, homerun, hit batter, all in different innings. I liked Edmonds for sure, but there was a big time rivalry between Z and Jim, make no mistake there. Neither was backing off and whether Zambrano intentionally hit Edmonds the 2nd time will never be known.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      He did (later). I told myself he was still being a douche.

  • vinniethefixer

    so many people are missing this is big Z contract year !!! he going to do what it takes to land that next contract!!!!

  • Bobo Justis

    Surprised that no one has mentioned this – http://tiny.cc/cedwd

    • Eric

      I heard it while i was in the bathroom, I always turn on my portable radio with WSCR sports talk while I’m in there. Just happened to hear it for the 30 sec I was in there. Good poop timing. j/k I didn’t poop. Sounds to me like a cpl of stupid 20 year olds, he and she drunk so much, that she passed out. So ofcourse it was a good idea to go to some guys apartment.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I read it this morning, but I’m going to wait to say anything. This went around as a rumor last Fall. I’m just not comfortable saying much about it right now – not because I know anything more than anyone else. I know only what I read in the article. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to say much about it as an outsider right now.

  • Boog

    If she was blacked out, how does she know that she didn’t consent to it? Having had my share of blackouts in my 20’s, I can attest that I’ve come to in similar situations, and it would be impossible for me to tell a jury exactly what had happened beforehand. Doesn’t sound like there’s a case there to me.

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