It’s all too eerily similar to June 1, 2007.
On that day, the Cubs had fallen to 22-30 on the year which was good for 7 1/2 games out of first place. But the bigger headline was Cubs’ pitcher Carlos Zambrano and catcher Michael Barrett getting involved in a dugout altercation. The day after the incident, manager Lou Piniella was ejected after making a scene by kicking dirt on third-base umpire Mark Wegner and the Cubs lost that game also. But with those two incidents taking some attention off of the Cubs underachieving performance, the team was able to rebound. From June 3 to August 1, the Cubs won 35 of 53 games and climbed to a tie at the top of the division.
Today, the scene between Zambrano and Barrett played out again in the dugout, with Derrek Lee cast in the role of Barrett. But, Lee basically is Barrett: at the time, Barrett was hitting .241 with 7 homers, 8 doubles and 25 RBI’s. We’re only slightly further along in the season now and Lee is batting .233 with 10 homers, 10 doubles and 33 RBI’s. Barrett had been on a steep decline defensively, and even though most Cubs fans are in denial about it, it’s been a long time since Lee was anything better than average defensively. Shortly after the 2007 incident, Zambrano was suspended by the team and Barrett was traded. The Cubs have again suspended Zambrano and Lee is a likely candidate to be dealt at the deadline.
The team is in a similar situation too. The Cubs are only slightly worse now than they were that year: nine games below .500 and 8 1/2 games out of first.
Cubs’ announcer Bob Brenly hit it on the head when he said that it was nice to see someone finally showing some passion. Zambrano has done something I’ve been wanting to do the whole year: yell at the little boys for not trying. So will this tirade similarly help the team this year? Well one thing is for certain: it can’t hurt.
But things are a little different this year. Well, actually a lot different.
For one, there’s much less time left in the season and much less time left until the trading deadline. Here, the Cubs would have to make a mad dash to the front of the division standings even quicker to convince general manager Jim Hendry not to blow up the team come July 31. And though the currently front-running Cincinnati Reds might seem similar to the inexperienced Milwaukee Brewers team that always looked like they would blow the lead in 2007, the Cubs are also looking up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who are chock full of winners and are a clearly superior ballclub anyway.
Besides, Piniella demonstrated in the game’s fifth inning that he no longer has the passion or the energy that he did three years ago. On June 2, 2007, Piniella was looking for anything to argue about. He had made up his mind that he was going to get tossed and created controversy out of nothing by arguing a call that truthfully wasn’t close. This time, there was a ready-made bang-bang play and Piniella just calmly discussed it with second-base umpire Gary Darling before returning to his dugout with his tail between his legs.
There will be no repeat of 2007. Hendry should take this as the green light to blow up as much of the team as possible and start over.
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Written by Eddie Kim