All-Star Bryan LaHair ready for bench trial
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com August 7, 2012 10:22PM
Bryan LaHair of the Cubs is congratulated in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run in the third inning at U.S. Cellular Field Monday, June 18, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: September 9, 2012 6:21AM
SAN DIEGO — It took him five years to get to the big leagues for the first time. It took him three years to get back the second time.
And just as he was about to go play in Japan, the Cubs gave Bryan LaHair a starting first-base job. He responded by beating all odds to become a National League All-Star — only to be told to move to right field to make room for Anthony Rizzo.
‘‘Add another chapter to that,’’ LaHair said.
The Cubs’ feel-good story of the season isn’t feeling so good these days.
LaHair is back to staring at another set of long odds after being told this week he’ll be a bench player for the rest of the season — barring an injury or a trade of Alfonso Soriano — to make room for top prospect Brett Jackson to play every day in the outfield.
For all the growing pains associated with the sudden youth movement in the wake of the Cubs’ trade-deadline moves, few are feeling the pain like LaHair, who at 29 is working on his first full season in the big leagues.
‘‘It’s obviously frustrating. I’m not happy about it,’’ said LaHair, who wound up in the lineup Tuesday when Soriano couldn’t start because of minor hand injury.
‘‘But I’m not going to hold my head down or stop working or do anything like that. I’m just going to stay ready and prepare for the next opportunity I get.’’
Manager Dale Sveum didn’t have a lot of alternatives, considering that the season has shifted to full evaluation mode and that LaHair has struggled the last two months (.203 with three homers since June 6
entering play Tuesday).
‘‘Unfortunately, this thing’s happened to him twice this year with our two biggest prospects coming up in the same season and him taking the brunt of it,’’ Sveum said.
The circumstances might be a first. An impromptu survey of longtime baseball people at Petco Park couldn’t identify a case of an All-Star position player who finished his All-Star season on his team’s bench — certainly not a player
who wasn’t his team’s mandatory All-Star.
‘‘It’s nothing positive,’’ LaHair said. ‘‘There’s nothing positive about a manager telling you your playing time for the next two months is very limited. . . . But I have a role now, and I’ll just accept that role and try to do the best I can.’’
When LaHair got off to the torrid start in April and May that led to his All-Star selection, he looked like he was playing his way into the Cubs’ rebuilding plans.
Obviously, it’s hard to see it that way at this point. But he’s not playing guessing games on those issues.
‘‘I’m here; I’m not gone,’’ he said. ‘‘They haven’t traded me; they haven’t released me. As far as today, I’m in their plans.’’
LaHair has spent his entire career fighting perceptions, if not odds. Just making it to the big leagues after being a 39th-round draft pick beat long odds, never mind becoming an All-Star.
‘‘I’m not mad. I’m not mad at anyone,’’ he said. ‘‘Obviously, I’m not happy.
‘‘There’s been times before when I’ve been not happy. At least I’m not happy in the big leagues.’’
If he sticks around to become a part of the Cubs’ future, even next season, it might take Soriano leaving to open a corner spot in the outfield, assuming somebody such as Matt Szczur at Class AA Tennessee doesn’t make the jump into the Cubs’ outfield between now and then.
As unhappy as he is, he doesn’t want to be traded, LaHair said.
‘‘I want to be a Cub,’’ he said. ‘‘And just because I’m not an every-day player today doesn’t mean I won’t be tomorrow. I’m sure I’m going to get another opportunity. A lot of things happen in baseball.’’
He should know. He’s been through about all of them.
‘‘Yeah,’’ he said, ‘‘it’s getting there.’’