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McGRATH: Cubs appear to have lost a clue

Historically problematic Manny Ramirez has been added as player/coach for Cubs’ Class AAA Iowaffiliate among other recent head-scratchers.  |  Jared

Historically problematic Manny Ramirez has been added as a player/coach for the Cubs’ Class AAA Iowa affiliate, among other recent head-scratchers.  |  Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

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Updated: July 2, 2014 6:25AM



‘Game 7” often is described as the most meaningful two words in sports. Stakes aside, the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings will have to go some Sunday night to top what they staged in Games 5 and 6 of the Western Conference final.

Breathtaking pace. Bone-rattling collisions. Spectacular goaltending. Big players making big plays. Seven-plus periods of exhausting, exhilarating effort, and a two-night reminder of why we watch, why we care.

Game 5’s first overtime required just 26 minutes of real time and featured one eight-minute stretch without a stoppage — are you listening, baseball? Game 6 was nearly as good, start to finish.

Regardless of what transpires in Game 7, the Hawks have given us something to remember.

And they’ve kept our eyes averted from the collective loopiness that has spread to the baseball side of the Cubs’ operation. On Wednesday, after they managed two hits and stretched their scoreless streak to 20 innings in a 5-0 loss to the Giants, manager Rick Renteria said, “I thought we put some pretty good at-bats together.”

Huh? This is the big leagues, Skip. There are no awards for participation. The master plan may be a few years from fruition, but results still matter, especially when you’re charging the third-highest ticket prices in baseball.

And producing the worst record.

Maybe Renteria’s naivete is understandable. He works for the franchise that thinks Manny Ramirez is a good idea.

Two good books detail the Boston Red Sox’ rise to power in the Theo Epstein Era: Feeding the Monster by Seth Mnookin, in which the author ascribes Moneyball-level genius to fellow Ivy Leaguer Epstein; and Francona: The Red Sox Years, Terry Francona’s eye-opening account of eight eventful seasons as the team’s manager.

I read both, and I remember thinking Epstein would plot to have Manny assigned the locker next to Ted Williams’ in the cryonics lab before he’d restore him to his payroll.

Manny could hit, as well as any man ever could, and he helped the Red Sox win two World Series. But it’s charitable to call him “quirky,” apart from the two times he was busted for PED use and the third time he was credibly identified as a user.

His uniform always looked like he’d slept in it, and those defiantly unkempt dreads were the most visible symbol of, well, Manny being Manny. For all his talent, he had this pesky little habit of quitting on his team, which finally prompted his exile from Boston for below market value.

He says he found God after he was arrested for slapping his wife around in 2011, three years after he’d roughed up the Red Sox’ 65-year-old travel coordinator in a dispute over tickets. That’s not quirky, it’s criminal.

Epstein believes Manny’s “changed man” claims thoroughly enough to entrust some of the Cubs’ best prospects to his influence. Maybe it works. I believe in redemption and second chances, but if I were trying to craft a serious new image of sane, sober responsibility, I wouldn’t show up with a mohawk.

That’s Manny being Manny, and his new employers remaining inexplicably tone deaf. This is Chicago, not Boston, and we’re provincial to a fault. Cubs fans don’t want the Red Sox recreated, and the suggestion that Manny is a worthwhile addition is as bothersome as his drug history or his boorish behavior.

But it’s in keeping with the lack of institutional awareness that permeates the Cubs’ organization, surfacing in enough minor ways to create a major problem.

No one noticed that the Lindbergh mural hung to commemorate Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary actually depicted a scene from Comiskey Park? That’s embarrassing.

Or the cavalier disposal of Ron Santo memorabilia into a public dumpster: Nobody with the Cubs knew enough or cared enough to prevent that from happening? There are thousands of Santo fans who cared enough to be offended.

Despite his sad-puppy delivery, Tom Ricketts’ video declaration that Wrigley renovations would proceed despite the rooftop owners’ intransigence was seen as a bold stroke. The Cubs might have stopped to consider whom they were dealing with before Crane Kenney went public with an elaborate breakdown of the new scheme.

This mayor doesn’t take to having things forced on him. If there’s any bullying to be done in the political arena, Rahm Emanuel will be the bully-er, not the bully-ee. With an election upcoming, that bullpen-doors mea culpa might not be enough to get the plan its required traction.

Someone should have known.

That sounds like a motto for the Cubs these days.



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