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When a player says what Carlos Zambrano did, he wants out

Cubs manager Mike Quade center calls for Kerry Wood seventh inning Saturday May 7 2011 Wrigley Field Chicago. | John

Cubs manager Mike Quade, center, calls for Kerry Wood in the seventh inning Saturday, May 7, 2011, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 15, 2011 12:33AM



Carlos Zambrano is a liar.

Not in assessing his Cubs teammates with a ‘‘We stinks,’’ as he did after a 3-2, 10-inning loss Sunday to the
St. Louis Cardinals. With that, he was 100 percent on the money.

Not for calling the Cubs’ play on the field ‘‘embarrassing.’’ If it quacks like a duck, lies down like a duck and dies like a duck, it’s either a duck or 102 seasons and counting of ‘‘embarrassing.’’

Why he would fail a lie-detector test is because of the answer he gave Cubs beat writers when he was asked Monday if he wanted out of the North Side.

‘‘I don’t want to think about that,’’ Zambrano said, knee-deep in damage control. ‘‘I’m a Cubbie. I want to be a Cub the rest of my life. I want to focus on this team.’’

OK, let’s focus on ‘‘this team’’ for a second. Let’s play along with Big Z, who during his decade-long tenure with the Cubs has endured Bartman, anger management, owner changes, batting practices with Gatorade coolers and suspensions.

And those were feel-good moments for the Cubs compared to where they’re headed. This is a sinking franchise, and you can expect things to get worse before they hit rock bottom.

The Ricketts family has a very specific plan about how it wants to do business, and building from within is a top priority. The Cubs want a strong farm system and baseball academies in Latin America and want like to stay away from sinkhole free-agent contracts.

That means more summers of suffering before there is any semblance of light at the end of the tunnel.

Zambrano is a thoughtful individual away from the field. His teammates have said so, members of the Cubs’ organization have said so and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, his crosstown confidant, has said so. That’s why his rip of the team Sunday was so unlike his past blowups. He was calm and had an agenda.

‘‘We played like a Triple-A team,’’ Zambrano said more than once.

Let’s stop right there.

In 29 other clubhouses around the major leagues, those are fighting words — not only to teammates, but to the manager.

Would Lou Piniella have handled that calmly? How about Jim Leyland? How many F-bombs would Guillen have dropped at the feet of a player who referred to his team as ‘‘Triple-A’’?

But Cubs manager Mike Quade met with Zambrano in his office, then told the media afterward: ‘‘It’s a man’s game. People get upset, and I think things get blown out of proportion way too much.’’

Just like that, Quade suddenly looked overmatched.

When a player such as
Zambrano throws a grenade in the middle of the clubhouse, he wants one thing: out. Out while his statistics finally are measuring up to his overblown contract. Out from a franchise that is just starting a long-term rebuilding project. Out on a manager he now knows he can bully around.

Zambrano is owed about
$30 million from now until his contract expires at the end of next season, but he has allowed only one earned run in each of his last three starts, and there’s bound to be a general manager who can be suckered into trading for him.

As far as the rest of the comments from Zambrano — ‘‘This is embarrassing .  .  . that’s the word here for this team’’ — it was the right message from the wrong messenger. If fellow pitcher Ryan Dempster had said it, Cubbieland would have given him a golf clap. But it was Z; it was the bad guy.

‘‘What’s the big deal about this?’’ Zambrano said before the Cubs opened their three-game series in Cincinnati. ‘‘Let’s move on. Let’s play baseball.’’

Calm and cool. Yes, Zambrano is all grown up now. And he finally has outgrown his days with the Cubs.



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