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Rebuilding teams steal sizzle from crosstown series

Updated: May 9, 2014 12:16AM



So the Cubs didn’t get much out of the Crosstown Showdown in the way of victories this week.

That wasn’t nearly as startling as the lack of personality, swagger and spontaneous combustion that has slipped in just a few years from Big-Z mega doses to missing in action — even during the traditional emotional epicenter of their season.

Three Cub managers removed from the high-volume days of Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen, and 355 losses since Carlos Zambrano took his annual crosstown meltdown into Derrek Lee’s face in the dugout, the Cubs barely registered a blip on the White Sox’ schedule this week before taking one of four games and moving on to Atlanta for the weekend.

“Is it what it was in ’07 and ’08? Probably not,” said pitcher Jeff Samardzija, the longest-tenured Cub. “But there’s still guys going out and competing in big-league games and putting everything they can on the line to win those ballgames. I think fans can appreciate that.”

Or not. Wednesday night’s game at the Cell drew by far the lowest attendance for a Cubs-Sox meeting: 21,075. Obviously, rebuilding effort on both sides of town and a sea of new, largely anonymous faces are big parts of the issue.

But if the Cubs-Sox battles are telltale marks of these teams’ personalities and emotional fiber — as another tenured Cub, James Russell, says — then the Cubs might want to be careful what they wish for with all their talk of culture change on the North Side.

“It is entertaining,” Russell said of the days when both teams brought big personalities to the series — with the Cubs in particular stoking fans passions with in-game fireworks of their own.

“Especially having the games where you know you have Piniella managing, and you’ve got Guillen on the other side,” Russell said. “You kind of knew something crazy would happen.”

Starlin Castro, a rookie sitting a few feet away on the bench that day in 2010 when Zambrano and Lee nearly came to blows, said it was more than the fiery natures of those huge personalities that drove a much different — bigger than life — clubhouse then.

“You walked in and you had to respect those guys,” he said. “And we need those people. You learn a lot from watching those guys.”

Someday, Castro and Anthony Rizzo might be those kinds of players. That’s the vision, at least — one that includes prospects Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora developing into big-leaguers and one day bringing a new Cubs’ personality to this series.

“It’ll be fun when this process kind of takes place and everybody’s got the young guys up here and they’re battling it out and making it kind of a new-age rivalry out of this,” Russell said. “And then those personalities will take their course,and maybe we’ll have something even cooler than before.”

Cooler than a Big Z meltdown?

“It’s hard to have something cooler than that,” Russell said. “No matter how scary it was. It was definitely fun to watch once in a while.”

So maybe it’s just a matter of time? Before the new personalities take over and grow into big personalities? Just as big?

“Yeah,” Castro said.

Just as spontaneous? Just as explosive and entertaining?

“That’s not going to happen,” he said.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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