Controversy over pitch shows why Zambrano shouldn’t be with Cubs
BY JOE COWLEY email@example.com July 1, 2011 11:34PM
Updated: July 2, 2011 10:11AM
It isn’t very often that a 56-second video of a Cubs pitcher surrounded by women in tight-fitting baseball pants starts such a firestorm, but this is the wonderful, wacky world of Carlos Zambrano.
In early June he was letting his Cubs teammates know exactly where they stood (‘‘We stinks’’) and that they resemble a Triple-A team rather than just the underachieving North Siders we’ve all come to know and love. Last we saw our hero, he was leaving his start against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday afternoon after just one-plus innings with what was originally diagnosed as a strained lower back.
Hours later, he popped up at a Chicago Bandits softball game in Rosemont to sign autographs and throw out the first pitch.
Obviously, a single in the second inning by the Giants’ Miguel Tejada wasn’t the pitch Zambrano wanted to sleep on Thursday night.
CSN Chicago cameras were on hand to catch Big Z make the ceremonial toss, and by Friday morning, fans and certain members of the media were piling on what was deemed another bad decision by the volatile right-hander, who has a history of them.
Now, let’s bring some sanity to the latest Zambrano non-controversy controversy.
If it had been the blistered fingers of Kerry Wood throwing out the first pitch for his charity while he was sidelined with an injury, Wood would have needed an MRI exam on his back after all the congratulatory slaps.
But it was the bad boy of the North Side. It was Zambrano.
‘‘What’s the problem with that?’’ Zambrano asked reporters Friday after the Cubs’ 6-4 loss to the White Sox. ‘‘It was done through my foundation. I support softball teams, I sponsor baseball teams in different areas in Chicago. It wasn’t that I was in a wheelchair or I wasn’t able to walk anymore.
‘‘I know I came out early in the game, but at the same time, I have this thing set up with my foundation a long time ago. If I don’t go, they criticize me, too, you know? ‘He’s a bad person. He didn’t show up.’ I went there and spent a real good time, threw out the first pitch and enjoyed the ladies playing softball.’’
Whether it’s because of his scuffle with Derrek Lee last summer or his encounters with Gatorade machines, Zambrano has put himself in a lose-lose situation no matter what he does, good or bad.
That’s why the best move for him and his career at this point is elsewhere, with a contending team.
Whether it’s this month or this winter, the rebuilding Cubs need to at least explore the market on what Zambrano could get them in return so that both sides can move on and be better for the split.
‘‘Chicago is a big town, but it’s a small town,’’ Zambrano said. ‘‘You can’t hide in Chicago. That’s why I don’t go out. I stay home and enjoy my family. Back in the day, I used to go out once in awhile, but not anymore. Too many paparazzi in Chicago.’’
In this case, too many people simply overreacting.
‘‘I mean, he had to go out there and throw the ball some 40 feet,’’ Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. ‘‘This is a strong, world-class athlete at 270 pounds. He could have thrown it up there with his big toe. There’s a big difference between that and going out and pitching in a major-league baseball game. No one feels like he quit [Thursday], that he’s not hurt.
‘‘There are certain things, No. 1 that he’s done in the past that I haven’t approved of, No. 2 that he knows and has heard about from me, but there are times like this where it is a big to-do about nothing. Obviously he’s done some things that have deserved discipline, and discipline from me. But with this, I would have been more disappointed if he made a commitment to these people where people paid to get in just to see him, and he didn’t show up.’’
The first-pitch fallout heightened Friday morning when the Cubs announced that Zambrano had been put on the 15-day disabled list.
But does missing one start for the Cubs at this point really matter in the big picture? Get Zambrano healthy, then free him.
The problem is the trade market for Zambrano is nearly nonexistent. But give it a few more weeks, maybe months into the offseason.
It only takes one GM.
Meanwhile, there’s a bigger question to come out of this fiasco: There really is a professional women’s softball league?