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Cubs should have dumped Carlos Zambrano long ago

Carlos Zambrano’s latest indiscreti— walking out Cubs — should be last straw. | AP

Carlos Zambrano’s latest indiscretion — walking out on the Cubs — should be the last straw. | AP

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:26AM

One evening last year, Carlos Zambrano had dinner with Ozzie Guillen at a Loop restaurant named Cibo Matto, which means “crazy food’’ in Italian.

There couldn’t have been a more aptly named dining establishment for Big Z, who hours earlier had erupted in the Cubs’ dugout over what he perceived as a lack of effort by several teammates. That he saw nothing wrong with being out on the town and eating with the White Sox’ Guillen, the manager of that day’s opponent, said everything you ever wanted to know about Zambrano.

That was 14 months ago, when the Cubs should have been done with him once and for all. But they weren’t, for reasons that escaped reason: He promised to change his behavior, the Cubs couldn’t get any value for him, he was still an elite pitcher, blah, blah, blah. He came back in 2010 after anger-management counseling and a suspension, pitched well down the stretch and had some of us gullible rubes wondering whether he had turned a corner.

Forget the corner. On Friday night in Atlanta, Zambrano went around the bend and off the deep end. In his most selfish act yet — and that’s saying something — he gave up five home runs, got kicked out of the game after twice pitching Chipper Jones inside, cleared out his locker and told clubhouse personnel he was retiring. As usual, he left others to try to explain his behavior. As usual, they couldn’t.

Zambrano was only toying with us. He isn’t retiring. Figures.

A powder keg of instability

The Cubs put him on the disqualified list Saturday, which allows them to suspend him without pay for 30 days while searching for a team dumb enough to buy baseball’s Brooklyn Bridge.

He had better be gone for good this time.

Unstable? This guy makes Hugo Chavez look like Nelson Mandela. But sanity isn’t the issue here. Self-centeredness is.

The only thing Carlos Zambrano ever cared about was himself. I defy anyone to provide proof that it has ever been about anything other than him. All of his blowups over the years took place during or after his starts. They usually have been about someone else’s perceived shortcomings.

After all the Cubs had done for him over the years, after all the protecting, excusing, justifying and overpaying they had carried out in his name, Zambrano walked out on them.

How many people have tried to help this guy? How many people have gone to bat for him? How many people have had to deal with his binge-purge emotions?

Too many.

Too many people are sick and tired of being sick and tired of Zambrano.

His career serves as the perfect example of what happens when a sports franchise makes all kinds of concessions to a talented, troubled athlete. It’s why another team still might want him. Now that’s the definition of “insanity.”

The Cubs should have rid themselves of Zambrano last year, when he got into a shouting match in the dugout with Derrick Lee, after calling out Lee and Aramis Ramirez for not diving for ground balls. He chose to deal with the crisis by going out to dinner that night with Guillen. Shame on the Cubs for falling for his act over and over again. Shame on us for the same thing. How many times did we leave room for his promises?

This will be the time he changes his life.

This will be the time he reaches his potential.

This will be the time he matures.

Except it wasn’t.

I’ve written my share of new-leaf columns about Zambrano and ended up feeling like a sucker every time. After the shouting match with Lee last year, I said the Cubs should be done with him. Trade him, cut him, whatever. Get him out of town, I wrote.

Two months ago, I wrote about the possibility of a new, calmer Big Z. What could I possibly have been thinking?

“People change,’’ he told the media that day. “Have you ever seen the movie ‘Rocky,’ where he fights I think it was in Russia? He said it good: It’s not too late for people to change.

“Over the years, you make a mistake because you’re human. I’m human. Everybody makes a mistake. Some make big mistakes. Some make insignificant mistakes. We all are human.’’

Going by that, Zambrano appears to be more human than every other human being on the planet. He sees his humanness as an excuse to periodically go off like a fireworks finale.

No longer worth the hassle

When he agreed to a five-year, $91.5 million contract extension in 2007, the reward for the Cubs seemed worth the risk. He already had punched out teammate Michael Barrett that season, but the Cubs were willing to look the other way for a pitcher with so much talent.

He never lived up to that talent. He did, however, live up to the punch.

Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano are going to end up on Jim Hendry’s professional headstone. What a way to go. Done in by a head case and an underachiever. On the other hand, resting in peace probably sounds pretty good to the Cubs general manager right about now.

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