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Cubs are culpable, too, in Carlos Zambrano fiasco

Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano breaks his bover his knee after striking out end 5th inning as Chicago Cubs host HoustAstros

Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano breaks his bat over his knee after striking out to end the 5th inning as the Chicago Cubs host the Houston Astros Tuesday May 31, 2011 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 19, 2011 3:24AM



Let’s think radically here.

What if Big Z’s self-destruction could become Block A in the foundation of a new culture of Cubdom?

What if troubled pitcher Carlos Zambrano’s quitting on the Cubs after a terrible outing against the Braves on Friday could signal the spot in the middle of the ashes where the Cubs raise a flag with bright blue letters that reads, ‘‘ENOUGH!’’ and a new temple of winning baseball is built?

Of course, the odds are against it.

The odds are against everything with the Cubs.

But short of 10-cans-of-Old-Style numbness or well-reasoned despair, what else do Cub fans have left?

So dream. And maybe it isn’t too crazy a dream, at that.

But management must recognize this moment for what it is: failure. No scapegoating. Nobody out. Everybody in. Every single face covered with pie.

First off, there must be the acknowledgment that paying Zambrano $18 million a year to be the team ace was a dice roll that came up lower than snake eyes. Why? Because Zambrano and his childishness destroyed more than a season or two. His antics ruined the very atmosphere of winning.

And for a reason . Zambrano is

not a leader. Never was. Never will be. Never could have been. General manager Jim Hendry hoped. He prayed. And that’s why you see people with empty suitcases leaving Las Vegas by bus.

Big Z was the kind of hugely-talented, close-your-eyes-and-hope player who have dotted Cubs rosters for too long. Think Dave Kingman, Nomar Garciaparra, Corey Patterson, Milton Bradley, Alfonso Soriano.

They’re not all bad guys. They’re just not as advertised.

Cleaning house might help

And the last thing any team needs is for its players to be constantly looking over their shoulders wondering what’s wrong with somebody else.

The Cubs need to do something now. Right now. Plant the seed that becomes the sapling that becomes the oak.

It might be that everybody in the organization from top to bottom, president to ballboy, needs to be swept out. Maybe the Ricketts family should abdicate. You can’t have the second-highest payroll in the National League, be 16 games under .500 and not know that the problem is deeper than one sad, rich brat of a thrower.

Remember, the culture of Cubdom got the fragile-minded Zambrano as much as he got it.

Players such as left fielder Soriano and third baseman Aramis Ramirez are good, not great players, nor are they are leaders. Soriano has never come within a screwdriver, hammer, and pliers of being the game’s first ‘‘six-tool’’ player that former Cubs president John McDonough thought he could be. But he’s a decent guy, and he and Ramirez are not the probem. Nor are Ryan Dempster, Carlos Pena, and other underachievers.

They, again, can’t be asked to be what they are not.

And that would be history-changers. That must come from a whole team, a collective mind.

Mike Quade is the kind of enthusiastic, cheerful, respectful manager I would love to play for. But then I have no talent. And that’s why he will have to go, too.

Something odd happened at the end of last year, when Lou Piniella could no longer stomach managing the club and left to be with his mother in Florida. Zambrano came on and pitched well, Quade directed well, the team played well. And it was an illusion.

Why? Because the Cubs were out of the playoff race and the pressure was off.

You see, that’s what a new-minded Cubs franchise must be built to withstand — pressure. Sure, the Cubs can throw up the most wins in the NL (2008). And then they can get swept by an inferior team (Dodgers) in the first round of the playoffs.

That’s what pressure does.

And don’t say it’s anything else. Curses, cats, goats, cheese, whatever. Pressure is the word. Pressure is what Zambrano couldn’t take.

Suffered for too long

If you have followed the Cubs for nearly a half century as I have (ask my parents — I started suffering young), you have seen them go from ‘‘normal’’ ball club to failed contenders to lovable losers to contenders again to painful failures to contenders with expectations to anger-inducing frauds.

There are no more chuckles to being a Cubs fan. The hilarity died in the grandstand melee surrounding a clueless Steve Bartman eight years ago this October.

Maybe Wrigley itself must be closed for however long it takes to find the funds and rebuild it. Like Chicago after the fire.

Because think of it: Why would any player or manager come to this team?

Four obvious reasons: No one else wants you, no one else will pay you as much, you’re lazy, you’re dumb.

Or No. 5. You actually think you can change the culture of Cubdom.

That’s the spirit the Cubs need. But only from people who know what they’re getting into and are not deluded or fools.

Zambrano was a clown. Never again can his likes be tolerated on the Cubs. That is, if this is to be the moment of change.



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