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Starlin Castro’s lounging is the lax straw for Cubs

StarlCastro (right) was seen slacking off job Sunday against Cardinals Aramis Ramirez let him get away with it.  |

Starlin Castro (right) was seen slacking off on the job Sunday against the Cardinals, and Aramis Ramirez let him get away with it. | Greg Fiume~Getty Images

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Updated: November 20, 2011 2:20AM



Cubs Culture.

It must be expunged and replaced.

It must be torched and buried.

It must be memory-holed, both past and present. Otherwise, there’s no future for this sinkhole of a club.

Imagine: Shortstop Starlin Castro, the Cubs’ emerging superstar, actually can play in a ‘‘Sunday Night Baseball’’ national telecast and not bother to face the plate while his own pitcher is pitching.

This happened.

It was worse. Throughout the top of the sixth inning Sunday night against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field, Castro looked like a kid who was chasing butterflies in his head.

Several times he stood straight up as Cubs pitcher James Russell began his delivery. Castro roamed around in the dirt, looked at the night sky, reached for sunflower seeds in his pocket even as a pitch was being thrown. He madly chewed and spat seed husks as though he were a hamster preparing for hibernation. He looked as ready to be a major star as a Little Leaguer counting clouds in deep right field.

That TV announcer Bobby Valentine picked up on the display — and ranted about its harmful effect on any team-building — is a good thing.

How can any major-leaguer care that little? What kind of teammate allows it? What kind of manager, for God’s sake?

And then we get even more interesting Cubs Culture insight.

Alou’s admission

We now have learned that after the disastrous sixth game of the National League Championship Series in 2003 — the ‘‘Bartman Game,’’ if you will — Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez, along with teammate Moises Alou, booked a flight home to the Dominican Republic for the day after Game 7. All the Cubs had to do was win Game 7, and they would have been in the World Series for the first time 58 years.

But as Alou told interviewer Alex Gibney for the upcoming ESPN documentary ‘‘Steve Bartman: Catching Hell’’: ‘‘I remember myself and Aramis booking a flight home. Even before Game 7. Just in case. But you know, that’s the thing that we would have done if we felt positive about the outcome of our next game. Because of all the things that happened before.’’

Alou’s statement doesn’t make much grammatical sense, but all those ‘‘things’’ apparently were Bartman’s innocent interference on a foul ball that shouldn’t have made any difference whether it was caught or not, and just the usual . . . Cubs stuff.

Get out of town early.

Leave fans and management wondering — just like Sammy Sosa and Carlos Zambrano did.

What is the deal here?

Manager Mike Quade, who said he ‘‘wasn’t looking’’ when Castro was acting the fool — even though the shortstop was almost in front of Quade and the behavior went on for a long time — benched Castro for Monday night’s game.

It was a ‘‘mental day off,’’ Quade said, when he actually meant it was a mental day on.

Attention deficit disorder was brought up, as if Quade’s a therapist. And maybe all Castro needs is some Ritalin or Adderall, so he can join the many other prescription-medicated ballplayers who no longer are allowed to gobble illicit ‘‘greenies,’’ like guys did back in the day.

Or maybe Castro just needs to be told.

The kid is just that, a kid. He’s 21, and he’s amazing. But he’s all over the place and basically rudderless.

He not only leads the league in hits, he also leads it in errors.

If Cubs Culture gets him, he’ll become a secret loser who might put up All-Star offensive numbers but never will learn how to win.

Ramirez in the clouds, too

Ramirez, who seems to be the master of putting up huge stats when things don’t matter, hasn’t helped. How — tell me how — can a third baseman play a few yards from the shortstop and not tell him to quit jacking around and get your damn mind on the game, even if we’re so far out of the race it’s pitiful?

Of course, there have been apologies all around. And it’s possible Castro simply is learning the game in public and will, as he promised, never repeat such disrespect and vapor-headedness.

He joined the Cubs’ organization at just 17, and who knows what a college education or even junior-college stint might have done for him?

People might say there’s a Latin culture that’s not intense, almost non-caring. But there are Hall of Famers of Latin descent who were as fierce and focused as lions.

There are answers for this 103 years of losing everywhere. And there is a bit of truth in all of those answers, but not one thing alone.

As Alou says in the film regarding the Cubs’ future, ‘‘We had a bad feeling about it.’’

That must end.

And it has to start now.



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