Carlos Zambrano’s off to land of Oz
By Rick Telander email@example.com January 4, 2012 9:48PM
5-27-09 Cubs defeat Pirate......Cub pitcher Carlos Zambrano "tosses out" home plate ump Mark Calson. Manager Lou Piniella smiles in the background......Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Updated: February 6, 2012 9:42AM
Buh-bye, Big Z!
Don’t let the Cubbie door hit you on the rump on the way out!
Yes, Carlos Zambrano, the talented, troubled, 30-year-old right-handed Venezuelan pitcher — an employee in the Cubs organization since he was a lad of 17 — has finally been sent off to the mothership, into the welcoming arms of half-crazy new Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen.
That the Cubs will eat $15 million of Z’s $18 million contract for 2012 shows how badly new management wanted the clown show out of Wrigleyville.
In return, they got young Marlins right-hander Chris Volstad, a guy who went 5-13 last season. They could have gotten a tree-ripened coconut, for all the difference it made.
When Cubs president Theo Epstein met with a ‘‘contrite’’ Zambrano at a restaurant near Wrigley Field in November, the new chief briefly pondered keeping the water-cooler-smashing, ‘‘I’m cured,’’ ‘‘I’m retired,’’ ‘‘We stinks,’’ fist-wielding, ever-repentant nutjob.
It was a ‘‘trust-but-verify situation,’’ Epstein said, whatever that means.
More tellingly, he added, ‘‘So we’re not welcoming him back unconditionally at all. But we’re going to give him the right to earn his way back.’’
It was kind of like frisking a zany meathead before letting him into the foyer. This explosive goofball was quickly escorted back onto the street.
No way is he ‘cured’
Zambrano may have a bunch of wins left in him, but it’s for sure he’s got even more meltdowns. For baseball precedent, see Albert Belle, Milton Bradley, et al.
Epstein and underlings swiftly figured this out. Epstein dealt with wacky wonder Manny Ramirez during his Red Sox days, and that worked as long as Manny was just Manny, hitting home runs and merely forgetting how many outs there were. But Ramirez did not destroy the confidence of his club. He simply lived in his own world, one that intersected with reality only when he was at the plate or meeting with his steroid supplier.
That this dumping will help Cubs morale is unquestioned. How it adds talent is not so clear. Volstad?
But we also must consider the other side of the deal: the Z’s — Big and Little — have finally come together in the way two DNA-related amoebas will undulate through a teeming swamp and finally conjoin and absorb one another.
If nothing else, this should be fun for South Beach, huh?
Guillen is the former South Side guy who was always there to comfort Zambrano when he blew up something on the North Side.
When Big Z tried to go after the Cubs’ gentle-souled Derrek Lee in a 2010 dugout dustup, Li’l Z was there to take the misunderstood pitcher to a swank Chicago restaurant that night for dinner.
When Big Z said he was retiring and left the Cubs before the end of a game last August, who was there for him?
‘‘[Guillen] was one of the people that was texting me that night when everybody in the news was saying I was retiring,’’ the disheartened and saddened Zambrano said then.
Li’l Z and Big Z were meant for each other. Not only are they countrymen who speak the same first language and understand the same culture, but they may actually have the same wiring.
We know Guillen as the master of the F-bomb, the defensive tirade, the slur, the nothing-is-off-limits talk-a-thon, the bizarre and inconsequential threatening of anybody who crosses his family or its tweets.
He’s the guy who said of the Sox’ 2005 World Series championship, ‘‘I work in this job for money. I don’t work for nothing. Money. That’s it. The ring? [Bleep] the ring.’’ He’s the guy who threatened to ‘‘rip’’ out Bobby Jenks’ throat, who said of Zambrano’s declaration that he was retiring, ‘‘I don’t think he said anything bad.’’
Marlins might just reign again
Sometimes Guillen can seem more like a Tony Montana impersonator than a big-league manager, but he is no dummy. He did win the only World Series in this city in the last 97 years. And the Marlins, ever cheap, have acquired stars like Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell, and now have a payroll nudging $110 million, almost three times the payrolls they boasted when they won their two World Series.
Imagine, the Marlins have two championships in the last 14 years. The Cubs have . . .
Which raises the thought: What if L’il Z and Big Z click? What if Big Z calms and simply mows down opponents?
What if the Marlins eliminate the Cubs in the playoffs the way they did, tragically, in 2003?
Then we build Ozzie a statue, right? Because he’s a miracle worker.