Monday, January 31, 2005


why is barry rozner perhaps the best columnist in town?

because he tells it like it is:

They didn't have the guts to merely trade Sosa, so first they had to humiliate him, strip him of what dignity he had left and shove it down the throats of every kid who worshipped No. 21.

They couldn't let him leave a hero because they didn't want the heat, so the Cubs tried to make sure Sosa left here with a reputation as the worst person, teammate and baseball player the North Side has ever known.
on the whole, it seems to his humble observer that "sammy's saga in chi-caga" is yet another exercise in the artificial life of celebrity. you aren't who they say you are when the raise you up and seat you upon the pedestal -- and you aren't who they say you are when they smash the pedestal and lay you low. the extent to which any of us believe in the illusion -- and this goes triple for sammy himself -- we are fools to the game (and i don't mean baseball).

for better or worse, however, we are human -- and being human, we go weak in the knees for heroes with a little skillful marketing, the more outrageous and bombastic the better:

The same critics quick to rip Andre Dawson or Ryne Sandberg for their quiet professionalism, or happy to brag they'd never vote Ron Santo to the Hall of Fame couldn't wait to shamelessly promote Sosa as the savior of the sport and a grand human being because he could hit the ball a long way.

He shook writers' hands and smiled, and they looked the other way as he grew exponentially each winter.

But now that public sentiment has turned, thanks to the Cubs, the critics have also abandoned Sosa and joined the pariah parade.

They have all helped sell it to you, and by the Convention the Cubs knew it. They took the ballroom's temperature and realized 100 days of trashing the right fielder had worked, and they could make their trade - albeit 10 years too late.

well -- five years too late, by my clock. i still cannot understand why virtually any player is allowed by a major-league team to become a 10-and-5 guy.

but informed fans should stand up to call this travesty by its rightful name. as rozner points out, the cubs have made their millions on sammy -- they may not even care if they get a particularly fair deal in pushing him out of town because they've already made their mint. protecting the franchise from lasting public relations damage that could detract from ticket sales is what they care about.

so they butcher sammy on the way out the door, to ensure the club takes what appears to be (to the credulous, anyway) the moral high ground. cubs good, sammy bad, buy your season tickets now.

but a consequence of this strategy is that the club is backed into a corner -- teams around the league understand what the cubs are doing when they do this. the cubs, for the sake of public relations protection, talk themselves into being a motivated seller. the upshot is that you send an uberpopular 40-homer corner outfielder away for a utility player and $4.5mm in 2005 salary clearance (after sending $10mm to baltimore and paying hairston his $2.5mm -- not to mention footing the $4.5mm 2006 buyout fee).

deals like this protect the cubs' marketability and public image in the eyes of the vast majority of the fans -- at the expense of the quality of the team on the field. and i can't help but think that such decisions are the product of boardroom consensus thinking which, though they may have the long-term profitability of the club in mind, demonstrate the weakness of corporate ownership in winning.

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