our 1060west guru corncobdress has already posted a solid recounting of opening day, but i would, if i might, and in spite of the much-needed window of responsible optimism that opens every opening week, digress on carlos zambrano's ejection for a moment.
many will remember last year's cub team as woefully out of control on the field. zambrano's highwire act was just one facet of the team's three-ring circus. kerry wood frequently could not be bothered to contain his disgust, either at the umpire or himself -- and when he wasn't, he was knocking down the other pitcher. moises alou (who was, after all, a 37-year-old man) slammed his bat down on the plate after what seemed like every called strike -- i know toddlers who treat their spoon that way. kyle farnsworth put himself on the DL with a temper tantrum. boomboxes were smashed.
worst of all, desensitized cub fans fed the fire -- cheering wildly at every confrontation, outburst and loss of respect for the game. the childishness that resides deep within us all was brought to the fore.
ultimately, the cubs could be said to have paid a high karmic price for all the insolence. when michael barrett went charging into the astro dugout to defend a mouthy wood on august 22, even the quiet players had apparently lost their senses -- and justice was served from beyond the misty mountains (or wherever your god resides) as the astros blistered the track the rest of the way and put the cubs into third and a lay-z-boy for the winter.
one of the best blog posts i read from last season was this insight from (gasp) redbird nation's brian gunn. if you've ever been to a game in saint louis, things are different there -- and gunn makes the depth of the contrast clear.
how is this pertinent? i think many cub fans believe the company line that last season's clubhouse tension spilled onto the field and was consequent of one player -- sammy sosa. and now, his spell lifted, the cubs will be not only model citizens but winners too. don't believe it. zambrano's opening day arrogance should be a clear indicator that little has changed about this team's self-discipline and professionalism. the man who would have to go in order for that to change isn't sammy -- it's dusty.
dusty is known as one of the great players managers. many think that a compliment -- and on some level, it is. however, dusty is a players manager largely because he exerts virtually no control over his team's character and behavior, thereby avoiding conflict and deferring responsibility. this seems a sound strategy to some -- but i submit that last year is evidence enough that unleashing the prima donnas of a major league clubhouse on their own recognizance is an exercise in self-destruction, both on the field and in the clubhouse. it makes for weak people and weak teams. it is the antithesis of toughness and discipline. and it will tell -- again -- when push comes to shove.