Friday, April 21, 2006

the fault, dear brutus

the heart-rending poetic irony of the loss of derrek lee at the hands of rafael furcal was missed by very few as the news of lee's injury spread throughout cubdom. the one that got away making a mince of the one that didn't and the cubs' young season to boot -- all upon the very day on which the previous year took a similarly disastrous turn... of such improbable twists of the knife of fate are epics written, and it takes a rationalist indeed not to see malevolent stars crossing this franchise yet again.

in the aftermath of the revolting news, as many fans try to come to grips with this new certainty, the tribune is already crafting a galaxy of such excuses in which to hide from the failures of this and every year.

(general manager jim) Hendry has seen his best-laid plans get waylaid in stunning fashion for three years in a row.

Lee's injury came only eight days after he signed a five-year, $65 million contract extension. Coincidentally, Kerry Wood suffered a triceps injury at Dodger Stadium on May 11, 2004, after signing a three-year, $32 million extension in spring training. Wood missed the next two months of the '04 season and has made only 36 starts since that day in Los Angeles nearly two years ago.

... With Wood and Mark Prior already rehabbing from shoulder injuries, the Cubs are having recurring nightmares of '05, when Wood, Mark Prior and Nomar Garciaparra all went down with serious injuries, damaging their chances of contending from the outset of the season.

however, what is surely just as true is that the cubs have long suffered for a lack of quality in construction which makes injury a ready excuse for collapse. good teams can and do work through this kind of thing -- does anyone remember the cardinals losing scott rolen, reggie sanders and larry walker all for more than half of last year? and winning 100 games anyway? does it seem so much to ask the cubs to be a team that could win 85 in spite of lee's loss?

but this team is now in a gravely serious bind because -- though its bench is improved -- its starting lineup was never strong enough to begin with.

losing the likes of lee and prior wouldn't be so devastating if brian giles or milton bradley were in right -- and/or rafael furcal, miguel tejada or julio lugo were at short -- and/or kevin millwood were in the rotation. losing rolen, walker and sanders didn't stab the cardinals fatally because they also had albert pujols and jim edmonds, and ended by scoring 805 runs anyway.

walt jocketty had also stocked their bench with reasonably high-quality backups like so taguchi and hector luna. this is where john mabry and jerry hairston come in -- the cub bench is better this year than last. give credit to hendry this year for replacing useless parts like macias with modestly useful parts like mabry.

it is important to say -- all is not lost. there is of course the chance of something improbable yet, something unexpected, and to watch this wounded team now make its way over the next month or two will be an exercize in strangely invested hope.

but when gadflys like this page were harping on and on about how the cubs needed to do more, to get stronger last offseason -- this is what they were talking about. teams rarely survive a year intact; one has to plan on winning without your best players. the cubs just aren't in that position, and this writer hopes that some who looked askance of calls for more depth of quality rather than quietly pocketing the excess now at least understand why those calls were being made -- and what a failure of general management those unheeded calls now represent.

shakespeare put into the mouth of cassius those words which best dispel the sorry notions of maliced fate, unkind astrology and goat-borne curses that delude us from our mortal reality of self-determination.

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

and so it is again with these cubs under the tutelage of andy macfail, that they should peep about like mice while others bestride the narrow world.

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