Wednesday, May 17, 2006

the arm of incompetence

the chicago tribune yesterday ran a pathetic "interview" of softball questions put to cubs general manager jim hendry. it is, if nothing else, a promising reminder that fan disgust can still bring cubs management out of hiding, even if only to remain behind the proverbial bulletproof glass provided by the tribune. it reminded this page of nothing so much as the hand-selected audiences of ardent supporters that major national politicians now feel it right and appropriate to stand before, rather than exposing themselves to the full brunt of their own folly by taking actual questions from actual interviewers.

but the answers offered nonetheless paint a disturbing picture of denial and incompetence. surely, there are some things hendry may believe that he can not say publicly. but it provides this page no solace to see comments such as these emerge in print.

We've tried to [trade]. You can't force things. We're always trying to be aggressive in the trade market. At the same time, it's awful hard to pry good players away from other clubs.

It's easy to say we should go out and get somebody. But you're not going to get a better hitter to play first base than Todd Walker while Derrek Lee is out.

put aside for a moment the fact that it is not walker but jerry hairston and neifi perez that have replaced lee in the lineup, and that bettering them is not difficult -- it seems stunning and yet unsurprising here that hendry does not yet grasp the elemental fact that the loss of lee and mark prior is not the source of this team's problems. even when it was earlier blundering into wins, it was nonetheless blundering luckily -- ranking in the lowest quartile of the nl in obp and slugging -- whereupon this page noted, "when these underlying factors begin to express themselves more forcefully in the fullness of time, such efficient offensive outbursts are likely to become far more rare and the rate of scoring for the club significantly decrease."

oh, how they have! and yet, the atrociously misconceived offense has been equally matched by generally terrible pitching, ranking 13th in the league in era, revolving around a simply insufficient starting staff (14th with a 4.99 era) framed around the likes of glendon rusch and a bullpen that is precious little improvement over last year's dismal gang (9th with a 4.23 era).

this team needed an inspired major overhaul in this last offseason and did not get even a competent one. the lack of starting pitching was apparent early on, and hendry did nothing to address it. the insufficient depth of the bullpen was also plain, and yet hendry stopped at acquiring bob howry and scott eyre to replace latroy hawkins and mike remlinger -- leaving dusty baker in a situation where he would be compelled to throw firestarters like michael wuertz and roberto novoa in critical innings. and it was no trick to foresee a mediocre offense in the offing -- even with lee, this club was only marginally improved on a team that ranked 9th in runs scored in 2005. with the aid of one injury and a couple laggard performances -- de rigeuer for a standard-issue baseball season -- the club has quickly become the most inept offense in the major leagues to date, averaging just 3.76 runs a game.

the moves hendry is finding so hard to make in may would have been much easier to conclude on much grander scale in november, alas -- and to much greater effect, for they would have come when 2006 was still able to be saved. it seems that hendry still has little conception of just how inadequate a team he fielded, using injury as a rationalization for his own failings.

We're only 37 games into it and obviously we're having a stretch I never saw coming. No one likes where we're at. But I'm still optimistic we'll be much better. The Houston Astros were 15-30 at one point [in 2004] and certainly were in worse shape than we're in now and made it to the postseason that year ... and were in the World Series the next. I'm still optimistic.

the fact that hendry feels is necessary to repeatedly compare his team's situation to one of the great comebacks of the last century speaks volumes about how dire the cubs situation really is. this page has, of course, roundly debunked the example by simply providing appropriate context -- it is a case of the exception proving the rule.

the horrible truth is that this cub team would now have to go 65-59 (.524) just to break even on the year; and to win 90 games -- a total unlikely to be enough to win the national league wildcard, which has been taken with 90 or fewer wins in just three of the last ten seasons -- it would have to play out the string to the tune of 74-50, or .597 baseball for four and a half months. this is clearly all but impossible for this team -- and yet hendry professes to "be optimistic".

this seems here to be yet another iteration of the stupidity of useless hope -- the very same which had kerry wood, in need of shoulder surgery, pitching out of the cub bullpen in august of last year when he could have been recovering in order to be ready for the start of this year. instead, he makes his debut for the 2006 cubs tomorrow -- with the season already lost, thanks in part ot his absence. while the rational hopeful would encourage the team to start doing what it can to make 2007 more successful than this lost season, the stupid hopeful will continue to wish for miracle turnarounds -- and wastefully expend valuable resources in the pursuit of idle fantasy.

this writer will give you one guess as to which manner of the hopeful jim hendry would hand-select for his audience. and yet, for this travesty, he is granted a contract extension. as an insult to fans, few things could be more egregious -- but what is proves beyond question is that hendry is merely the arm of a malevolent incompetence that reaches further into the hierarchy of the tribune company.

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