The problem isn't unreliable superstars; it's the lack of a left-handed batting-practice pitcher. Manager Dusty Baker has mentioned it a few times. But does that really matter?
"It matters," he said, "because you get to see them, especially on game days."
It's true that the Cubs can't hit lefties. They lost 8-0 on Tuesday to a Pittsburgh Pirates team that can't hit. And they managed only five hits against the lefty of the day, Zach Duke. It was the second time in three days that they had been shut out by a lefty. They now are hitting .192 against southpaws.
And if this lefty batting-practice thing is really an issue, then why don't the Cubs just go find someone? How hard can that be?
"It's hard to find someone who's off work, who doesn't have to work during the day," Baker said. "If we played night games, maybe they could come over after work."
It's always something with the Cubs, isn't it? The day games at Wrigley are making it hard to find a left-handed batting-practice pitcher.
to which greg couch sensibly asks:
The thing is, if this really matters, then why don't the Cubs have one? And if it doesn't matter, then why are they talking about it?
clearly it doesn't matter, and that's why the cubs don't bother to have a left-handed batting practice pitcher. what does matter is that the team is reliant on the likes of jacque jones, todd walker, ronny cedeno and jerry hairston, all four of whom are in the top seven on the team in at-bats vs left-handed pitching. if you play people who traditionally can't hit the pitching, you're going to have trouble scoring runs.
while clownish in his farce, that baker would refuse to address the issue head on and instead chooses to manufacture obvious and fantastic lies about the cubs situation says much about the kind of manager he is. baker has a long history of being a "players manager". but why it is that many players love to play for him often goes unexamined -- and this quote gives laser-like insight onto the core reason.
this page also a few days ago concerned itself with the travails of carlos zambrano, dusty baker was spinning a different yarn again to the reporters of the sun-times.
He yearns for the old Zambrano to return, the guy who lit a fire under himself with an unbridled temperament. To Baker, Zambrano isn't being natural by trying to act calm in stressful circumstances.
"Everybody has made him so conscious of being this new guy," Baker said. "This new guy ain't ... it's not himself. Everybody would like to have the old Z back, wouldn't they?
"Quite frankly, I wish the animated and demonstrative and angry Z returns. Because the new, calm Z ain't working."
this page has long disparaged baker as a poor tactician and inept strategist -- flaws that are plain to anyone who has watched him mindlessly double-switch this season or remembers his unpreparedness and consequent panic in the eighth inning of game 6 of the 2003 nlcs. but it has also noted, despite a reputation as a consummate "clubhouse" or "players" manager, just how damaging he can be in a clubhouse setting.
how is the first incident related to the second? it has been noted here that ballplayers are frequently, in our age, afforded an extended adolescence -- unaccountable to normal rules of discipline within civilized society, even to the point of being inordinately protected from felony law, by virtue of little more than their celebrity and the remnant victorian notion of the necessary animalistic qualities of a proper athlete.
dusty baker is exactly this sort of enabler as a manager -- and is in fact the example par excellence in baseball today.
in the first instance, baker deliberately manufactures an absurd lie of convenience to protect his players from the scrutiny of their talents, his general manager from the scrutiny of his intelligence in assembling them, and himself from the scrutiny of his use of them. this willfulness to be held materially unaccountable for the actions of those within the organization has echoes within every corporate hierarchy, from george bush and donald rumsfeld to the catholic church -- but this page submits that you, dear reader, would have to look long and far to find another example quite so brazen as andy macfail's cubs, who have become nothing short of pathological liars in their quest to sell ever more tickets.
but how the second instance is a product of the same mindset perhaps requires more explanation. baker here, in exhorting zambrano to re-empower his lawless adolescent nature, clearly devalues personal discipline as a vehicle to self-improvement. this writer cannot imagine why this should be so -- it seems self-evident that zambrano will have to learn how to exercize self-control in order to avoid damaging wild mood swings on the mound that lapse his concentration and lead to reckless, impetuous decisions such as trying to pick the opposing pitcher off third base.
but this should nonetheless be no surprise -- baker's teams in chicago have been notoriously lacking in self-restraint. some blamed bad seeds among the players -- but it seems here that the situation is more accurately depicted by saying that baker enabled his players to be broadly unaccountable for their lapses in discipline and civility, thereby encouraged childlike petulance, infighting, anger and violence. this culture of unaccountability which baker clearly fosters indulges players of their excesses -- often, as can perhaps best be illustrated through barry bonds, baker's longtime superstar in san francisco, to terribly destructive extremes in behavior.
this encouragement of unaccountable lawlessness is what underlies both baker's fabrications in protection of his corporation and his exhortations for degenerate emotionalism among his young star pitcher -- and the observation renders baker, the "players manager", as less a friendly guiding light than a breeder of willful malcontents who appreciate him for his powerlessness. he is in this analysis the consummate enabler, allowing and indeed proudly encouraging the beast within to run amok.
furthermore, baker's approach may go far in explaining his general preference for mature veterans. it is not difficult to imagine that baker is perplexed by young players who use the unlimited rope he perhaps unknowingly gives them to hang themselves -- perhaps korey patterson is the most recognizable recent example. patterson was by turns lost and petulant, needing and even seeking help and yet refusing it. the adolescent traits of this behavior should be obvious; equally obvious should be how baker encouraged patterson's confusion by refusing him sufficient direction or limitation.
on a team that has begun a youth movement, however accidental, this page can consider no manager more detrimental to the development of his young charges than this one. with the cubs already in fourth place despite their start, with three rookies in the rotation and struggling to score runs, perhaps a window is opening in which baker -- who remains without a contract following 2006 -- could be reasonably let go with minimal controversy.
for so long as youth remains a large part of this team's active roster, this page ardently hopes for his dismissal. it is one thing to consider that baker brings very little to the tactical and strategic table; it is quite another to apprehend that he may be undermining the cubs' young talent.