Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lou's Crew: Respect the Game

I miss Lou Piniella as manager, but watching the degenerating clubhouse and bunch of guys that is the Chicago Cubs right now, I would hate to be a Cubs fan just about now. Lou has made a caricature of himself in a quest for the dubious record of "most ejected manager ever," and his "leadership" on this issue surely has something to do with the Cubs players recent chronic belligerence.

On the first of June, Carlos Zambrano and catcher Michael Barrett got into a fight in the dugout during an 8-5 drubbing by Atlanta, making the "friendly confines" a bit less so. Barrett required stitches after Zambrano attacked him, apparently frustrated that Barrett allowed a passed ball (but not blaming himself for his own truly sucktastic pitching effort, allowing Atlanta 13 hits and 2 walks with no strikeouts in 5 innings pitched).

Piniella's response to utterly losing control of his team? "These things shouldn't happen. Go fight the other team if you have to."

Subsequently, the Chicago series in Atlanta last weekend saw more fireworks as showboat Alfonso Soriano got hit in the back by Braves starter Tim Hudson one day after clubbing three home runs. The next day, on the 10th of June, Cubs starter Ted Lilly was ejected after hitting Braves shortstop Edgar Renteria with a pitch just ten pitches into the game. It looked innocent enough, and Renteria did not charge the mound, but the benches did empty in the tense environment, and Renteria did manage to smack Mike Fontenot (Cubs second baseman) in the face pretty hard when he arrived at second on a stolen base later in the first.

The point here is that it's apparently OK for Cubs pitchers to hit opposing batters up high (Renteria got beaned in the chin), but not the other way around. This afternoon, in the midst of the fourth inning of no-hit ball in a 0-0 tie in Wrigley, San Diego starter Chris Young rode a pitch up and in that hit first baseman Derrek Lee in the shoulder. The home plate umpire completely abdicated his responsibility here, paying no attention as Lee calmly strode out halfway between home and the mound (in the general direction of first, but NOT down the baseline), exchanged words with Young (who looked apologetic, but who MUST have said something inflammatory to Lee), then stopped and unleashed a huge punch at Young. Young swung back, and a bases-clearing standoff preceded ejections of Lee, Young, Cubs pitching coach Gerald Perry, and Padres pitcher Jake Peavy (whose comments in the paper this week about Soriano's showing up Padres pitchers by admiring one of his home runs surely made him no fans in Chicago).

I can't imagine any on-field behavior that could lower my respect for Derrek Lee more than this. What a buffoon, and a coward. Take your base, play the game. Hit a homer later to get revenge. Did you learn nothing from the immortal Robin Ventura-Nolan Ryan beatdown? Too many baseball players pay too little attention to history. Young, for all his control (this is but his 4th hit batsman in 2007), did not appear to be hitting Lee on purpose, and there's not really any good reason for him to have done so. But Lee instigated the comedic fight, full of swings and misses, and Soriano was clearly laughing about the situation immediately afterward. (Of course, it's hard to respect him much at all, but he's well paid for me not to respect him, so there you go.)

As it happens, I root for neither the Cubs nor the Padres, so I don't care too much about the outcome of this game. But what on Earth has happened to Lou Piniella to turn him into the kind of manager who inspires guys (like Derrek Lee, who once was someone worthy of respect) to be disrespectful to the game and their competitors? Why do you put up with a Soriano? Why can't you control fights within your own team?

Even the WGN announcing duo of Len Kasper and Bob Brenly seems to have bought into whatever story the Cubs are telling about this chronic chaos, as they narrated the fight and its aftermath by trying to blame the Padres for intentionally throwing at Lee, for placing blame (warranted, in this case) on the negligent home plate umpire, and for attempting to exonerate Lee for his actions by pointing out how emotional you get if you're hit by a high pitch--I'm sure that entered their dialogue a week ago in Atlanta, too. Not. I understand backing the home guys, but their verbal contortions to defend Lee's actions were repugnant.

The Cubs are out of control. They're in a weak division that they could still win, but I for one couldn't root for them at this point.

It's very sad, and I'm just glad that it's not happening in Seattle. We remember you fondly, Lou, but in large part it was because your teams USED to respect the game.

In relation to our suddenly struggling Mariners (hey, I thought that interleague play was supposed to spark a huge winning streak? j/k), is the Cubs' example of "fiery play" the kind of thing that Grover has had in mind as missing from the Mariners' dugout? Is that why Bavasi brought in supposed "clubhouse leaders" like Carl Everett and Jose Guillen, to get the team into fights and inspire them by disrespecting the game?

I'm all for a team of surly guys who don't get along but whose talent wins games. I am not at all defending the emphasis on "good guys" who appeal to a "family atmosphere" at the Safe. But there's definitely a line between "talented and surly" and "talented and disrespectful." Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano...Cubs fans can have 'em, if they're gonna cross that line repeatedly. Although since they're still 4 games under .500 despite spending several gajillion dollars on free agents in the offseason...well, I'm sorry Chicago fans. But your team is unlovable right now. I know and respect many Cubs fans, and there's plenty of wonderful tradition on the South Side.

But I'll keep the M's, thanks.


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