General

Cubs’ Zambrano predicament was a real ‘Jim Dandy’

Today’s column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

Cubs’ Zambrano predicament was a real ‘Jim Dandy’

The WISCH LIST

Aug. 20, 2011

They’ve long been known as the Lovable Losers.

But the Chicago Cubs don’t love losing quite as much as you might think.

For example, since just 1980, 28 Major League Baseball teams have lost at least 100 games in a season. The Kansas City Royals alone have done it four times. The Tampa Bay Rays have done it three. But, somewhat remarkably, the Chicago Cubs haven’t turned that ignominious trick in 45 years.

Yes, not since 1966, when the team went 59-103, have the Cubs dropped at least 100 out of 162. A couple of weeks ago, when they were losing 10 of 15 following the All-Star Break, it looked like they just might make it. But, now, the Cubs are on pace to lose only about 90 or so, putting the century mark just about out of reach.

(Hold your applause.)

That said, considering their rampant organizational chaos and relentless on-field ineptness, I still think this might be the worst Cubs team of all-time – even if they don’t lose 100.

After all, as a longtime Chicago baseball scribe pointed out to me late last month, “That ’66 team had (Don) Kessinger, (Glenn) Beckert, (Billy) Williams, (Ron) Santo, (Ernie) Banks, (Randy) Hundley, (Fergie) Jenkins, (Ken) Holtzman – and even (HOF pitcher) Robin Roberts. And (manager) Leo Durocher.

“This Cubs team has … Blake DeWitt.”

And, for that, we can thank general manager Jim Hendry.

You might recall that just three years ago, the Cubs almost won 100 games (for the first time since 1935) when they went 97-64 and reached the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Give Hendry all the credit in the world for building that ballclub (even if it again fell short of the World Series). But give him all the blame for what’s happened since, as well.

Last weekend, after Carlos Zambrano returned to his patented bad boy behavior by getting ejected in Atlanta, clearing out his locker and even claiming he was retiring from baseball, Hendry placed the perennial hothead on the 30-day disqualified list. That means Big Z, who now says he doesn’t want to retire, will go without pay and won’t be allowed to be with the team through Sept. 11.

“This was the most stringent penalty that our club could inflict without a release,” Hendry said. “There’s not much worse than running out on your teammates in the middle of a ballgame, unpacking your locker, announcing your retirement. I think that is a tremendous problem with the other 24 guys, and something we as an organization could not tolerate.”

But the organization simply could not tolerate Hendry any longer, either, and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts proved that on Friday when he dismissed his GM. Because, this whole Zambrano debacle isn’t truly about Carlos. Not in the grand scheme of things. It really was about Jim.

After all, Hendry is the guy who signed Zambrano to a $91.5 million deal in 2007. And he’s the guy who signed Milton Bradley to a $30 million deal in 2009. And the guy who signed Kosuke Fukudome to a $48 million deal in 2008. And the guy who signed Alfonso Soriano to a $136 million deal in 2006.

He’s also the guy who gave Zambrano, Soriano and Aramis Ramirez full no-trade clauses. Need I go on?

What all of that adds up to is that there was no excuse for Hendry to return in 2012. Just like there’s no excuse for Zambrano to be back, either. Quite simply, this winter, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts needs to give his franchise the kind of housecleaning that Zambrano already gave his locker.

He’s off to a good start by making sure that Jim Hendry has now “retired” as GM of the Cubs.