Commentary

Zambrano's personality brings disorder

Suspended Cubs starter keeps hurting his team, himself, with volatile temper

Updated: June 25, 2010, 11:37 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Of all the injuries, maladies and mental hurdles Carlos Zambrano has faced in his career, the one that has brought him down, maybe for good in a Cubs uniform, is the overarching disorder he lives with every day.

Zambrano, the one-time ace and sometimes albatross of the Cubs, is out indefinitely with a raging case of being Carlos Zambrano.

It's an old injury everyone is sick of talking about, like your grandfather's trick knee from the war.

Every year, Carlos Zambrano says he's a new man, and every year, he has an outbreak of Carlos Zambrano. He's the living embodiment of his organization's woebegone history and a walking, pouting no-trade clause.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Zambrano
AP Photo/Jim PrischingCubs starter Carlos Zambrano was lifted from Friday's game after a first-inning dugout tirade.

"It becomes a bit of a tired act," said general manager Jim Hendry, who announced he suspended Zambrano indefinitely after the Cubs' 6-0 loss to the White Sox on Friday afternoon.

Typically contrite after one of his regular outbursts (which include decking Michael Barrett in the dugout and clubhouse in 2007), Zambrano was sent home from U.S. Cellular Field on Friday after a first-inning outburst directed at his defense, particularly Derrek Lee. Before he left, he reportedly yelled at the local NBC affiliate, which was filming him leaving the visitors' parking lot.

"We had a very short conversation," Hendry said. "There wasn't a lot of time for apologies."

Normally, you could excuse an outburst like that, given the pressures facing any player vying for the prestigious, legacy-building BP Cup. But with a repeat offender like Zambrano, even anger management courses won't do it.

"We've been through that with him before," Hendry said. "Good Teammate 101 would come before that."

It's a shame Zambrano's tantrum took center stage, because the real story of the game was the White Sox's 10-game winning streak and the Cubs' continued free fall. Carlos Quentin hit a three-run homer in the four-run first inning and Jake Peavy threw seven scoreless innings as the red-hot White Sox moved four games over .500. Conversely, the Cubs are 32-41 and going nowhere fast.

"We'll definitely stick together," Lee said. "Sometimes it's not easy. Right now, it's not an easy time. But you stick together, stay positive and fight through."

Lee apparently ignited Zambrano's ire, missing Juan Pierre's leadoff double down the line, which started the four-run first. Aramis Ramirez and Mike Fontenot both missed grounders, too. Manager Lou Piniella said Lee was positioned to field a Pierre bunt.

But it's not like Zambrano was thinking rationally. The apoplectic ace took Lee's throw to first for the final out of the first, stomping on the bag with visible objection. He walked down the steps yelling and gesticulating, stomping around before doubling back to confront Lee.

Piniella, the coaches and Geovany Soto helped separate Zambrano from Lee, who had a few things to say that would shame an easily offended lip reader. Lee refused to talk about it after the game.

"[Zambrano] was upset that some of our players didn't dive for those balls," Piniella said. "Let me tell you, a few of those balls were hit really hard. One was in the seats with two strikes. Regardless, he was ranting and raving out of control. ... It was embarrassing."

Zambrano stewed in the dugout until Tom Gorzelanny came in from the bullpen to replace him. Piniella said he sent him home to prevent any clubhouse incidents. Piniella hasn't had to send a player home since, well, the last time the Cubs visited U.S. Cellular Field, when he yelled at Milton Bradley after the hitter threw a tantrum of his own.

"Boy, every time we come here," Piniella said, eliciting the only laughs of his postgame news conference.

Zambrano has gotten more leeway than most because he is, by nature, a bit of a loose cannon and the case has been made that emotion fuels his pitching. The club has gotten criticism for letting him run amok, although Hendry said that's not the case.

"If people think he hasn't been spoken to by Lou and his staff or the general manager before, and things have been construed as being let slide by, that's not true," he said. "You have every right to say it's a reoccurring situation, and I guess every time it reoccurs, it's a little bit more disappointing."

Hendry, the St. Jude of no-trade clauses, once joked that his tombstone would read: He signed Milton Bradley to a $30 million deal. Maybe that will be amended to: He gave Carlos Zambrano a no-trade and a $91.5 million deal.

Hendry's strongest comments might have been pointing out the right-hander's shortcomings, in regards to earlier in the season, when the team sent Zambrano to the bullpen after his first four starts when Ted Lilly came off the disabled list. At $17.875 million, Zambrano was a highly paid reliever.

"He hasn't been up to the standards that he was at before for two years," Hendry said. "If you look at his last 50 starts, he probably ranks in the bottom third in the National League of overall performance. I'm not saying that critically. It's not something I'm tying in with today, but that's part of the decision that was criticized at the time, like we were taking our ace out of the rotation."

The erstwhile ace is out of the rotation now, but will he wear a Cubs uniform again?

With a no-trade clause, a boatload of money due to him, a so-so reputation and declining statistics, not to mention skills, I wouldn't count on someone taking Zambrano off the Cubs' hands, aside from Orioles GM/collector of lost Cubs Andy MacPhail.

Ozzie Guillen, a longtime friend of Zambrano, said this will blow over, although he said that before he knew Zambrano was suspended. Guillen told reporters before the game that he had personally counseled Zambrano when he was sent to the bullpen.

"I know in a couple of days it will be fine," Guillen said. "Carlos will be out there, and Derrek Lee will be behind him and whatever happened there. A lot of people will take this over the top, but over the years when you play 162 games and you're not playing well, stuff goes that way."

While any suspension has to be audited by Major League Baseball and the players' association, Hendry said he's pushing for "stringent discipline." When asked whether Zambrano would ever wear a Cubs uniform again, Piniella said that's "not my decision." Hendry didn't have any answers.

Until then, Zambrano has some time off. Guillen and his family had plans to dine with Zambrano at the tony Wit Hotel, according to the Sox skipper and his son Oney's Twitter account.

"He got a lot of time to make the reservation," Guillen said.

Eat up and drink up, Carlos. Restaurants stay open late in Chicago, but it's just about last call on the Cubs' season.

Jon Greenberg is an ESPNChicago.com columnist.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE MLB HEADLINES