Commentary

Time for Big Z to point finger at himself

Zambrano needs to understand that much responsibility comes with a $91.5 million deal

Originally Published: June 28, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Under the first-base side of Wrigley Field, in a depressing, windowless, white cinder block room, where cement stairs protrude from the ceiling like stalactites, Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry spoke the untruest words of all.

"We do have a conclusion to the Carlos Zambrano situation from Friday," Hendry said shortly before Monday evening's game with the Pirates.

Then Hendry outlined the parameters of the latest -- and certainly the last -- attempt to rehabilitate the baseball enigma that is 29-year-old Zambrano. The short version: He will be evaluated Wednesday by two doctors in New York; a treatment program will be prescribed; and his return from the Major League Baseball restricted list, contingent on his full completion of the program, will come no sooner than after the July 12-14 All-Star break.

[+] EnlargeLee/Piniella
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCarlos Zambrano questioned Derrek Lee's effort, an accusation that is simply ludicrous given that Lee is the consummate pro.

But Hendry, who has run out of last straws for the pitcher he entrusted with FM station numbers ($91.5 million on the contract dial), had it wrong in his opening statement. Monday's announcement isn't the conclusion of the so-called Zambrano Situation, it is the beginning. The beginning of presumed anger-management/behavioral treatment. The beginning, if all goes well, of Zambrano's taking ownership of his crippling outbursts. And, if all doesn't go well, the beginning of the end.

Zambrano needs professional help. You know it. The Cubs know it. Zambrano knows it. His legendary meltdowns were great theater years ago. But then he pummeled a teammate in the clubhouse in 2007. And got suspended six games for berating umpires and going berserk in the dugout in 2009. And on Friday, in the worst in a long conga line of incidents in which Zambrano unfairly shows up his teammates, he blamed, among others, first baseman Derrek Lee -- the old-school pro's pro who was playing, without complaint, with a bad back -- of not trying hard enough on a ball down the line.

First of all, accusing Lee and his Gold Glove defense of not trying hard enough is like accusing White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of not talking enough. It makes no sense. Then again, neither has Zambrano -- for a long time.

This time, Zambrano's evaluation and subsequent treatment is a prerequisite for any possible return to the Cubs. But according to sources familiar with the situation, Zambrano had previously been encouraged by the team to seek therapy for his anger issues. To what extent he responded to those requests is unknown.

Hendry spoke with Zambrano on Monday afternoon, then updated the Cubs players later in the day. Forty-eight hours of negotiations between player, agent, team, union and league produced this arrangement.

"There's a lot of things I'd rather keep to us," Hendry said. "We've obviously had a lot of transgressions in the past with Carlos. So I think we all agree that it's probably time that he went and got help and then maybe address the apologies [to the team] later, instead of right afterwards. I think it's not time for words a few days after the fact, but some actions. So hopefully he goes and gets the help he needs and can rectify some of his actions with his teammates and be able to move forward after the break."

Dr. Anne Malec, a clinical psychologist and licensed family and marriage therapist for the Chicago Center For Family Health, has seen the footage of Zambrano's most recent meltdown moment. She couldn't miss it; the replay runs more than "Seinfeld."

I saw him as having a temper tantrum. That's pretty much what it looked like.

-- Dr. Anne Malec, clinical psychologist

"I had a reaction," said Malec, who emphasized that she was speaking in general terms about Zambrano. "I saw him as having a temper tantrum. That's pretty much what it looked like."

So, in general terms, I asked Malec how a therapist might approach the situation.

"If we're looking at the Cubs as a large family system where one of the members is operating in a way that's harmful to the other members, as well as himself, I would do simple things," she said. "I'd want to talk to the parents individually -- the managers and coaches -- and make sure they're on the same page dealing with him. I'd also like to have family therapy where the whole family [the team] comes in and talks about how the behavior of one family member affects everyone else. And I would also want to talk to the disruptive individual alone."

Disruptive is a nice way to put it. I'd go with destructive.

Zambrano is Milton Bradley to the fourth power. Unless Cubs ownership is willing to eat a substantial part of the remaining $45 million on Zambrano's contract, the pitcher is virtually untradable. He has alienated some of his teammates and betrayed those in management who gave him generational wealth. There are those in the organization who would prefer he play elsewhere.

The Philadelphia Phillies' Roy Halladay works harder with each new contract. Zambrano counts the days until he can live off his unearned millions in his native Venezuela.

"I know what it is in a sense, but you can't take it out on teammates," said Ron Santo, the legendary Cubs star and broadcaster who is celebrating his 50th year with the organization. "You can't do what he did. That is unbelievable. … I think he's lost some confidence in himself. Two, three years ago, he was intimidating. You put Zambrano's name up there and he was intimidating, and rightly so. But now he's out there, he doesn't have that presence, he doesn't have that confidence. That's what he has to get back."

First, he has to become whole again. As Santo said, the 2010 baseball version of Zambrano is barely related to the Zambrano of 2008 and before.

Zambrano is a flawed man -- we're all flawed -- but Zambrano's disturbing actions off the mound have lapped anything he's done on it. This 2010 version is a selfish, childish, finger-pointing multimillionaire who forgot that a $91.5 million contract comes with accountability Velcro'd to the documents.

"I'm a very hopeful type of therapist," Malec said. "I tend to think if he's willing to put in the work that it's going to take that, yes, he can improve. He needs to show a real determined effort to want to make things better. And again, that only comes with time and true behavior, especially when there's been this breach of trust."

Big Z. Big breach. In the coming weeks, Zambrano can close it or widen it. After all, there is only one finger left to point.

At himself.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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