Commentary

Carlos Zambrano and the blame game

Cubs starter will point the finger at anyone and everyone, but never, ever at himself

Originally Published: June 5, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

What do Carlos Zambrano and his bat have in common? They both snapped.

You could see this latest meltdown -- one in a lonnnnnnng line of nut-job moments by the Chicago Cubs starter -- coming for days. And after what he said about his teammates Sunday, Cubs management ought to suspend him for days, weeks, months or, in a perfect world, the remainder of the season.

On Tuesday an angry Zambrano (is there any other kind?) broke a bat over his knee after striking out in a game against the Houston Astros. Zambrano is a good-hitting pitcher (a career .240 average), but his bat-breaking antics showed up Astros starter Jordan Lyles and caused Cubs manager Mike Quade to turn away in embarrassment. Adding to the fun: Closer Carlos Marmol blew a ninth-inning lead and cost Zambrano and the Cubs a victory.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Zambrano
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastLast week, Carlos Zambrano directed his anger at a bat. On Sunday, he directed it at his teammates.

Flash forward to Sunday in St. Louis. Zambrano, the only Cubs starter with a winning record, left the game after seven innings with another lead, only to see the Cardinals tie it in the bottom of the ninth and win it in the 10th.

Once again it was Marmol who blew the save, this time shaking off catcher Koyie Hill's sign for a fastball in favor of his go-to pitch, a slider. Former Cub Ryan Theriot drilled it for a run-scoring double. The next inning, Pujols crunched a dinger off Rodrigo Lopez.

Afterward, the verbal grenade that is Zambrano exploded in the clubhouse, taking Marmol and the rest of the Cubs with him.

"The problem wasn't Pujols," said Zambrano, who spoke in a loud voice and kept looking at Marmol's locker. "The problem was [the pitch to Theriot]."

But he wasn't done, of course. Nobody points a finger better than Zambrano.

"We should know better than this," he told reporters. "We play like a Triple-A team. This is embarrassing. Embarrassing for the team and the owners. Embarrassing for the fans. Embarrassed -- that's the word for this team.

"We should know better than what we [did] on the field. We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter. We should know that as a team. We should play better here. We stink.

"That's all I've got to say."

What a hypocrite. Zambrano leads the Cubs, and maybe the majors, in tantrums, dugout confrontations, clubhouse fistfights, Gatorade cooler smashings, bat breakings, anger management therapy and calling out teammates in public. During his career, he has been placed on the major league suspended list three times and the restricted list once. He has won a grand total of 25 games in the past two-plus seasons.

Would Zambrano have gone off had this happened to Doug Davis or Randy Wells? Doubtful. And someone needs to remind Zambrano that Marmol is the guy who saved seven of Z's 11 wins last season -- the same season that Zambrano was an emotional train wreck. Again.

If it were any other veteran Cub throwing his teammates under a fleet of buses -- say, Ryan Dempster, Kerry Wood, Aramis Ramirez, Marlon Byrd, even Alfonso Soriano -- it might have meant something. But it came from Zambrano, so it doesn't.

If this had been Zambrano's first meltdown, not his -- sorry, I've lost count -- it might have meant something. Or had the criticism been useful, rather than another accusatory rant, it might have meant something.

But it wasn't. Instead, it was Zambrano proving once again that he is a crummy teammate and can't be trusted.

Yes, the Cubs stink. They have lost six in a row and are already 11 games behind the National League Central-leading Cardinals. Only the Minnesota Twins have won fewer games than the Cubs this season.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Zambrano
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhCarlos Zambrano looks calm, but give it time -- he'll blow up at somebody soon enough.

But I don't recall any of Zambrano's teammates calling him Triple-A material when he began the 2010 season with a 1-2 record and 7.45 ERA. I do remember them welcoming him back when he returned from his team-imposed suspension late last July.

The Cubs weren't Triple-A quality in Sunday's 3-2 loss. Their closer got beat on his best pitch. And the next Cubs reliever got beat by the best player in the game. There's no shame in that.

Zambrano didn't care. Marmol had cost him two consecutive wins, so he popped off. When it comes to the blame game, Zambrano has filthy stuff.

One of three things will happen next: Zambrano will recite his boilerplate "I'm sorry" speech (he's had lots of practice); Cubs management will suspend him; Cubs management will tell him to knock it off.

I vote for a fourth option: Try to get rid of him.

General manager Jim Hendry's mistake wasn't giving Zambrano a five-year extension in 2007 worth $91.5 million; it was agreeing to a full no-trade clause. Not that the Cubs had a lot of choices.

Without it, Zambrano, who will make $17.875 this season, wouldn't have re-upped with the Cubs. But with it, the Cubs are stuck with this miserable diva through 2012 -- unless Zambrano waives the no-trade.

The Cubs can dream, can't they?

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. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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