Commentary

Cubs need more than Big Z's apology

Originally Published: July 8, 2010
By Doug Glanville | ESPN.com

I have been paying close attention to the apologies that top-flight athletes have made over the past year or so. Some athletes, such as Ben Roethlisberger, issue their mea culpas in the form of a news release. Others pull a page from Ozzie Guillen and say anything that comes to mind and just wait for their fine to be levied. But in special cases, such as those involving Alex Rodriguez and Tiger Woods, news conferences are held with the hope of giving the public some insight into the reasoning for their choices.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Zambrano
AP Photo/Jim PrischingCarlos Zambrano hasn't pitched since giving up four runs in the first inning on June 25.
The Chicago Cubs' Carlos Zambrano is on deck for an apology to his teammates for his self-induced implosion on June 25. After giving up a four-spot in the first inning, the $18 million (a year) man ranted and raved in the dugout for all to see, questioning the efforts of some of his teammates. Just as Zambrano can bat from either side of the plate, I know he can vent bilingually. Thus, with the possible exception of Kosuke Fukudome, he was able to pepper everyone in their native tongues, with an equal opportunity wrath.

This past offseason, it appeared that Zambrano had a revelation of some sort. Citing a few intimate conversations with his daughter, he said he had decided to change his approach and be a kinder and gentler Carlos. He would rechannel his emotion to help him be internally passionate, so that in moments of frustration he would take a bat to the water cooler only in a pillow-like corner of his mind, instead of within a few feet of his manager, Lou Piniella.

It didn't work.

Predetermined self-reinvention rarely goes as planned. And even when it does, it doesn't last. We have moments that shake us into a new space, but such moments are just the beginning of the work -- like the first game of the season in a grueling 162-game marathon. So we cut our hair, change our uniform number, find new lucky socks, vow to change our diet, but like most New Year's resolutions, these changes end up being nothing more than symbolic until we forget about them all together.

Even more fascinating to me is the stance organizations are taking to keep their players in check. As recently as my playing days, there seemed to be a wide gap in the set of rules for the superstar or franchise players and the rest of the team. But now, examples are being made of any and every type of player.

The Cubs, in particular, seem to be fearless about calling out top players. Management not only criticized Alfonso Soriano for his poor effort, it sat him on the bench. Instead of having the perpetual cover of a long-term and pricey contract, Soriano got the message that he wasn't going to be in the lineup unless he worked hard and produced. The Cubs also refused to tap-dance with Milton Bradley after he responded to irate fans with critical comments of his own.

And now we have the "Big Z." Pulled from the game, suspended, and now in anger management to work on his temper. It is expected that when he returns, he will apologize and then … head to the bullpen.

Bold moves by the Cubs. They could stick him back in the starting rotation, knowing that is probably the best place for him to showcase his value in case they want to move him. Instead, they will be putting him where he can most help the team, or maybe more accurately, least hurt the team. No more pretending that there isn't a bigger issue to save face from the heat that comes with a big contract gone bad. The ballclub is actually taking this problem head on, deciding it will not be embarrassed by anyone. In fact, it seems like it wants to develop good behavior and character. Probably a good response to the fallout from the steroid era.

I can't remember when an organization said, "Now sit in timeout until you learned your lesson." At least not to someone making that kind of coin. The dunce caps were almost exclusively reserved for journeymen outfielders who didn't run out infield grounders or hustle on balls hit into the left-field corner. Not for a class of players that used to be "The Untouchables."

So maybe something is changing. The message certainly landed in the Florida Marlins' camp. After loafing on a ball, Hanley Ramirez rode the pine until he said "I'm sorry" (although I'm not sure this flap helped the soon-fired Fredi Gonzalez's career very much). And in Tampa Bay, Rays manager Joe Madden has pulled B.J. Upton more than once for failing to give 100 percent when chasing after balls hit into the gap. Such actions help everyone realize that, in the end, even the most pampered and highest-paid players in the world want to play, not ride the bench, and taking away his glove or bat is still an effective way to make a point.

We will see what Zambrano will say in the coming days. I imagine his response will be issued from the website I want to form, www.imsorry.com -- "downloaded canned apologies written by my agent." But maybe I am being too cynical.

If there's a silver lining for Zambrano, it's that by refusing to turn the other cheek, the Cubs are giving him the time and opportunity to think about his actions, formulate a response and work to change his situation. He may come to realize that no matter how much you make, what you have done before, how frustrated you are and how bad you want to change, your career is fragile and an apology is probably worth keeping the bridge to the Cubs intact because in a few years, all bridges may lead to nowhere.

Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and the fundraising committee of Boundless Readers. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released May 11. Click here to buy it on Amazon.com.

• MLB analyst for ESPN and ESPN.com
• Played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers
• Email: mail@dougglanville.com
• Website: http://www.dougglanville.com/