There's been a lot of angst on BCB and, I'm sure, plenty of other Cubs sites and in bars and livingrooms throughout the country as this team, hailed as the winners of two division titles two years running, and the presumptive favorites for 2009, has scuffled, struggled, slumped and struggled again.
A lot of invective has been thrown around. People want to be able to blame someone for the dissapointments of 2009 -- and while I continue to suggest that it's not over till the Cubs are mathematically eliminated, I still recognize that the season, in general, has been a dissapointment.
So one person that fans throw curses at is Hendry. We blame him for the makeup of the team. Miles. Heilman. Gregg. Gathright. The huge contracts to Soriano and Z. The mid-season pickups -- Freel comes to mind. We blame him for who he let go -- Woody, arguably the heart of the Cubs from a fan point of view, and DeRosa.
Now, don't get me wrong. I wanted to keep Woody (at least till I knew how much he wanted) and I certainly didn't want to trade DeRosa. But it's easy to be a fan and say "well, the money shouldn't matter". But as GM, Hendry has to balance revenue and payments and compensation. It's even easier to say "he should have known Miles sucks!" Aaron Mile may have had a career year last year, but no one could have predicted that he would simply forget how to play baseball.
Hiring and drafting players is a job of judging potential and upside. Hindsight is 20/20. GMs don't have the benefit of it before they make their decisions.
Furthermore, a lot of the time we hear "DFA" or "trade the contract at any cost!" But this ain't fantasy baseball. You don't trade a big contrat player just because he slumps, even if it's as big a slump as Soriano's. That's for two reasons, of course -- the first being that with the way Soriano is playing, why the hell would anyone pick that monster contract up? And the second is the reason why Derrek Lee is still on this team -- he had a terrible start to the year, but now, he's approaching some extremely good numbers.
There is valid criticism of Hendry -- he does hand out NTCs like they're candy, and he does have a tendency to bid against himself. But a player like Alfonso Soriano is EXACTLY the kind of player Cubs fans were screaming for in 2006.
The second person people crucify is Piniella. "What can I say?" "We're gonna try to get Fox in the lineup as often as possible." "We have to hit to drive in runs." We all know the lines Piniella gives the press, and no one likes them. I'd suggest that this is more the fault of the Press than it is Piniella's, but that's irrelevant. People say he's washed up. He doesn't care anymore. He's stupid. He's an idiot. He can't manage pitchers. He can't manage any players at all.
Let's be quite clear here -- you don't have the level of success that Lou Piniella has without being a good manager and knowing a lot about the game of baseball. But perhaps even more importantly, you can only play the team you have. Heilman goes into games because he warms up quickly, and it's no big deal to burn him for one inning or one batter. Yes, he has struggled greatly. But what, exactly, is Lou supposed to do? (I ask this question a lot.) This is the team he has. He and Hendry work to make the team better. But he cannot pitch for Marmol. He cannot throw for Theriot. He cannot bat for Miles. And he owes no one an apology. It's his job to go out and manage the team and -- just like Hendry -- judge potential and upside. Soriano batted leadoff for as long as he did because he has proven success there, and it's got NOTHING to do with him having some kind of hold on Piniella, or Piniella not being able to manage his players. Fontenot was the starting 2b at the beginning of the season because, in Piniella's judgment, Fonty could do it.
Again, there's valid criticism of Piniella -- why he keeps putting Miles out there is inexplicable. But having expectations of perfection from any manager is a guarantee to frustration. To suggest that he doesn't care anymore is ridiculous. If he didn't care, he wouldn't look like he's about to vomit all the time.
Then, of course, there's the players. The players shoulder a LOT of blame, for playing a game at a level that all of us wish we could play at -- and probably none of us can. These guys work hard. But the amount of derision and scorn that is heaped upon them borders on inconceivable. Soriano doesn't care. Bradley is a crybaby. Bradley is a mentally ill person. Bradley should shut up. Bradley should talk to the press more. Ramirez is a loafer. Lee is in free-fall. Soto is fat. Z is garbage. Miles is garbage. Heilman is garbage. Marmol is garbage. Gregg is garbage.
These guys make a LOT of money. Even the league minimum is a lot of money. I'd happily wash used jockstraps by hand for that much money. And these guys get to play a game and get paid for it!
But they work very hard. I don't know how people can suggest that they don't. I HATE going to the gym. With a passion. I NEVER get the seratonin boost from exercise that other people get. For me, hell is the treadmill. For these guys, it's every day. Yes, sometimes they slack, like Soto appeared to do. Sometimes they say they don't like to do Abs, like Z. Sometimes they get dehydrated. Sometimes they get hurt. Sometimes they pull a bonehead play. You think Aaron Miles likes to suck at baseball? Dood hit over .300 last year. How can it NOT hurt?
These guys represent our hopes and dreams for a world series. It's easy to get angry. But really -- while someone from the Cubs organization may read this blog, I doubt it has significant impact on Club decisions. So, when someone goes off on Hendry or Piniella or Miles for this or that or the other thing, who is it really effecting? Your fellow fans.
And then we argue, like we always do. The fact of the matter is, WE ARE OWED NOTHING. And we have NO insight into what goes on inside that clubhouse, or between players, except when it breaks into the public view, like the Z/Barrett fight, or Braun complaining that the Brewers don't need more pitchers. That's right. I brought up the Brewers. What the hell happened to THEM?
Anyway. This has turned into a mish-mash. Here's what I'm trying to get at:
No one is slacking. Not Hendry, not Lou, not any of the players. None of these guys are stupid. None of these guys are head-cases. None of them are garbage. None of them deserve to die in a fire, or be sent to AAA when they're 5 year veterans. No one's going to DFA Miles when there's millions left on his contract, and no one's going to trade for Soriano.
It's been a frustrating season. I still hold out hope. I know there are plenty who don't, and I respect that. But I ask that you have respect for the people who give us the experience of watching the Cubs in the first place. Primarily, that's Hendry, Piniella, and the players. And let's try to respect each-other. I could use work at that myself.
And let's temper our expectations.