Jim Hendry's tenure as Cubs GM has seen its share of highs and lows. The team's first postseason series win since 1908 was tarnished by the agony of the Bartman incident and narrowly missing a World Series appearance. The Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Dusty Baker injury triangle and awful 2006 season were followed by two consecutive division championships. One thing has been as consistent as the sun rising in the east though. There has always been a scapegoat to (fairly or unfairly) take on the full brunt of the blame for why the Cubs failed to end the season as World Series Champions.
Steve Bartman, 2003 - Everyone knows what happened in Game 6 so I won't rehash it. But it's safe to say that Bartman was the focus when Alex Gonzalez, Dusty Baker, Moises Alou or any number of other people could have played the villain.
Sammy Sosa, 2004 - After years of posting absolutely insane offensive numbers, Sosa started to decline in 2004. This was unacceptable for some fans and the media. It didn't help matters that Sosa publicly aired his frustrations about being lowered in the lineup. On the last day of the season, Sosa was caught leaving the park before the game was even finished and his beloved boombox was thrashed by some mystery man. He was labeled a malcontent, and trading him was the number one priority in the offseason. A trade couldn't be made until February and because of that priority, no other major moves were made.
Corey Patterson, 2005 - The former first round draft pick was described as the future in CF, and early in 2003, he looked like he would fulfill that promise. He posted .298/.329/.511 line before he injured his knee in May and was sidelined for the season. Patterson came back in 2004 and hit 32 dingers while playing stellar defense, but that wasn't good enough for the Cubs coaching staff. He was fast and they needed a leadoff, Juan Pierre type, so the conversion started. It didn't stop until Patterson was swinging at everything within three feet of the plate. He was traded in January 2006, and the coaching staff got their wish. They got Juan Pierre.
Dusty Baker, 2006 - The person who was most responsible for the choke job in the 2003 NLCS, the flop in 2004, and below .500 season in 2005 finally got his comeuppance in 2006. He led the Cubs to one of their worst records in 25 years. It was so bad that another mystery man made Dusty's spot in the dugout his personal toilet. Although nobody could have won with this group of losers, Dusty deserved all the blame after four years of whining, excuses, and deflecting accountability. His contract was not renewed after the season.
Michael Barrett, 2007 - With a new manager, this was the first year that the scapegoat was banished before the season ended. Barrett was known as hothead after his dust up with Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt in 2004 and A.J. Pierszynski in 2006. He focused his attention on his teammates in 2007 as he publicly brawled with Carlos Zambrano in June and was promplty traded. It seemed to work as the Cubs went 53-39 the rest of the way and won the Central division.
Right-handed people, 2008 - It's hard to heap blame on anyone when the team wins 97 games, but after an embarassing sweep at the hands of the Dodgers in the NLDS, the target was locked in. The Cubs were shutdown by three right-handed pitchers, so the problem was obvious. There were too many right-handed hitters on the team. The entire focus of the offseason was to get more left-handed, which led to ....
Milton Bradley, 2009 - The Cubs had a problem, and Bradley was the solution. It seemed like a fine idea as the switch-hitter led the AL in OPS in 2008. But Bradley injured himself on opening day in Houston, was ejected in the home opener, didn't hit for any power, got into a fight with his hitting coach, was sent home in the middle of a game by his manager, and was suspended by the team for the final two weeks of the season. Needless to say, it was a complete trainwreck. The number one priority in the offseason was to rid the organization of the cancer that was Bradley. Hendry was miraculously able to do so by taking on another team's problem player.
Carlos Zambrano, 2010 - With Big Z's reputation, it is surprising that it took so long for him to attain scapegoat status. When he arrived though, he did it with a bang. It started on opening day when he allowed 8 runs in 1.1 innings. He was converted to a reliever shortly thereafter. The bullpen experiment predictably failed and he returned to the rotation long enough to assault the gatorade machine and fight with teammates in the dugout once again. That was the last straw. Z was sent to anger management. He returned a new pitcher going 7-1 with a 1.03 ERA in his last 8 starts. Although he seemed to be cured, rumors swirled throughout the offseason that Z would be traded. Either Hendry couldn't find a taker for the enormous contract, or Zambrano vetoed any possible trades, because he's back for 2011.
And what a season this is. There is definitely no shortage of scapegoat candidates. Is Zambrano truly cured or can he repeat? My personal favorite is Aramis Ramirez. This is his free agent season, he was stamped with the lazy tag years ago, and he has already fought with a teammate. Although Carlos Silva can be described in almost the same way. The manager is always a leader in the blame game as well, so we can't rule out Quade. And of course there is everyones favorite albatross, Alfonso Soriano. Who do you think will be the 2011 scapegoat?