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The Complaint Department Is Closed

Before you start bitching about Dusty Baker's lineup selection today -- and I agree, it was idiotic -- consider this:

The 1-through-6 hitters in the lineup, supposedly the good ones, went 0-for-22.

The 7-8-9 hitters -- Jose F. Macias, the one we'd love to put anywhere except in the lineup; Henry Blanco, the backup catcher with a lifetime .216 average, and Greg Maddux, the pitcher, had all four Cub hits today.

What's wrong with this picture?

Nothing that a day off for Derrek Lee, and maybe Todd Walker, wouldn't help. With Nomar Garciaparra scheduled to play tomorrow night, maybe it's a good day to give Walker the night off and play Neifi (I'm taking away the ! again, for a while, even though he is 8-for-28, .286, with two walks, in the Cubs' last ten games, even including today's 0-for-4) at second base.

See, this is the sort of thing that does drive me nuts about Dusty Baker. One of his legendary strong points as a manager is supposed to be his loyalty to his players, how they'll all run through a wall for him, and that makes them play better, maybe get that extra little something that'll win a game for you.

The 2003 Cubs accomplished this under Baker. For some reason, this team can't seem to do it.

I've started reading Buzz Bissinger's "Three Nights In August," the book about three days in the managing life of Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. As Cub fans, we have to have a healthy dislike of Tony, but I caution you -- look at the results. He wins.

And why does he win?

Even in the early parts of this book, the difference between LaRussa and Baker is clear, and it's summed up thus -- Bissinger describing LaRussa:

He likened the team to twenty-five puzzle pieces in which everyone threw his piece in. He kept telling them that, and they nodded when he did, having learned early in their entitled lives that the best way to avoid a lecture was to nod. He told them that he loved them, cared about them, needed them. And then he did what he had to do: pinch-hit for them, remove them from that rise of dirt, swap them out for someone with a more reliable glove. And then the next day, he had to tell them all over again how much he loved and needed them.

(Emphasis added by me)

There's the key right there, and the difference between LaRussa and Baker. LaRussa may love his guys, but he'll do what is necessary to win. Baker loves his guys to a fault -- he'll keep on doing the same thing even when it's been proven it doesn't work, and he won't try something new even when the chorus around him is singing loudly to, for example:

Put Matt Lawton in right, Jeromy Burnitz in center and, PLAY MATT MURTON IN LEFT!

Dusty's too loyal. If the players are performing, this loyalty is wonderful, it puts all the players in line behind an inspirational leader, and moves on to glorious victory. But if they stop -- well, then, it's more along the lines of Captain E. J. Smith nobly going down with the Titanic.

At a certain point even a man as loyal as Baker has got to go to Jose Macias and say, "We're trying someone else today."

Two other things struck me in the 66 pages of Bissinger's book that I've read so far. It's about the Cubs/Cardinals series of August, 2003 -- chosen at random, incidentally, by Bissinger; he couldn't have known that he'd get one of the most critical of series of the 2003 pennant race -- and at one point he credits Mark Prior and Kerry Wood for the Cubs' "swagger and success", calling them "punk rockers".

That phrase has a whole new meaning now, just a little less than two years later.

And we'd have all scoffed back then, because we were all anticipating the return of Corey Patterson and his logical development into the star he, and the rest of us, thought he might become -- but perhaps the single worst decision made after the 2003 season ended was not re-signing Kenny Lofton. Even at age 38, Lofton has a far better OBA (.377) than any Cub leadoff man, and Lofton has that certain "swagger" that can help define a winning team.

I don't think it's coincidence that Lofton has played in nine postseasons with five different teams.

Oh, well. Cliche meter on: That was then, this is now.

This is all a roundabout way of saying the Cubs looked like they would have rather been anywhere else but sunny, pleasant (82 degrees) Shea Stadium this afternoon, where the Mets dispatched them easily 2-0.

The only things worth mentioning in this game, besides the scrubs doing all the hard work, are all Greg Maddux:

  • He threw a very nice game; he allowed three singles and a double and two runs and pitched well enough to win.
  • Greg and Derrek Lee pulled off a Web Gem-quality defensive play retiring Mets pitcher Jae Seo for the last out of the seventh, Maddux picking up a slow grounder and firing off-balance and Lee diving for it, keeping his foot on the base for the out.
This play temporarily kept the Cubs in the game and when Blanco doubled to lead off the 8th and Matt Lawton walked with one out, there it was -- the situation you want: two runners in scoring position with your best hitters coming up.

Walker hit a fly ball, but not deep enough to score a run, and Lee struck out on a pitch that scraped the ground.

This means, that on a road trip on which the Cubs had to go 5-1 or 6-0, the best they can do is 2-4, and they must win tomorrow to do it.

Oddly enough, in this odd season, they have still not lost any ground in the wild-card race. Houston lost again to the Giants for the second day in a row; so even though there are now six teams to climb over, the deficit remains at five games.

I'm not saying to have unrealistic hopes -- I can read the standings as well as anyone.

But anyone who tells you they know what's going to happen tomorrow -- well, give me some winning lottery numbers. Baseball is full of surprises.

Let's have some good ones for a change.