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Take A Few Deep Breaths, Please

I've waited all day to post because I wanted to collect my own thoughts, and read some of yours, and with the off day, we really all SHOULD take some deep breaths.

The worst time to panic, and make a reflexive move, is when things are going the worst, and you simply react rather than act.

Basically, the 2006 Cub season boils down to three possibilities (sure, there are some possible interim steps in between, but these are the basic scenarios):

  • They really are this bad, and they'll lose 95+ games, just as they did in 2000 and 2002.
  • They're going to have a "dead cat bounce", look good for a while, but wind up being in the mediocre mid-70 range in wins.
  • They're going to get all their injured players back, everyone will perform at or above career norms, and a miracle will happen, bringing them to the postseason.
Let's look at those one by one. If this really is a historically bad season, what is the point of firing the manager? He's on the last year of his deal anyway; whoever would come in to that sort of situation would wind up being a caretaker, and new blood would come in in the offseason. Do you really want four months of Bruce Kimm or Jim Essian?

With the second scenario, it's pretty much the same idea. The "dead cat bounce", which could start as soon as tomorrow, would temporarily quiet the protesters, and the mediocre finish would give complete justification to clean house when the season is over.

A miracle? Well, I was reminded by one correspondent today that after 37 games last year, the Cubs were ... only two games worse than they are now, 17-20, with 168 runs scored and 163 allowed, 6.5 back. Today, they stand 15-22, 8.5 games behind, with 139 runs scored and 188 allowed.

As noted in this diary, almost everyone on this year's team has underperformed his offensive expectations, many of them by a significant number. I think we all know that instinctively, but those numbers prove it. That has to change, and of course the best hitter on the team is going to miss at least six more weeks.

So, what's going to produce that miracle? Pitching, we hope. That hasn't happened so far. But Kerry Wood returns Thursday. That could provide an emotional boost -- and do not discount the value of that -- as well as a boost in performance.

Now, the third scenario is the one where you could most justify changing managers. The 2003 Marlins and 2004 Astros (not the NL pennant winners of last year, but the previous year's version, who fired Jimy Williams at 44-44, and replaced him with Phil Garner, who went 47-27), the 1983 Phillies (Pat Corrales fired at 43-42, even though the team was tied for first place at the time, replaced by "the Pope", Paul Owens, who went 47-30) and the 1982 Brewers, are the best recent examples of such a change making a difference.

Those of you hoping for a "fiery" manager like Lou Piniella should know that replacing an "easygoing" guy like Baker with a "fiery" guy rarely works. Yes, you could quote those Astros as an example, and maybe even the 2003 Marlins, but those teams, as we have discussed, had tremendous talent that wasn't firing on all cylinders at the time those sackings were made. The Phillie and Brewer examples above are more common: both Pat Corrales and Brewers manager Buck Rodgers were hard-ass guys, replaced by the easygoing Owens and Harvey Kuenn, at which time the teams' talent caught fire. It's no coincidence, I think, that those teams were both veteran squads -- remember? The '83 Phillies were called the "Wheeze Kids" for all their older players.

I'm going to also point out a counter-example, mentioned to me today: the 1983 White Sox, who were 16-24 and at that time, then-broadcaster Tom Paciorek said that Tony LaRussa (who had never finished higher than third up to that time) "couldn't manage a fruit stand". That team went 83-39 the rest of the way.

In no way am I arguing that under Dusty Baker, the 2006 Cubs could go 83-anything. They're not even close to that good. Those who accuse me of being a Pollyanna or having blinders on, are just plain wrong. I see the reality in front of me every single day at the ballpark. This team has flaws, and some of those are very large flaws.

But neither do I think they are as bad as they have looked in losing 14 of 16. The 2005 Yankees at one point lost 19 of 28, including three of four to Tampa Bay.

All I'm saying is there are plenty of examples of teams that come back from looking this bad. Can this team do it? Realistically, probably not. Could they do it more easily if they had a different manager? Or different coaches? Maybe. The hyperventilating and venom don't help, except maybe for personal catharsis.

Let's let this play out for a little bit longer. Yes, Jim Hendry has to do something. I hope he spent this day in serious soul-searching about what to do. We'll see tomorrow, we hope.

One final note: they have begun to plant the ivy on the outer bleacher wall. I'm still very skeptical about whether this will take or not, but they're going ahead with it. As of now it is only on the Waveland side, as seen below:

Photo by David Sameshima