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Time To Say Farewell (Long)

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Let me tell you a story or two that'll explain a lot to you about why I've taken certain positions here at BCB, and also why I'm going to surprise you with something later on.

No, don't skip to the end yet! Read it in order!

First, and this'll be instructive later on in this post, let me tell you how I felt about Don Zimmer when he managed the Cubs from 1988 to 1991.

Couldn't stand him. His use of pitchers drove me nuts, his strategy (he once, for example, put on a hit-and-run with the bases loaded) was bizarre, and he played favorites -- just as someone currently managing the Cubs does.

And yet, most fans loved him. Why? Well, he was roly-poly, threw his hat down at times arguing with umpires, and could tell a million baseball stories from his million years in the league -- I even heard some not-for-print stories personally, because in the late 1980's we had a late-Sunday night sports show at ABC-7 where we'd have the baseball managers (at the time, Zimmer and Jeff Torborg of the White Sox) come in and do some commentary with our sports guys. He was great fun, but a lousy manager. I used to say the Cubs won in 1989 in spite of Zimmer, not because of him. Somehow, Zimmer managed to have a winning record as Cub manager -- 265-258, most of that from the 93-69 record of '89.

And in the middle of the 1991 season, as you know, he was finally fired, and replaced by Jim Essian, who was at the time just about as highly regarded, touted, and desired by Cub fans as the "next wave" manager, as someone like Joe Girardi is now -- in fact, he was 40 years old, not even as old as Girardi is this year (42).

It didn't work out that way, of course -- Essian managed the Cubs to a 59-63 record and was dismissed by Larry Himes after the 1991 season, and to my knowledge has never coached or managed in professional baseball since.

So what did my dislike and enmity toward Don Zimmer accomplish back then? Absolutely nothing, and his firing didn't bring the ballclub any closer to winning -- although, I thought that the eventual fulltime replacement in 1992, Jim Lefebvre, did a good job in his two years and got summarily canned by Himes for no particular reason. Himes, in fact, may have done more damage to the Cubs than almost any recent GM, by this firing and by allowing Greg Maddux to leave at the end of the '92 season. But I digress.

Second story: after the 1994 strike I was, as were many fans, pissed at baseball -- both players and owners, I felt, had equal blame for the morass that caused the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. But I loved the game and the Cubs too much to stop going. We did, in fact, lose a couple of guys from our grop -- Jim & Rick -- who swore if the strike happened, they'd never return, and they didn't.

So, I decided (as has been suggested here by some) to not buy a single bit of food or souvenir at Wrigley Field, except for each day's scorecard. And I didn't, for three full years, until the 1998 playoff and home run races brought me, as well as thousands of others, back into the fold.

What did that accomplish, other than saving me a little bit of money? Absolutely nothing. Not a single person inside baseball noticed; no one in the commissioner's office or at Tribune Tower cowered in fear of losing my money, or my support.

This is why I keep saying "boycotts don't work", because they don't in this sort of endeavor. Sure, if you're talking about lettuce and grape boycotts in California, it might work -- as food is a little more essential to human life than baseball. It's easy to get worked up on blogs or message boards about the state of the Cubs -- and don't get me wrong, I'm plenty worked up -- but putting this into action is well nigh impossible, and the bottom line is, the management of this team isn't going to listen anyway.

Which somehow gets me to the present day and the management of Dusty Baker and Jim Hendry, which, as you know, I have defended on this site. I did so because they did bring us close to the Promised Land -- Baker through what I felt was just the right sort of leadership for the 2003 team, Hendry through the shrewd acquisitions of Eric Karros, Damian Miller, Mark Grudzielanek, Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez, key components all of that team which we so fondly remember, and wish we had five more outs' worth of fond remembrance. Getting that close is great, but no, it is NOT enough.

And yes, those days are gone, and yes, the team has deteriorated to the point where someone's going to have to go, and that someone's going to have to be Dusty Baker.

I wish he had been the guy to take the Cubs to the World Series, but he isn't. I have just finished reading a new book called "Management by Baseball", which uses baseball stories to show managers in ANY business how they can improve their management skills (incidentally, he's both a fan of Lou Piniella, and a critic of his "real rages during and after games").

What I read in this book that at last told me that Baker has to go is this. Author Jeff Angus identifies what he calls the "six deadly skins" of management and which managers personify them: Uncontrolled Anger (Piniella), Perfectionism (Dick Williams), Intimacy (Bobby Bragan), Denial (Hank Bauer), Uncontrolled Niceness (Chuck Tanner), and Anxiety (for which he says this "skin" doesn't exist in baseball).

It's "Denial" which has caught Dusty Baker in its wake, as Angus writes:

Earl Weaver's predecessor in Baltimore was Hank Bauer, who fell into a multiyear swoon because of his preprogrammed Denial. In 1964, his first year with Baltimore, Bauer managed the team to 97 wins. He tinkered and refined the mix the next year before tuning the system and leading his team to a pennant in 1966. Success like that is perfect for Denial because now you have "the good old days".

In 1967, Bauer changed nothing, and the team tumbled into the second division. In 1968, Bauer pretended it was all bad luck, sticking with players who had been successful years before, but had since been neutralized by age or opponents' scouting. In his own mind, this was a winning team. Rather than attack his problem, giving new players a chance to help failing players, he chose to believe that his incumbents would reincarnate. They didn't, and neither did his job.

Sound familiar? It does to me; this is EXACTLY what Dusty Baker does, continuing to bat players second who are incapable of doing so, continuing to call on Roberto Novoa out of the bullpen when he fails time and time again; I could go on, but it's too painful. None of this is any surprise, either; he did these sorts of things in 2003, too -- except they won anyway. Why is this? Why was Baker successful in San Francisco for many years, and with the 2003 Cubs, and he isn't now? I think the answer lies, in part, in the fact that he's known as a "player's manager". We have all noted the fact that he pretty much lets players do what they want. When there's a strong player-leader, as the Giants had with Jeff Kent (note: the Giants under Baker had three really bad years till they acquired Kent in 1997, the first year they won the NL West under him. Kent's an ass, but there is NO doubt in my mind he helped keep the Giants' clubhouse under control), or the Cubs had in 2003 with Damian Miller and Eric Karros, the laissez-faire attitude of Baker works, because the players police themselves. The 2006 Cubs don't have anyone like this (and neither did the 2004 or 2005 teams). Thus, Baker is the wrong manager for this sort of team. A solution to this is to get better players and the Cubs need to do this anyway.

Jim Hendry is also in "Denial", too,, in his overreliance on the "comebacks" of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior this year, which have been miserable failures. The two have combined for nine starts, a 1-5 record, 44 IP, 50 H, 21 BB, 37 SO, and a 7.57 ERA. That's putrid.

So there's enough blame to go around, and I guarantee you that if Jim Hendry's contract extension were being considered NOW, he'd probably be looking for work. Having received a two-year extension in April, we are stuck with him.

I'm no longer going to say "re-evaluate" (and I know "evaluate" has become quite the buzzword) Dusty Baker at season's end. I am going to say, because I do believe him to be a good man, that he should be allowed to finish the season and then leave with a bit of dignity, and not be replaced now with a clone of Bruce Kimm or Jim Essian who won't be around in 2006. Instead, let Hendry choose from an open pool of potential managers in October. I have said repeatedly that I believe the Cubs ought to go in the direction that so many successful recent clubs (Angels, White Sox, Mets) have gone and choose a younger man, someone who has learned under a greater man, and can put together a professional staff of coaches, not just bring in his old buddies as Baker AND Don Baylor AND Jim Riggleman did. There are other problems with the way things are run now, particularly the troubling revelation by Chris Speier that Cub coaches are conducting "clinics" for sponsors, apparently at the behest of the marketing department, while Cub players sit around tapping their feet waiting for the field to be ready. This sort of thing HAS to stop.

Fredi Gonzalez, the Braves' 3B coach for the last four years, is my choice. He's learned under the great Bobby Cox; he's had success managing in the minor leagues; he's 42 years old, and yes, he is a native Spanish speaker. I've been flamed for saying that's important, and no, it's not THE most important thing, but I believe that in a clubhouse that has been rumored to have ethnic divisions, someone like Gonzalez could bridge that gap. Speaking Spanish and being from a Latin American culture (Gonzalez was born in Cuba) isn't THE most important factor, but it is A factor.

Seeing that the Braves are hot right now and think they are still in the wild-card hunt, Gonzalez would probably not be available at this time. But if Atlanta falls out of that race -- then it would be worth investigating acquiring him this year, and giving him at least a three-year contract.

As for Hendry, it's really simple. He's got to get off his butt, stop practicing the same "Denial" that got Baker into so much trouble, and get some better players on this team. Since his excellent 2002-2003 acquisitions, detailed above, Hendry's been pretty poor in the trade/free agency department -- Jacque Jones was a poor choice (although he's been about as productive as could have been hoped, given his history), and although Juan Pierre is at last producing the way he could have been expected to, I suspect the Cubs will long regret giving up Ricky Nolasco for him. As I said, like it or not, we are stuck with him -- so Jim, let's see some magic again. Keep guys like Nolasco, and stop overvaluing other "prospects" and deal them when that chance comes up, and stop acquiring useless bodies like Freddie Bynum "because they can run".

Last year, in one of the last things I wrote on my old blog before the creation of BCB, I was posting nearly breathless updates on the Sammy Sosa saga, and like many of you, I wanted him gone. As I wrote at the time:

Goodbye, Sammy. You did give us some memories. But it was time for you to go.

And, it appears to be that time for Dusty Baker, too. It's time for him to go.