Rarely in life does a grown man earning nearly $20 million a year to play a game closely resemble someone we’ve all had in our lives at some point.
Professional athletes are supposed to be better than the common man. They’re supposed to be heroes, idols, rare talents with whom we’d never come into contact otherwise if not for our spending power or our remote control.
And yet as I was watching Carlos Zambrano’s phone interview with Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s David Kaplan, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a person all of us have encountered at some point in time, male or female. Said person isn’t a proud part of our past to say the least, but it’s someone that nearly everyone encounters along the way as they stumble down the yellow brick road to Happily Ever After.
Carlos Zambrano is your crazy ex-girlfriend (or boyfriend).
This is a point that I’m sure is in need of some clarification, so bear with me as I try to explain myself.
Zambrano has spent much of his career doing everything he possibly could to alienate himself from both his teammates and the Cubs’ fanbase. He’s got a long – and well documented – history of disruptions and based on recent reports, it sounds like his teammates have at long last had enough of his shenanigans.
In 2007, Zambrano punched out his catcher, Michael Barrett. Two years later, he took out his aggression on a Gatorade machine that – unlike any Gatorade machine in the history of Gatorade machines – found itself in the wrong place at the wrong time, sending it to the dugout in the sky with a couple of swings of his Louisville Slugger. Earlier this year, he made it a point to call out the poor play of his team, claiming that they were playing “like a Triple-A team”, something that just about everyone in Cub Nation might’ve found ironic given the fact that Zambrano finds himself in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his Major League career, having posted a record of 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA while allowing 1.2 home runs per nine innings.
Every time an apology. Every single spat was met with a mea culpa along the lines of “I was just in the heat of the moment. I took things a little too far.”
Just about everyone along the way has dated someone like this, someone who caused unnecessary fights by overreacting to the slightest irregularities in your relationship. Maybe you forgot to call to let him or her know you were staying out late with your friends, causing them to berate you once you got home and force you to sleep on the couch. Or maybe you bought the wrong kind of dish soap, the kind that will still do the job but “it’s not the kind WE ALWAYS GET!!!”, causing a completely unnecessary rift in your domestic bliss. These are the kinds of fights that happen when you’re with someone that cares just a little bit too much.
Then comes the final scene, the bitter end, where out of the blue he or she decides that the two of you are just better off apart.
For Zambrano, that unfolded last Friday night. For those of you who need a refresher course, the mercurial would-be ace had a subpar outing against the Braves that came to an abrupt conclusion when he threw at Chipper Jones not once but twice. Zambrano retreated to the locker room where he was reportedly confronted by Alfonso Soriano about his bizarre behavior. Zambrano proceeded to clean out his locker and leave the clubhouse, telling team personnel on his way out the door that he was retiring.
Once again, we’ve all been there before. This is the equivalent of the breakup scene with the crazy ex. Again, some minute stimuli triggers a change in his/her emotional behavior. Maybe you overcooked the risotto for your candlelit dinner or maybe they found themselves aroused by a jogger they saw in the park during their morning run. Either way, something has changed and suddenly…well, it’s not you, it’s them. Things have changed and they need to get out of the relationship as fast as they possibly can because they’re just not happy and don’t want to lead you on any further. Cue the Price is Right losing horn because girlfriend, you just got served.
Of course, once your crazy ex has had a couple of days to consider the alternatives, their minds invariably change because…well that’s who they are. Leaving you means diving into the unfamiliar, a life devoid of cuddling, companionship and the very validation of their existence. A life completely devoid of a routine that has become familiar and welcome. Maybe it’s that phone call just before bed to check in on how your day went or swinging by your office on their lunch break, there’s something about you that your ex seemingly cannot live without.
It’s that same thing that brings them crawling back to you. “I made a mistake,” they’ll say. “I’ve changed. Everything I said to you the other night…it was all in the heat of the moment. I didn’t really mean that.”
Again, listen to Kaplain’s interview with Zambrano. Sound familiar?
Days after walking out on the Cubs, Zambrano is now completely changing his tune.
“The organization is great. I’ve been with the Cubs for 14 years, 10 with the major club,” Zambrano told Kaplan tonight. “They’ve been great to me, the fans have been great to me. Nothing to complain, you know? I think I make some mistake, yes, and when I make a mistake I accept them. But this time was something that I say and for something that I say, I was punished, I was disciplined. So now I can’t say nothing, you know?”
In relationship talk: “We’ve been together for so long baby that I can’t imagine my life without you. I made a mistake letting you go but that wasn’t me talking, that was my emotions.”
Kaplan then asks Zambrano if he could see himself pitching for the Cubs again. Here’s his response:
“Of course man. the Cubs have been to me like my family. It’s like if my father said I don’t want nothing to do with you. I think that would never happen you know because he’s my family, you know? I want to keep pitching for the Cubs. It was a moment of frustration Friday night that I feel so bad that I want to retire because I don’t want to be making 18 million and pitching like crap,” he said.
In relationship talk: “Baby, we’ve been so good together. I’ve been feeling so bad since I walked out on those pretty brown eyes of yours. I know I said the other night that I wanted to break up with you, but baby you and I, we work so well together that it just doesn’t make sense for us to be apart for one more day.”
Zambrano goes on to describe his relationship with both manager Mike Quade and GM Jim Hendry as being congenial, something that I’m sure comes as news to both of them, especially in light of Quade’s comments to the media on Friday night about Zambrano deserting the team.
If the Cubs are smart, they’ll do what all of us should have done with those crazy exes from our past and simply cut the cord. There’s nothing good that can come of Carlos Zambrano running in slow motion through a field of daisies into the Cubs’ waiting arms. Much like all the crazy exes in your past, Zambrano has made promises that each blowup is the last one. And just like those crazy exes, there was yet another blowup to follow, one that was even more volatile than the last.
While there have been times that Zambrano has made the Cubs organization and fans happy, like your exes, he has rarely delivered on his promises. Sure there was that no-hitter and the 18-win season back in 2007, along with a couple of flashes of brilliance interspersed here and there.
But there’s also been the innumerable tantrums, the needless stress, the completely unnecessary cries for attention that have continued to wear at the very fabric of your being until…well until you realize that the bad outweighs the good and that a change needs to be made.
Cubs fans can always choose to look back on the past with Zambrano through rose-colored glasses. After all, over the course of the past decade, Zambrano did create plenty of good memories on the North side. That being said, he was also responsible for more than his fair share of unnecessary drama, rarely if ever living up to the large contract bestowed upon him.
There comes a point in any relationship – romantic or not – when both parties have to realize that it’s in everyone’s best interests to simply cut the cord and move on. The time has come with the Cubs and their mercurial would-be ace. Here’s hoping Hendry does the right thing.