In Tuesday's edition of the Chicago Tribune, Paul Sullivan has an extended piece on the Cubs' 2-0 victory over the Brewers Monday, and their upcoming game against Milwaukee.
The starter in tonight's second game of a four-game set is Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs' erstwhile ace, whose attitude, maturity, work ethic, and general competence have come under question more than once over the last three years.
Zambrano has made two trips to the DL this season and has been suspended or benched for disciplinary reasons in each of the last three years. Meanwhile, his ERA in each of those years has been higher than any full season of his career.
Media outlets have bashed him mercilessly, and in Sullivan's piece, very serious mention was made of trading Zambrano over the upcoming offseason.
Overlooked by those outlets, and most especially by Sullivan, is the fact that Zambrano embodies much of what is really great about this game. He runs out ground balls more ardently than many of his teammates who are paid to hit and run.
He plays the game full throttle, celebrating wildly after strikeouts in key moments, and famously (or infamously) snapping a bat over his knee following a strikeout at the plate in 2006.
His two injuries this season have been the result of stretching to beat out an infield single and over-swinging at a hanging curve ball.
Perhaps the best illustration of what makes Big Z great (and what the media inexplicably hate about him) came during his most recent rehab assignment. During a scheduled off-day from his core strength and throwing regimens, Zambrano hit the diamond for some softball with his nine-year-old daughter.
That's the kind of perfect moment in which so few public figures in today's society are ever caught engaging. It shows Zambrano's commitment to his family, which has been well-documented; it shows that he loves baseball, and softball, and probably any other game involving whacking a ball around and running like hell that he could find; and it certainly doesn't portray him as lazy, unless he was playing from a lawn chair.
But the Chicago media, who once championed Michael Jordan's crusade for a "love of the game" clause that would allow him to put his multi-million-dollar knees and ankles at risk during offseason pickup games, showed Zambrano only scorn, prompting the pitcher to question whether he'd be better off in a city where his contributions would be more valued.
Add all these attributes up, and what you get is a pitcher whose antics occasionally aggravate managers and teammates. A pitcher whose temper gets him into trouble by causing him to overthrow his pitches, or to throw over-the-top tantrums when umpires miss calls. A pitcher whose heart and hustle come at the cost of occasional injuries.
But you also get a pitcher who reminds fans (and everyone else who cares to notice) of how guys used to play. A pitcher who swings harder than Willie McCovey, runs harder than Pete Rose, and sacrifices his body more than Carlton Fisk. Oh yeah, and a guy with a lower career ERA than CC Sabathia, Dwight Gooden, Fernando Valenzuela, Mike Scott...or Tom Glavine.
You can trade a guy like that. You can even get someone to take his $18 million salary. You can let him go, get good value for him, and be safer and smarter in your pitching expenditures the following season. You can wave goodbye to Carlos Zambrano without a trace of regret.
It's just not a good idea.