The following was forwarded by Ben Schwartz, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Ron Rapport struggled to make sense of the turmoil at Wrigley in Monday’s edition.
Sammy Sosa is gone. Toast. Burned to a crisp. He is so far gone I expect to see him enter the Hall of Fame wearing a White Sox cap.
Sosa’ latest blast at the Cubs (“I’m not a sixth batter … I felt poorly treated”), delivered from the friendly confines of his home in the Dominican Republic over the weekend, can be viewed as a self-pitying rant, but to me it highlights how the final two weeks of the season sent the Cubs into a meltdown from top to bottom.
Even when the Cubs did foolish things in the past — feuding with the rooftop owners, setting up a bogus ticket-selling system — they never seemed so unable to control their message and as blind-sided by events as they have been this last month.
Their two most high-profile salesmen, Steve Stone and Chip Caray, depart with all guns blazing in the direction of their former employers. Dusty Baker’s most heralded quality, his reputation as a handler of players, takes a serious hit.
Jim Hendry’s reaction to Sosa’s inexcusable last-day walkabout is to show he lied about when he left the ballpark. This makes Sosa’s return untenable, lowers his trade value and increases the need for, and the money that will have to be offered to, Nomar Garciaparra.
Andy MacPhail is unable to keep the damage from spreading and is reduced to wondering why things should have spun so wildly out of control simply because the Cubs played poorly at the end.
One day soon, Cubs fans will turn their attention from last season and look ahead. With four holes to fill in a starting lineup that did, after all, come within a few victories of the playoffs, with urgent problems in the bullpen to solve and without Sosa to blame, it is not an encouraging sight.
I defer to no one in my appreciation of Stone as a baseball commentator — I always thought he brought just the right combination of intelligence and humor to the job — but I wonder if there is not something slightly disingenuous in his departure.
Over the years, many daily beat reporters and columnists have been abused by players they have written critically about, and very few of them have expected a manager or front-office officials to intervene. It’s something that comes with the job, and drawing attention to these conflicts is considered bad form. (The one hard-won exception is when women reporters are treated in sexually inappropriate ways.)
But Stone doesn’t see it that way. On the one hand, he prides himself on being an independent commentator who calls them as he sees them without fear or favor. On the other hand, when players criticize him, he sees himself as part of the Cubs’ organization and asks Baker, Hendry and MacPhail to intercede for him.
Stone is not the first baseball broadcaster in Chicago to be critical of players, of course. Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall were far from popular in the dugout. I cannot remember either of them going to a manager or a general manager and asking them to tell the players not to be mean to them, though.