Thursday, June 29, 2017

The sad return of Cubbiness

Give Theo Epstein this much: He acted swiftly, he acted surely, he was Theo-y through and through in the matter of Miguel Montero, the erstwhile Chicago Cubs catcher who passed the buck and then discovered it was attached to a ticket out of town.

A day after Montero blamed starting pitcher Jake Arrieta for the seven bases the Washington Nationals stole on him the other night, Montero was designated for reassignment. In other words, pack your bags, son, you're gone.

"When something goes wrong on the field we expect our players to take the blame, step up and proactively assume the blame for it, even if it's not their fault," Epstein said after casting Montero into outer darkness. "That's the way to be a good teammate ... After thinking about it some more, I just came to the conclusion that now more than ever we need to be a team. This was an example of being a bad teammate publicly and that we'd be better off moving on and not standing for it."

All of which is absolutely on the mark, of course.

None of which Epstein ever had to come within 50 nautical miles of saying last year, when everything was sunshine and light.

But now we're coming up on the Fourth of July, and those days are gone in Wrigleyville. The Cubs are a .500 baseball team now, still wallowing around a game behind the Brewers for first place in the crummiest division in the majors. Winning this dubious prize is their only shot at the making the playoffs with the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies tearing it up in the NL West.

It's a huge letdown for a team of which so much more was expected in the wake of the historic World Series victory, and letdowns breed discontent the way filth breeds disease. A year ago, Montero never says what he said the other night, and Epstein never issues his proclamation that "we need to be a team." They were a team. That they should still be that same team now perhaps asks too much of flawed human beings.

It's easy to be a team when things are going well. It's damned hard, and sometimes impossible, to be a team when they're not -- especially when no one inside or outside the organization expected things to go this way, and especially when the man who was the Cubs' glue is now off enjoying his retirement.

It certainly takes no genius to figure what happened this week might not have happened had David Ross still been patrolling the clubhouse. His leadership skills were praised to the skies last season, almost to the point of being overblown. It appears now that praise might actually have been understated, and Ross' role underplayed. Hard as that might be to believe.

It's a theory, anyway. One among many on the north side these days.

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