Carlos Zambrano, Don't Quit on Your Teammates

Quitting Time on the North Side: Big Z Pitches Another Fit

There is only one purpose for the unwritten rule mandating that all players make an appearance during a baseball fight. Even those without intention of throwing a punch, who want only to serve as peacemaker or to pull bodies off the pile, prove their loyalty through their very presence in the scrum.

The inverse, however, can be catastrophic. Should a player remain on the bench or in the clubhouse as his teammates storm the field, the personal toll may be irreparable. It doesn’t happen frequently, but such players are seen as soft, at best, and disloyal, at worst. Their clubhouse standing is immediately shredded.

Last week we saw the inverse, as it related to a player whose standing with his teammates was apparently already in tatters.

On Aug. 12, Carlos Zambrano threw two pitches at Chipper Jones after giving up back-to-back homers (the fourth and fifth he’d surrendered on the night) and was promptly tossed from the game. Players came streaming out of the Atlanta dugout to defend their star.

From the Chicago side: nobody.

(Well, there was manager Mike Quade, who ambled out to chat with plate ump Tim Timmons. Watch it here.)

It’s difficult to say where Zambrano lost this clubhouse among the myriad possibilities. In 2007, he fought openly with teammate Michael Barrett. In 2009 he had an in-game meltdown so severe that MLB suspended him for six games; then he missed the team’s flight to Atlanta. In 2010 he screamed at teammate Derek Lee in the dugout, for which he was suspended by the Cubs and which precipitated his enrollment in anger-management therapy. Earlier this season he called the Cubs a “Triple-A team.”

After Zambrano’s meltdown against Atlanta (which also included drilling Dan Uggla after the first of his two home runs on the day), Alfonzo Soriano confronted him in the clubhouse. Shortly thereafter, the pitcher packed his bags, told people he was retiring and left the ballpark before the game ended.

“I’m really disappointed,” said Quade in the Chicago Tribune. “His locker is empty. I don’t know where he’s at. He walked out on 24 guys that are battling their (butts) off for him. . . . I can’t have a guy walking out on 24 guys, that’s for damn sure.”

Cubs GM Jim Hendry called Zambrano’s retirement bluff, saying, “We will respect his wishes and honor them and move forward.” (Hendry also apologized to the Braves for the pitches aimed at Jones. Of course, Hendry is the guy who signed Zambrano to a five-year, $91.5 million extension in 2007. The team fired him today.)

“I’ve never seen that before, someone just get (ticked) off and leave and retire,” said Aramis Ramirez. “I’ve been around for awhile. Even with him, players don’t do that.”

Even with him.

Before long, of course, the pitcher reconsidered, offering apologies and going on a mea culpa media tour. The fact that he’s owed $4.7 million for the remainder of this season, and $18 million next year, were likely motivating factors.

That’s the thing about losing the respect of teammates, however—returns are never easy. The Cubs placed Zambrano on the disqualified list, resulting in a 30-day suspension without pay. The players’ union filed a grievance on his behalf.

The Cubs’ next GM, whoever he is, is not likely to embrace the idea bringing back Zambrano, who by that point will be somebody else’s mistake. But even if the union wins, the Cubs fail to cut him and Zambrano returns to Wrigley, it won’t be an easy ride.

Beating management is one thing, but the guy can’t beat his teammates—he has to win them back.

And when quitting is concerned, we all know how that goes.

– Jason

Don't Quit on Your Teammates, Milton Bradley, Seattle Mariners

Bradley on the Outs in Seattle. A Reparable Rift? Unlikely

Milton Bradley’s at it again. According to Mike Salk of ESPN’s radio affiliate in Seattle, the volatile slugger started into plate umpire Kerwin Danley in the sixth inning, after striking out looking with the bases loaded.

Apparently, things got so heated that Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu interceded, telling Bradley to back off. Shortly thereafter, a source told Salk, Bradley approached his manager, said, “I’m packing my stuff. I’m out of here,” and left the dugout, the ballpark—and maybe the Mariners organization.

From Geoff Baker‘s Seattle Times blog:

Wakamatsu had Ryan Langerhans warm up immediately and followed Bradley into a tunnel between the dugout and clubhouse to talk him off the ledge and tell him not to quit on his teammates. At some point, Bradley was about to return to the dugout, but once he saw Langerhans playing left field in his place, left again and returned to his locker.

From there, he quickly packed and exited the stadium with the game still in progress.

General manager Jack Zduriencik said all the right things afterward, about how Bradley was still an important part of the team, and how Seattle needs him to be successful.

The reality, however, is somewhat different. Bradley unmistakably turned his back on his teammates, hanging them out to dry in a game they trailed only 3-1. This is akin to not leaving the dugout during a fight—maybe worse.

It’s why Zach Duke addressed his team through the media just last week after failing to retaliate for multiple Code violations by the Dodgers, offering a public apology when a private one might have sufficed. He knew the possibility of losing the respect of his teammates was real, and he did what he had to do to stanch the bleeding.

Bradley, however, is on his eighth team in 11 seasons. He left one of them–the Cubs–over this very issue just last year, departing Wrigley Field before their season-closing game was over. They couldn’t trade him fast enough. (It might say something that what seems to be the only team willing to take him demanded that Chicago take on Carlos Silva’s bloated contract in return.)

Unlike Duke, Bradley doesn’t have the Seattle clubhouse, because he doesn’t know the Seattle clubhouse. If anything, his teammates are more aware of his most-prime-candidate-for-anger-management-therapy-in-the-league reputation far better than they know the guy himself; they’ve hardly spent two months with each other.

If Bradley wants a job in the major leagues—be it in Seattle or elsewhere—he’s going to need to make reparations, and in a pretty major way. He keeps getting chances because he’s unmistakably talented. Never before, though, has he crossed the line to potential clubhouse pariah quite so convincingly as he might have last night.

Update: In the home clubhouse at Safeco Field today, Bradley took the floor in a closed-door meeting, and talked about the issues he had to work out. (As is the way with closed-door meetings, only the vaguest details have been released.)

Bradley also met with manager Don Wakamatsu and GM Jack Zduriencik, in which, wrote Geoff Baker in the Seattle Times, he asked for their help in dealing with turmoil in his life.

Zduriencik later met with the media, and talked about Bradley dealing with “some very personal and very emotional things in his life right now,” and how the team is going to help Bradley through whatever personal trauma he’s experiencing.

If everyone follows through and this affair has a happy ending, it would be a splendid turn of events. How many other teams have said the same thing about Bradley, however? The guy went so far as to seek counseling for his anger while a member of the Dodgers in 2004.

Perhaps the best thing he has going for him at the moment is the Mariners’ putrid offense. After all of this, it could still be that they need him more than he needs them, which is the bedrock for second chances.

Update II (May 6): The Mariners have placed Bradley on the restricted list while they reevaluate his situation.

– Jason