Chicago Cubs: Carlos Zambrano
"Every time I come to Chicago it's good to be here and feel the atmosphere of baseball," a smiling Zambrano said before the Cubs played the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Zambrano was a polarizing figure during his 11 years in Chicago from 2001-2011 as his tenure ended after former general manager Jim Hendry suspended him after a meltdown in Atlanta when he told Cubs coaches he was retiring.
"I don't play anymore," Zambrano joked. "It's not my fault. No one can complain to me."
Big Z in the house pic.twitter.com/WnVPWdu9v1— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) September 5, 2014
Zambrano hasn't officially retired, but he's not exactly working his way back into pitching shape.
"I was playing catch the other day after five months," he said. "I felt like I was throwing a rock ... I think I can (still) hit."
Zambrano's time with the Cubs was mixed with success and plenty of controversy. From 2003 to 2008 he won at least 13 games a season but fights with teammates and other volatile moments on and off the field highlighted his tenure. There were a few Gatorade buckets that felt Zambrano's anger. But all that is in the past for him.
"Hundred twenty wins, good ERA, beside a bad episode, I love this town," Zambrano said. "I love the fans and this team."
We're not sure which "bad episode" he's referring to but despite Zambrano's checkered history with the Cubs he seems welcome within the organization. That's not the case for former Cub Sammy Sosa, who lives in the same city as Zambrano.
"Haven't talked to him in a while," Zambrano said. "I know he's in Miami."
There's still not a clear picture as to why Sosa isn't welcomed back. He had controversies as well but never fought teammates as openly as Zambrano did. Owner Tom Ricketts has said in the past that some mending of fences has to be done before there's a Sosa return.
As for Zambrano, he's not exactly following the Cubs but claims he'll be there when they "go to the World Series." He knows of their young talent.
"The other day I saw (Jorge) Soler," Zambrano said. "I saw him take an at-bat against (Jonathan) Broxton in Cincinnati. I liked what I saw, but I'm not a hitting coach."
Zambrano is content to "play golf and raise my kids" in Miami but is glad to be participating in the Larry A. Pogofsky Charity Softball Challenge on Saturday in Schamburg. He says he'll play catcher.
"I don't like to lose, remember," Zambrano declared with a wink.
Zambrano, 32, last pitched in the major leagues for the Miami Marlins in 2012. He's a free agent and throwing in Venezuela for Navegantes del Magallanes. He's 0-1 with a 3.20 ERA in four starts.
"He is most definitely interested in continuing his career," Praver said on Monday from the GM meetings.
Zambrano pitched for the Cubs from 2001-2011, winning 125 games. A major league source says the Cubs have no interest in bringing Zambrano back to Chicago.
Zambrano was with the Philadelphia Phillies organization last season but his comeback stalled with a minor shoulder injury that ended his season prematurely. Praver says Zambrano is now healthy.
Zambrano's embattled Cubs career came to an end when the team suspended him for the final six weeks of the 2011 season. He was subsequently traded to the Marlins.
Asked if Zambrano would be open to attending a Cubs Convention -- if invited -- after retirement, Praver said: "I have no doubt that he would come. Carlos speaks very fondly of Chicago and Cubs fans."
The major buzz that once was a part of this 16-year-old interleague rivalry has been replaced by a more businesslike approach in this season’s four-game home-and-home matchup.
“I don’t think it is quite what it used to be,” said White Sox setup man Matt Thornton, who has participated in every Crosstown Classic since 2006. “I still think it means a lot, but for whatever the reason it doesn’t have the same feel to it.”
Zambrano signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies on Tuesday. The contract gives no assurances Zambrano will make the major league roster. The 31-year-old pitcher
can opt out of his agreement with the Phillies in July if he has not been promoted to the 25-man roster.
"I always saw Zambrano when he was here in a good way," Soriano said. "I never saw anything about him fighting with his teammates. I am happy he got another job, and I hope he does great in Philly."
The high-energy former Cubs pitcher can still show intensity, but under new manager and friend Ozzie Guillen, Zambrano seems to have learned how to harness his inner demons for the benefit of himself and his teammates.
It comes too late for those in the Cubs' clubhouse, who witnessed the occasional counter-productive meltdown. That's not to say the right-hander wasn't productive during his 11 seasons with the Cubs, going 125-81 with a 3.60 ERA.
"I saw this man was like a bull when he goes to the ring," Guillen said Sunday in Miami. "He was just attacking people all over the place. I see it that way. He doesn't know who he's going to kill. Now he's more calm and I think maybe because he has matured a little more. Maybe (it's) because people aren't going to put up with his (nonsense) anymore."
Guillen didn't say "nonsense," of course. He dropped an unflattering expletive, showing that he knew exactly what he was getting into when the Marlins traded for him this winter.
What the Marlins have received in return is mixed. In 17 starts (before Monday) Zambrano was 4-7, hardly impressive but run support gets some of the blame. He has a 4.20 ERA, not exactly eye-popping, but there are some nice internal numbers.
Zambrano has given up 86 hits in 100 2/3 innings and of the five Marlins pitchers who have already reached 100 innings this season, he is the only one to give up fewer than 100 hits. His eight home runs allowed are second best on the staff to Josh Johnson's six.
Guillen and Zambrano both hail from Venezuela, and Guillen was often the person who consulted the pitcher after his infamous blowups. But Guillen balks at taking the credit for what seems to be a more focused Zambrano.
"Whatever the reason is, maybe it's because his religion helped him, his family," Guillen said. "A lot of people take credit that don't need (to take) credit. I have nothing to do with this. I told him exactly what I want and he's been doing that. I'm not going to take credit: ‘Oh, he's better because I'm tough.' No, he's better because he wants to be better."
Amazing as it sounds, Guillen seems to think that Zambrano might be too passive now.
"I think sometimes Carlos tried to take something off to throw a strike and that's not the approach to take," Guillen said. "When you take something off to throw a strike and that thing is going to be over the plate with nothing on it then you're going to get whacked. I would rather have him to throw (hard) no matter how it is. It takes a little while for that process but it's been a lot better."
Buy anybody disappointed that Zambrano couldn't take this new approach while he was with the Cubs, Guillen and the new surroundings were probably the biggest reason it is happening now.
"I believe in him because I know what he can do," Guillen said. "I'm not going to say do this or that and I know he can't do it. I told the Marlins to not worry about him off the field because I think I know him pretty well. And he needed change. It was good for everyone. I'm not just going to talk about this side I'm going to talk about the other side too. It's better for everyone."
"I left half of my heart over there," said Zambrano, who was traded in January for Chris Volstad and cash considerations. "Chicago was always great to me and I do really appreciate all the attention and the criticism too because that made me get better. Nobody likes to be criticized but Wrigley (Field) was a great place for me.
"The atmosphere of baseball that you have in Wrigley, the passion of the fans is something that you probably don't see in any other ballpark. But it was time to turn the page. I'm here now and I'm in a new place and I'm trying to enjoy the time here. So far I'm doing it."
Read the entire story.
As Carlos Zambrano enters fresh surroundings, will his poor play the past couple seasons vanish? More importantly, will Zambrano get more wins than any Cubs starter? Our experts address both sides of that questions in this week's Hot Button.
On Saturday -- one day before Cubs pitchers and catchers begin their first official workout, five days before position players report, 15 days before the first spring training game and 47 days before the season opener at Wrigley Field -- Epstein announced, again, that the goal of 2012 Cubs "is to win the World Series."
Yes, and my goal is to need hair gel this year, but that's probably not going to happen either.
Still, Epstein had to say it. What else could he say: "Our goal is to finish ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates"?
Read the entire column.
“First of all, it’s really up to the baseball guys to decide who fits on the team,” Ricketts said at the Cubs Convention. “If there is a player they think doesn’t fit and they think it’s better for the team to move him, then I’ll support it 100%, even if that means eating some salary.”
Read the entire story.
2. Santo inducted into Hall: Almost one year to the day after his death, Ron Santo was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with 94 percent of the vote from the veterans committee. The former third baseman and broadcaster had been passed over by the Baseball Writers' Association of America for 15 years and the veteran's committee another 10. He became the 47th player to wear a Cubs uniform enshrined into Cooperstown. Santo hit .277 with 342 home runs and 1,333 RBIs in a 15-year career. He called Cubs games as the radio analyst for 21 seasons until his death in 2010.
4. Castro's emergence: With 207 hits, Starlin Castro became the youngest player to not only lead the NL in hits but also the youngest player in Cubs history to make a NL All-Star team. Castro became only the fifth player in All-Star history to steal two bases in an All-Star Game. He led the league in at-bats (674) and also led NL shortstops in errors with 29, playing 158 out of 162 games. Castro also had five hitting streaks of 10 games or more. He came under fire for having his back turned to home plate as a pitch was thrown during a nationally-televised game in August. The mistake was noted by an ESPN producer and relayed to Bobby Valentine, becoming national news.
5. Zambrano quits the team: The always unpredictable pitcher walked out of the clubhouse and announced to team personnel that he was quitting baseball after an embarrassing performance in Atlanta on Aug. 12. Zambrano gave up a Cubs-record five home runs in 4 1/3 innings before being ejected for throwing inside on Chipper Jones twice in the same at-bat. After storming out of the clubhouse, Zambrano was put on the disqualified list and never pitched again for the Cubs in 2011. Epstein met with Zambrano and agent Barry Praver on Nov. 15 and told him if he worked hard in winter ball he would have a chance to re-build his career and his relationship with his teammates in 2012. Zambrano received 19 stitches after taking a line drive off his mouth in his third start in Venezuela in November.