Cubs fans have to appreciate end

CHICAGO -- Every year they hold Fan Appreciation Day on the last home game of the season at Wrigley Field. It's a good idea. Usually, the fans really appreciate when the season is over.

This year, it's no different. The players, the front-office staff, the media, Len and Bob, the vendors making half as much as they did three years ago, everyone's happy to turn the page on this season.

The 2011 season will go down in the history books as one of the worst in Cubs history, from the regular fundamental miscues to the end of Carlos Zambrano's Cubs career to the demise of Jim Hendry's tenure.

Ah, who am I kidding? This is the Cubs. There are a lot of terrible seasons to go around. Wait 'til next year for another one.

To show his appreciation for those plucky Cubs fans, manager Mike Quade started his French Corners infield with D.J. LeMahieu at third and Bryan LaHair at first.

One reporter asked Quade if L'Infield was a potential preview for next year's hot corners.

"It's up to them," Quade said. "If they play well, that's definitely a preview."

I've heard worse ideas than starting next season with LaHair at first and LeMahieu at third for a major-market ballclub.

For instance, asking season-ticket holders to pay cash up front for tickets and giving them a $5 autographed baseball as a reward, or charging $75 for a "VIP ticket" to see "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" at Wrigley.

The Cubs have done both this season, among other mishaps, so anything's possible.

Along with L'Infield, Quade also started Jeff Baker, Reed Johnson and Marlon Byrd. He's tough but fair in that way, a veterans' manager.

Byrd hit a three-run homer in the Cubs' 7-1 victory over playoff-bound Milwaukee. Matt Garza looked fantastic, pitching a complete game. Must be his regular Popeye's Chicken pregame meal. Yup, that nutritionist Todd Ricketts hired is doing a bang-up job.

A smattering of die-hards, the unemployed, the underemployed and genial out-of-towners showed up for the Cubs' merciful end. The organization needed only 12,999 fans to break 3 million for the eighth straight season, which it did with ease, as the team announced a crowd of 30,000-plus, about 10,000 too high. The Cubs drew 3,017,966 for the season, which illustrates the drawing power of Wrigley Field and the hard work of the sales staff.

Imagine how many they'd draw if they got $200 million in public subsidies!

Before the game, free agent-to-be Aramis Ramirez reiterated that he's probably gone and amateur fisherman-to-be Quade said he hopes he stays next year. The thing is no one has any idea what's going to happen next because there's no general manager in place.

Quade's got as much a chance of managing next year's team as suit-wearing stats shaman Ari Kaplan, but a man can dream, can't he?

"We're going to play a game today, and I feel I'm going to be back," Quade said. "That's the way I look at things. There's no other way to look at it."

Cockeyed optimism can get you only so far in life, like a two-year deal to manage the Cubs. I like Quade. Everyone likes Quade. Well, except Cubs fans, but you can't say his managing sank this team. A lot of factors bigger than Quade's so-so managing have sent this franchise into a tailspin.

This organization is in need of a major overhaul, from top to bottom. General manager Jim Hendry's firing was the first move, next up is hiring a new GM who will have a host of major decisions to make in short order.

Most importantly, rosterwise, is Ramirez, who has a small buyout for next season and is interested in only a multiyear deal. Figure three years and $45 million. Can the Cubs afford to lose his bat?

Ramirez's agent, Paul Kinzer, met with powerless interim GM Randy Bush and chairman Tom Ricketts to discuss Ramirez's future.

"I let Randy and [chairman] Tom Ricketts know that we're going to test the free-agent market," Kinzer told ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine. "I also told them the Cubs would be on our short list to return if they're interested in signing us."

Ramirez said he doesn't want to be a part of a rebuilding campaign, but if the Cubs are serious about contending next year -- hold the laughter please -- he's interested in returning for a boatload of money.

"If they want to keep me here, they got a better chance than anybody else," said Ramirez, who sat out the home finale with a mild right quad strain.

If he's truly gone, Ramirez didn't get a chance to say goodbye to the home crowd, which is a shame. When he leaves, it's truly the end of an era. More than any other player he represents the Cubs' evolution into a true big-market franchise with competitive aspirations. He's the best third baseman since Ron Santo, and a true professional, even if he fields like a beer leaguer.

For the 39th time in 81 games, Cubs fans got to sing "Go Cubs Go" after a win. And the Cubs rewarded them.

They're gone.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.