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Friday, July 30, 2010
Updated: July 31, 11:49 AM ET
Zambrano's apology is meaningless

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- With the Bears' training camp opening, the Blackhawks' convention ongoing, the White Sox's season rolling and the "Jersey Shore" GTL-ing, it's forgivable if you've forgotten the importance of July 30, 2010.

That's right, Carlos Zambrano (The Z-ituation) is apologizing for yelling. His fellow Cubs are listening and hopefully forgiving.

Forgive me for yawning.

Cue the voiceover: "The Zambrano Apology, sponsored by Visine, for all those times you need to fake some tears."

Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano's tirade on June 25 might have resulted in just a fine and early exit if he had been pitching more effectively.

What's that line Ozzie Guillen always uses? "Good teams win games, [bad] teams have meetings."

What kind of team has a meeting about an apology?

The Cubs, I guess. It's either that or have an insurrection over the new healthy food menu.

Unfortunately, we won't be able to watch how it all goes down.

Will Carlos cry? Will Carlos get down on bended knee? Will Carlos read a poem? Will Carlos offer Derrek Lee a rose?

It's all so riveting.

Here's a question: Why is this apology a big deal in the first place? If you do care about it: why? Outgoing manager Lou Piniella and going-nowhere general manager Jim Hendry brought up the importance of a future apology shortly after Zambrano's June 25 meltdown against the White Sox, highlighting it as a relatively tame must-do when he returned from his suspension.

With Zambrano in limbo, what else could they say? Corporal punishment isn't collectively bargained. I guess they could've taken away his clubhouse food privileges, but that would've been like a reward nowadays.

So with Zambrano finishing an unimpressive warm-up act in the minors, the stage was set for the all-important welcome back flagellation session Friday. It was set as the Humbling of the Z. But everyone's favorite recidivist, fresh off anger management, pulled a fast one on everybody when he went to ESPN for an interview first.

It was a pretty standard "I'm sorry, I'm a good guy now" interview, the kind we've come to watch intently and quickly forget.

For his part, Zambrano, who said he wants to stay in Chicago, also said he wanted to talk to the local reporters who decamped to Des Moines, Iowa, during his minor league stint, and were promptly stiffed, but he wasn't allowed. So he went national.

I have no problem with his "Decision," and frankly, I had no interest in it. Because I don't care how Carlos Zambrano acts, I only care how he pitches. The reaction people have to this Z-ituation, that's more exciting.

And I think the Cubs feel the same way about performance over personality. If they didn't, why did he get free rein to be himself all these years. Guillen, a close friend of Zambrano, agrees.

"Carlos has been like that since he started playing baseball," Guillen told reporters a day after the incident. "Now all of a sudden he sucks and everyone points fingers at him. He was like that when he was winning. But you don't produce and don't do what you're supposed to do and make a lot of money, you're a target."

For his June 25 dugout fit, taken alone, he deserved nothing more than a fine and an early shower. He got much less scrutiny for beating up his catcher, Michael Barrett, in 2007. But it wasn't about that. This month-long suspension was for Carlos Zambrano having the gall to act like Carlos Zambrano when he's pitching like Bob Howry.

It's not uncommon in sports, or in life, to get a little leeway when you're going good. For whatever reason, Zambrano's career is going downhill. Maybe he only had a certain number of years, a certain number of innings left. Maybe he doesn't work hard enough. Whatever the reason for his decline, be it temporary or permanent, the Cubs took action this season and let Zambrano know he's not Big Man in the Clubhouse anymore.

"He hasn't been up to the standards that he was at before for two years," Hendry said after Zambrano's meltdown. "If you look at his last 50 starts, he probably ranks in the bottom third in the National League of overall performance. I'm not saying that critically. It's not something I'm tying in with today, but that's part of the decision that was criticized at the time, like we were taking our ace out of the rotation."

Whether Zambrano saved his best crocodile tears for Pedro Gomez or Ryan Theriot is immaterial.

What really matters are that the Cubs are two weeks under .500 and Zambrano is headed to the bullpen.

Why is he going back to the 'pen? Punishment for being a lousy starting pitcher. When Zambrano was demoted to the bullpen after four starts, it was because the other four starters were throwing better, and the Cubs thought he could be a short-term help for a relieving corps greener than Wrigley ivy in mid-July.

I'm not on Zambrano's side here. I don't buy for a minute that he was trying to fire up the team with his dugout outburst, like he's tried to sell the latest incident. He was mad at himself for giving up a three-run homer and mad at his teammates for perceived bad defense. He looked like a jerk. Who's surprised at that?

When it comes down to it, Zambrano is immature and spoiled. But is that what he's apologizing for? His teammates just want to win, and they don't care if Zambrano is a good teammate, an average teammate or a Milton Bradley teammate. Zambrano's never been the ace of the clubhouse, anyway.

It's the fans who want the apology for themselves.

But we won't forgive Zambrano in this particular case, and his teammates won't really care about his penance. Not until he starts 30-plus games a year again and throws his 200 innings, benchmarks he hasn't reached in the past few years and perhaps won't achieve again in a Cubs uniform. He proved that he could be an ace, but that was a long time ago. If he were still an ace, he wouldn't have been exiled for a month.

Zambrano's apology, televised or private, stage-crafted or authentic, means nothing. It's not a start, it's not a destination and it doesn't prove anything beyond the fact he can string some words together. It doesn't absolve him and it won't placate us. It won't spark the Cubs from pretender to contender.

Call this moment what it is: a big zzzzzzzzz.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.