Aramis Ramirez is not a leader of men
or: No Women Were Harmed in the Creation of this Post
It takes a lot to get me to stand aside long-time Sun-Times sportswriter Carol Slezak. Most days, when she isn't whining about how hard it is to live in Wrigleyville because, you know, there's so damn many Wrigley Field patrons some days, she is on her usual soapbox about gender inequity in sports. If I had a chance to ask her one question, it would be: "Carol, are you really a FemiNazi, or does the paper force you into it?" It really could go either way, except you do have to take into account the fact that, yeah, she once (and still might) lived in Wrigleyville and she's not a Cubs fan. I mean, for the rents and the crowds and the Trixie/Chad factor, I wouldn't live there unless I was a) a Cubs fan, or b) a patron of the lively independent art scene.
How's THAT for an euphenism?
Anyway, today she chose to address the response A-Ram gave when he surprisingly won the Hammerin' Hank award, or whatever it was called. (BTW: the award is of such little consequence that the process behind it isn't worth discussing). And, today, Carol was Right. She couldn't have been more right. I'm just taking her premise today a bit further.
See, A-Ram was asked the inevitable question, considering he was being honored for his hitting prowess, whether his sucktastic hitting performance was to blame for the cleen sweep in the playoffs. He did stand up and answer the question. In and of itself, his answer was well-reasoned, articulate, and logically correct. No, he stated, he was not to blame for the loss, any more than Soriano, Dempster, Marmol, et. al. It was a team loss, reasoned Mr. Ramirez, and indeed it was. If he was running for Mayor, or examining for the Bar, I would be inclined to have him continue with his line of reasoning. In otherwords, no, in samewords, his answer was very reasonable.
But it ain't what Carol wanted to hear, and I agree. It isn't what I want to hear out of him, either.
Our team is staffed with a lot of talented guys who, unlike years past, understand situational baseball and are not utterly consumed with their own stats. This is wonderful, well and good. Gone are the Sosas and Farnsworths and Trachsels and Barretts and Neifi! Dusty Baker is running another team into the ground. Sarge is where he belongs, away from us.
This is what we all must consider when we discuss Jim Hendry and the job he has done. Sure, we haven't won anything of consequence yet, and the farm system is pretty meager, even though we haven't self-depleted it as trade bait like a lot of big-market clubs tend to do. Sure, we aren't there yet, but take a minute and think back to, say 1999, or even 2005, and think of the last time you were watching us and really, truly wanted to pull your hair out (Game 2 excepted)? Most of the pieces are pretty much in place.
But we all know there's something missing - if your gut doesn't tell you that, then maybe the results do. But I've been loving reading some people's reasoning behind the consecutive failures - and by 'some people', I mean the Cubs Braintrust. "We lacked a lefthanded hitting presence. We didn't see a left-handed pitcher in three games. That's why we need lefties with punch." Uh, oookay. Don't I recall, just last year, that even though we were a stacked righthanded lineup, that Lefties Shut Us Down? So why is it such a bad thing that we didn't face any this year? "We hit lefties better this year!" As we should. But as it turns out, our LHP-RHP splits aren't gigantic. Makes me think that whole line of reasoning is a reach.
We all know that the most feasible route to address issues is to find new players. Fine, so we construct our thoughts in that manner, and in an attempt to be the most impactful, we tend to specify by naming names. "We need a Leadoff Hitter like Brian Roberts," you surmise, or "We need a Front of the Rotation Starter like Jake Peavy". That might be a bit simplistic though. What we're missing, regardless of what number he has on his back or what glove he uses, is an Alpha Dog. A Field Leader. Our Leader is the fat old guy wearing #41, sitting on the bench, making water commercials. And, that's not so bad, and in the regular season, as we've seen, it tends to work more often than not.
And forgive us all for not knowing this beforehand, because damn, we've hadn't much experience with this kind of thing. In a 162-game season, the guy in the dugout Can Lead. But in a Best-Of short series, the guy standing on the top stoop isn't able to react quickly enough to exert his will, in an attempt to stem the tide. Maybe Game 1, 4th inning, when Dempster was getting his nutts squeezed by the home plate umpire before he served up the four-ply tissue to James Loney, maybe Lou shoulda went out there, Representin' Tha Cubbz, protecting his pitcher and tore a new poophole into the guy. But he didn't, because the New Lou doesn't Do That anymore. He hasn't had to - why start in Game 163?
Well, Lou, we don't have any other leaders on the team, so you're as close as it gets. So, do I blame Lou for not arguing the calls in Game 1? (Yes, but...) No, he shouldn't have to start a melee to pump his club up. If they can't rise to the challenge themselves, they're doomed. And doomed they were.
We have no on-field leaders. The closest thing we have is our oft-injured phenom-turned-closer. Since he only plays one inning, and that's only if we have a lead, Kerry Wood is pretty ineffective in the role. The next closest thing is our second baseman, who, face it, is no superstar. Mark DeRosa was brought in to provide roster flexibility, not leadership.
Is that Hendry's fault? In one hand, no. He's paid 4 of his players Superstar Money, any and all of which should be accompanied by Superstar Leadership Performance. But on the other hand, he's picked the wrong 4 guys, it seems. We've discussed the quiet, gentlemanly Derrek Lee, and the quirky Alfonso Soriano already. The third guy is Carlos Zambrano, of course, who seems to be losing the War between "Fiery Force of Nature" and "Batshit Crazy".
Our last, great hope was Ramirez, and based on his regular season performances since joining us, he is our best hope. He is our best clutch hitter. Hell, he is our best hitter. He has overcome his lazy reputation and his tendency towards malingering injuries. He comes to play every day, and he has nearly climbed to the summit of his game.
He just seems to poop himself on the big stage.
So we finally get to where Carol comes in. Once again, ARam's response was reasonable. It was a team loss, everyone shares blame. It was a nice answer that would have went over just fine if it had come out of, say, Lou's mouth. Or Theriot's. Or Marmol's. But not from the guy who is as close to a superstar and a leader that we have on the team. That's what Title IX Carol and I think.
As irrational as it sounds, it would have went over better if he HAD taken the lion's share of the blame. We want our superstars to take losses personally. We want him to internalize. We want this thing to eat at him every day between now and next April. We want to believe that, as he spends his entire winter in the Dominican, devoted to his cocks, that every time he watches his kids dive into the pool, or watches his chicken peck the other chicken into submission, or watches his wife lie down in their sweaty, mosquito-netted love nest, that he sees his distant cousin Manny running around the bases like a silly-ass preschooler with his arms out at his sides like an airplane, making humming pb-b-b-b noises with his mouth, his greezy-ass dreadlocks slapping against his neck as he's taking food out of our mouths and the very Blood of Life out of our hearts!
Maybe you don't have to SOUND like a leader to be a leader, but I doubt it. So whatever Hendry does this winter, if he can ever buy, trade, or develop that big stud hoss with the red ass who hates losing and isn't gonna tolerate it anymore from himself or any of his men, now is the time to do it. Maybe Geo Soto is gonna be the guy, but naaaah...he looks too much like Rico freakin' Suave to ever pull it off...