Requiem for a Zombie
My acquaintance with Carlos Zambrano goes back to his teenage days when he would sit near our seats behind the plate charting pitches between starts for the I-Cubs. He wore stiff new jeans and his hair was oiled to a sheen. Over the years he exhibited an almost womanly fussiness about his hairstyle, as unsure apparently about that particular aspect of himself as he was about the whole.
In those days he routinely signed autographs there in the stands for kids, including mine, who had no idea, either of who he was or who he would become. Neither, really, did Carlos.
I was there the night he couldn’t hold a 4-0 lead in Game One of the 2003 NLCS. That stage was too much too soon. He was barely old enough to buy himself a drink in Chicago then. The thinking was that he would grow into maybe the stoutest #3 starter in baseball behind the twin bell cows of Prior and Wood. Instead he ascended to the role of ace through attrition and was paid accordingly though, to my mind, he never earned an ace’s salary.
That’s not to say he wasn’t ever worth the rising prices of admission. I remember a game I attended with my two sons in 2006 when Zambrano was facing the Mets. After reaching first in a scoreless game by beating out an infield hit with nobody on and two out in the bottom of the fifth, he stole second practically standing up. At the last possible instant he fell back into a graceless slide that looked to have broken his ankle. When he got to his feet and dusted himself off we were sure we could see him grinning from hundreds of feet away. It was the only stolen base of his career to date. Juan Pierre grounded out to end the inning but Zambrano eventually beat Tom Glavine that day to run his record to 9-3 for a team that was 35-55 at the time.
Years later my eldest was in the bleachers the day when Zombie, as we liked to call him, got ejected and retaliated by ejecting his ejector and trying to throw the ball clear into the left field seats. I was listening on the radio and as soon as the phone rang I knew who it was.
My feelings about the trade to the Marlins are mixed. I’m glad the Cubs are rid of the tantrums and the declining performance (he hasn’t thrown 200 innings since 2007) but I will miss the buffoon too, I must confess. I will not be surprised if he wins the NL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2012, but I would have been if he won it pitching for the Cubs. The Ozzie y Carlos Show should be lively in Miami. Let’s face it, we and the Cubs have neither seen nor heard the last of the mercurial man-child. He may have lost a step on the base paths along with a few MPH on the fastball, but when he makes his return to Wrigley, if he gets on they better hold him close.