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    Carlos Zambrano, the Atlanta Braves, and a lesson in class

    By Jonathan Michael Knott

    Friday night’s contest against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field featured some behavior rarely seen on a baseball diamond and almost NEVER involving the Braves.  Cubs starting pitcher, Carlos Zambrano, lost his cool after surrendering 5 homeruns to Atlanta hitters. This came as no surprise, as Zambrano has become well known for his short fuse and the kind of temper tantrums that usually result in after-school detention or the confiscation of one’s favorite toy.

    This time, however, it was worse than usual. When Cubs Manager, Mike Quade, opted not to remove Zambrano from the game during his 5th inning shellacking, Zambrano decided to remove himself. He attempted twice, quite transparently, to plunk Chipper Jones with a fastball. It seems clear in retrospect that he grew tired of being lit up like a Christmas tree and was trying to get himself tossed by the home plate umpire, Tim Timmons. And, of course, he was successful.

    His antics would have been shameful in any setting, but the time and place in which they occurred created a striking contrast.  It wasn’t just any Friday night game. The #6 jersey of legendary manager, Bobby Cox, was retired before the game that evening, after he was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame during a ceremony earlier that day.

    Legendary former Braves manager, Bobby Cox

    What made Cox such a remarkable manager was his unique ability to maintain an even keeled clubhouse over the course of 162 games.  The 14 straight NL East division pennants hung at “The Ted” during his tenure (a feat unparalleled in all of professional sports) are a direct testament to his leadership.  He never allowed emotions to run too high after a win or too low after a loss. Nor would he allow any of his players to wallow in self-pity after an error or during a slump. He had a way of helping each player to believe in himself. His players loved him for it and felt compelled to reward his patience and confidence on the field.

    Bobby was an encourager, and he was quick to forgive honest mistakes. One thing he did NOT tolerate, however, was slack effort or selfish behavior.  To exhibit such behavior was to punch your own ticket out of Atlanta, regardless of your talent level (Yunel Escobar being the most recent example).

    Which brings us back to Zambrano.  Again, the man has been known to make a fool of himself from time to time.  He was even ordered to take anger management classes for several months last year after erupting at Derrek Lee—widely considered one of the most amiable men in baseball—in the Cubs dugout.  But on Friday night in Atlanta, he outdid himself.  As Braves hitters knocked Zambrano around like oversized piñata, you could see in his eyes that he was inching ever closer to boiling point.

    When Dan Uggla connected for his second homer of the evening (the team’s fifth), Zambrano decided he was finished. After he took aim at Chipper with two intentional would-be beanballs, which Chipper narrowly avoided, Tim Timmons unhesitatingly ejected Zambrano.  Timmons then marched toward the Braves dugout yelling and gesticulating like an angry drill Sergeant, warning Braves players not to rush the mound.  This proved to be wise, as Jason Heyward (6-5, 250 lbs), Freddie Freeman (6-5, 240) and Eric Hinske (6-4, 260) had already charged out of the dugout, and had they been allowed to get up a head of steam it would have been like the running of the bulls at Pomplona.

    It’s a shame, really, that Timmons got in the way. It would have been fascinating to see how motivated Zambrano’s teammates, for whom he’s show such frequent disregard, would have been to rush to his aid and jump between him and the Braves’ linebacker-sized sluggers.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher, Carlos Zambrano

    But perhaps Zambrano didn’t notice the angry men with the professional wrestler physiques headed his way, because he didn’t seem concerned.  He just strolled calmly off the field. He paused in the dugout for just a moment, cracked a grin and yelled something incoherent at a TV cameraman, who tried not to notice.  He then made his way to the visitors’ clubhouse, cleaned out his locker and told the clubhouse staff he was retiring.

    This incident was different from his previous meltdowns. In an odd way, it was much worse. This time, the Gatorade coolers had nothing to fear. He didn’t clean out the bat rack, curse at his teammates or take out his frustration on any inanimate object within walking distance. This time, he didn’t get angry. Nope… he simply gave up and quit.

    First, he quit the game by deliberately throwing at Chipper for the express purpose of getting himself ejected. And then he quit the team when he cleared out his locker and left the ballpark while the game was still in progress.

    I’m pretty sure the Encarta North-American dictionary now has a new definition for “horse’s ass”.

    That kind of behavior sticks out like a sore grotesquely disfigured thumb anywhere, anytime. But at Turner Field, on a night set aside honor one of the all-time classiest managers of one of the classiest organizations in baseball… that’s a whole new level of irony.

    Cubs General Manager, Jim Hendry, later phoned Braves GM, Frank Wren, to offer a well received apology on behalf of his team. And Zambrano has since been placed on the 30-day disqualified list, which means he’ll have no contact with the team and will not be paid for 30 days.  I have no doubt whatsoever that Cubs management was as mortified as anyone in baseball by Zambrano’s behavior. But be that as it may, this wouldn’t have happened in Atlanta. Well, ok… it DID happen in Atlanta, but you know what I mean.

    This wouldn’t have happened under Bobby or his successor, Fredi Gonzalez.  Bobby was a longsuffering manager who forgave mistakes, but he did not suffer fools.  Fredi was hired as the person most likely to seamlessly carry on that tradition.

    Had Zambrano pitched for the Braves, he would have learned to control himself… or he’d have been shipped long ago to the American League for a tub of sunflower seeds and a player to be named later.  That’s just the way the way the Braves do business. The right way.

    The stark contrast between the idiocy of Carlos Zambrano and the professionalism of the Braves reminds us all what a classy organization this really is.

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