Can Cubs Prospects Avoid the Pitfalls of Success?

Can Cubs Prospects Avoid the Pitfalls of Success?

Mostly lost amid the celebratory mood of Javydad was the news that Biogenesis of America clinic founder Tony Bosch had surrendered to the DEA. I'm not sure whether there's any significance to the timing, but the surrender fell on the one-year anniversary of MLB's suspension of 13 players with ties to Bosch.

Alex Rodriguez was the most high-profile suspension, due to his notoriety and its severity (initially 211 games), not to mention his vehement (and somewhat pathetic) refusal to accept it. But Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, Everth Cabrera, and more were also banned, though all for only 50 games.

As I'm sure is the case with many of you, I had filed A-Roid away into the out-of-sight-out-of-mind drawer, but he popped back in when I saw Tony Bosch splashed all over the 4-letter. So I took to a piece I had written in the wake of one of the arbitration hearings related to that massive ban.

The only thing missing from Alex Rodriguez’s histrionic exit from an ongoing grievance hearing on Wednesday was a smashed boombox.  I’m not even sure whether kids still call ‘em boomboxes these days but I am pretty sure that ghetto blaster is not the preferred nomenclature.  Either way, maybe Joe Tacopina, A-Rod’s lawyer, busted up the recording device in the room before he left.

In a press release that came suspiciously soon after the controversial New York Yankees’ slugger took his ball and went home after it was ruled that Bud Selig did not have to testify at the hearing,  Rodriguez called the arbitration process “a farce,” and was “disgusted with this abusive process, designed to ensure that the player fails.”

The statement went on to lament the absurdity and baselessness of both the punishment levied on him by MLB and the ensuing circus of “testimony by felons and liars.”  His actual statement to MLB attorney Rob Manfred, according to what sources told Yahoo Sports, was that “this is [expletive] bull[expletive] and you know it.”  Never mind the fact that Selig has never testified at a player’s grievance hearing, a fact that would have been evident to Rodriguez and his legal team.

Farce?  Absurd?  [Expletive] bull[expletive]?  If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Alex Rodriguez had read one of my articles about either the Chicago Cubs or Chicago Bears.  But while the comments were directed at baseball and Bud Selig, those entities appear to be like rubber and A-Rod is glue.

Well, that was fun little trip down memory lane. The gist (not jest, no malapropisms here) of my earlier piece was that the Cubs have, by and large, done a decent job of distancing themselves from n'er-do-wells and malcontents. Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano stand out, but it was another former Cub who drew the bulk of my attention.

So what in the blue hell does this have to do with Sammy Sosa?  Let me see if I can connect some disparate dots here.  Like Rodriguez, Sosa had been accused, more than once, of using some extra measures to gain an advantage.  There was the corked bat incident in 2003, for instance.  But that bat was just used to put on shows during BP, right?

But when your team is winning, as the Cubs did a lot on their way to the NLCS, people tend to overlook the little victimless crimes.  Likewise, the surge in Sosa’s power numbers overshadowed the growth of his chest, arms, and head (both figuratively and literally) over his dozen years with the Cubs.

After averaging 55 longballs per season over the prior 6 years, 2004 saw Sammy hit only (only!) 35 homers.  He also struggled through an infamous back injury brought on by a violent sneeze.  The end of his Cubs career came when he walked out on the team during the last game of that season.  While some fans, Radio Raheem among them, were sad to see him go, most bid good riddance when Sosa was sent to the Baltimore Orioles prior to the 2005 season.

So when he went before Congress to testify about the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, it was as an Oriole and not a Cub.  Sosa didn’t get the chance to berate anyone and have his quoted words replaced with [expletive] though, as his grasp of the English language had escaped him to the extent that his lawyer provided a statement on his behalf.

Sammy slugged for Baltimore and then sat out a year before eventually ending his career with the Texas Rangers, for whom he hit his 600th career home run.  Ironically enough, that hit came against the Cubs.  And though some delusional Cubs fans were still clamoring for his return to Chicago in 2008 and again in ’09, it was not to be.

Slammin’ Sammy ended his career with the same team that had ensured Alex Rodriguez a life of enmity six years earlier.  And as if signing a deal for a quarter-billion dollars wasn’t enough to draw the ire of pretty much everyone in America, he was acquired by the New York Yankees in 2004.  The size of New York’s fanbase relative to the Rangers’ probably meant that fewer people now hated him, but the fire in those who did only burned brighter.

So while Sosa has brought his share of shame to the Chicago Cubs, it’s not as if did a lot of PR damage as a member of the team.  The steroid witch-hunt, er, investigation, was only just starting after Sammy was blown out of the Windy City.  And besides, the Cubs have done enough to bring dishonor upon themselves; one former player is nothing to worry about.

And with that, I'll paraphrase a statement from earlier: what in the blue hell does this have to do with Cubs prospects? I guess if you've made it this far, you at least deserve to have me get to the point, which is that I'm a little scared about the Cubs prospects.

My fear is not that they will fail, as I'm well aware of the inherent nature of baseball's unpredictability and the fact that can't miss studs can and do miss. But no, that's not really right. No, my fear is not that they will fail, but rather, that they'll fall.

In the former iteration, the failure would be to never live up to something, be it potential or hype or expectations. But the latter indicates that someone has achieved at least some measure of success, only to have it taken away for one reason or another.

It's certainly not fair to the young guys coming up for me to project upon them my distrust for baseball players with prodigious power numbers, but is it that less equitable than heaping the hopes of an entire franchise on their still-growing shoulders?

When Sosa arrived from the South Side, he was a speedy little whip of a man, slim and sinewy, devoid of bulk. But in a short stretch, he went from Bill Bixby to Lou Ferigno as most of us sat back and marveled at his chiseled physique. Likewise, Brady Anderson and Bret Boone's numbers ballooned right along with their biceps.

Everyone chose to look the other way when Boone, once a diminutive second baseman, turned into Mighty Mouse. Heck, his workout, which he credited for the massive gains, was even featured in SI for Kids. For Kids!

I suppose you could look at the dearth of power in today's MLB and act as though nothing shady is going on any more, but that's pretty ignorant. In fact, if you believe that PED's are gone, I suggest you see a gastroenterologist about having a glass stomach installed so that you can at least see where you're going with your head so far up your ass.

I'm not suggesting that Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, or Kyle Schwarber have taken, are taking, or will take any illegal substances. What I'm saying is that I will continue to harbor the fear that one or more of them could succumb to the temptations that have been the downfall of other great players.

No one really cares about Brady Anderson, whose insane 50-HR season in 1996 stands out from the landscape of his career stats like a gaudy shrine to steroids. But mention the names of Sosa, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Raphael Palmiero, and see what kind of reaction you get.

For my money, I'd rather see the kids fall flat than become established stars and then have their dignity stripped. But maybe Cubs fans will be like those in Milwaukee, the folks who embraced Ryan Braun despite the fact that he's a giant douche. And that was before he got popped twice for PED's; upon his return from suspension, he received an ovation. Stay classy, Brew Crew.

But we Cubs fans are a bitter, vindictive lot, quick to curse and shun those we once loved. In other words, we're quick to kill our darlings. Then again, if you win in Chicago your flaws will get more touching up than a fashion mag cover shot.

So was all this necessary? Is it necessary for me to drink my own urine? No, but I do it anyway because it's sterile and I like the taste. All that aside, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to fully allay my fears related to the Cubs' young sluggers. But I'm going to try to reduce them from a boulder into something more manageable.

By all accounts, the Cubs have done their due diligence in drafting and grooming these players, trying to seek out high-character guys who happen to also have a knack for hitting or throwing a baseball. But even the best of us can crumble in the face of money and fame. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I'm really not trying to be a party pooper, though I realize that I might at least be doing a little crop dusting. And lest you think any of this will keep me from enjoying the hell out of every moment of these young guys' ascendance, I can assure you that you're dead wrong. It's just a little defense mechanism, a temperance forged by the realities of the new world of baseball in which we live.

Besides, I don't think there's much reason to look the other way, as the Cubs prospects are going to command everyone's full attention in short order.

@DEvanAltman

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  • If we keep Manny Alexander out of the club house and away from the Rookies, there should be no problem.

  • How many strikeouts would Baez have if he had played all year?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    tune in for 2015 season to get that answer.

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    C'mon Evan, how drunk do u have to be to put these kids in the same conversation as those guys. And I mean steroid guys!!
    As u said in your article;
    "I'm not suggesting that Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, or Kyle Schwarber have taken, are taking, or will take any illegal substances. What I'm saying is that I will continue to harbor the fear that one or more of them could succumb to the temptations that have been the downfall of other great players."
    Steroids is done, and any player on it now won't last. Ask Manny.

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    In reply to Nathan Jones:

    Just think about it. You have now put all of those players in that conversation. Very unprofessional of you to think your words don't matter.

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    In reply to Nathan Jones:

    Who said I thought my words don't matter? A-Rod was Javy Baez and Kris Bryant many years ago, the can't-miss stud prospect who had been hyped since high school.

    I've been let down by baseball players and other athletes in the past, so expressing a fear that it could happen again is far from irresponsible. I suppose it's easier to live in a dream world of sunshine and rainbows, and I hope I end up there myself some day. After all, as I've made abundantly clear, Baez is a unicorn.

    But if you honestly believe that the days of athletes doing anything they can to gain an edge is over then you're sadly mistaken. Whether it's greenies or dianabol, or anything in between, guys will seek out that little edge. Because whether it means the difference in another 5 feet on a fly ball, getting up for a day game after a night game, or more guaranteed money on the next contract, baseball is big business.

    And I'm not trying to pawn off my "responsibility" as a writer here (after all, there are some people who will read this), but I'm not so sure that my mention of names of other steroid guys in the same post as current Cubs players/prospects indicts the latter group in the eyes of the general public.

    Please note that I am simply saying that it's possible that some of these kids could one day fall from grace, and I fear that more than I do the possibility that they'll never succeed at a high level. I'd prefer to not have to kill my darlings.

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    In reply to Nathan Jones:

    Also, I was actually sober when I wrote this. Well, I was in the process of drying out anyway.

  • 60 Minutes also replayed its interview with Bosch 2 hours late, apparently also as a result of the arrest.

    The only things it seemed to prove are (a) don't text in code, and (b) Bosch says that when you have to pee for a test, capture only the middle of the stream.

    So long as those trying to get around the test find a way to do so, the PEDs will continue.

    The sign off was that Bud did more than any commissioner to stomp it out, but other commentators say that Bud was too slow.

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    In reply to jack:

    He did more to stop it, but he also did more to profit from it. And, to be honest, baseball needed the HR race in '98 to really come back from the strike and its resultant fallout.

    My problem is really not with guys taking stuff, but rather with them not simply owning up to it and being contrite once they're caught. That's why I continue to harbor some ill will toward Sosa and why I can't stand A-Roid and Rocket. Own it, admit it, and move on.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    I'm not sure that Braun's own it by not contesting the suspension in 2013 is sufficient, given his prior, essentially malicious, denials.

    Also, the Iowa Cubs hitting coach/DH hasn't owned up to it either, even if he isn't referring his charges to the nearest unlicensed pharmacy.

    Lance Armstrong, who used similar tactics, now is pretty much barred from all competitive sports. Owning up isn't doing him much good.

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    In reply to jack:

    I'm referring more to my own acceptance of these characters, which I'm sure they value much more than gold. But Lance was much like Pete Rose, in that he denied everything so vehemently that even his eventual contrition couldn't help him much. Manny's at least served time in the form of suspensions, but he didn't drag anyone else down with him, as both Clemens and Braun have.

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