You know the old saying: “It’s lonely at the top.” That certainly seems to be the case with one team, whose perch at the top of the baseball world has become a soapbox from which to criticize their competition.
The team in question is the Chicago Cubs. As we know, the Cubs are the World Series Champions, a feat they accomplished for the first time in 108 years. But they have also established themselves as champions in another area: the complaint department.
This isn’t exactly a new trend. Since manager Joe Maddon took over in 2015, the Cubs have found many things to take issue with, especially with their division rivals, the Cardinals. This is hardly surprising coming from Maddon, who, despite his happy-go-lucky, cool-grandpa, hipster-glasses-wearing, hippie persona, can carp with the best of them. After all, this is the man who complained about Tampa Bay fans cheering for Derek Jeter in his final MLB season (something even Boston did without hesitating) just weeks before Joe jumped ship for greener pastures on Chicago’s North Side.
But the Cubs have taken this complaining gimmick to a whole new level in the first few weeks of their championship season. In fact, they couldn’t make it one day as the champs without criticizing something.
On Opening Night, in their game against the Cardinals, Cubs’ second baseman Javier Baez failed to grab a ground ball that should have been an easy double play. Instead, all runners were safe, which ultimately led to runs that would help the Cardinals win the game. But Baez was quick with an excuse for his mistake. After the game, he told reporters:
“”I’m not afraid to make mistakes and when I make them there are no excuses,” (which, by the way, is a sentence people often say immediately before they make excuses), “but I didn’t see the ball at all until it passed the mound. I realized it was the [MLB App] sign because he was getting out of the box and I still didn’t see the ball.”
Baez blamed the error on a white sign behind home plate, and his bespectacled manager was quick to defend him.
“Of all things the MLB App sign was all white, and that ground ball [Baez] didn’t react to he lost it in the sign,” Maddon quipped. “That was a big play.”
After the champions’ complaints, the signs were quickly changed. But the Cubs weren’t satisfied.
In the final game of that opening series, the Cubs got a lucky break on a bizarre play. When Cardinals’ reliever Brett Cecil struck out a Cubs hitter on a breaking ball in the dirt, the ball bounced up and stuck on Cardinals’ Catcher Yadier Molina’s chest protector. Molina could not find the ball in time, and the player reached first safely, despite having struck out. That mishap would lead to a big inning for the Cubs, who went on to win the game on the weight of those runs.
But, instead of letting karma be the judge of this suspicious situation, the Cubs had to make sure their position was well known. Despite joking about it after the game, the moment stuck in the craw of at least one Cubs personality, pitching coach Chris Bosio. In the week following the questionable play, Bosio went on a Chicago talk show, and when he was asked about the incident, he didn’t mince words:
“Yadi’s chest protector? I wouldn’t even know where to go on that. Here’s a guy wearing a chest protector that has Stickum all over it. All he’s got to do is the take the ball out of the glove, wipe it on the chest protector, throw it back to the pitcher, and the ball is loaded up.
But Bosio wasn’t content to stop there. He went on to link Molina’s bizarre misadventure with the other blemish on the Cardinals’ recent record, the so-called HackGate. Not only that, but he slyly implied that both episodes were actually tied up in a larger League conspiracy to protect the reputation of the Cardinals. Take a read:
“It’s more one of those things like, ‘Oh boy. Here we go with the Cardinals thing again… “We just kind of shook it off, because we know nothing’s going to happen from it, like normal. I mean, in one instance, we’re [*Sic] one gentleman sitting in jail for tampering with some stuff. But it was just comical, some of the things we saw in that series and so close together. And really, actually surprised there haven’t been more things that pop up.”
So, Bosio brought former Cardinals’ scouting director Chris Correa into the picture when talking about Molina. Correa, the rogue Cardinals’ scout who hacked into the Astros’ scouting networks, is currently sitting in prison, as Bosio said. Moreover, the Cardinals were heavily fined, and two draft picks were taken from them (which is not to mention that their first round pick would likely have been taken, too, had the Cardinals not already surrendered it to, who else, the Cubs, by signing Dexter Fowler). But apparently these punishments weren’t severe enough for Bosio, as he seems convinced that Cardinals’ owner Bill DeWitt, MLB President Rob Manfred, and several high ranking members of the Sicilian Mafia are all collaborating to keep the Cardinals’ record clean.
But perhaps the Cubs’ comments about the first series could be excused. After all, what’s wrong with some heavy trash talk between two of MLB’s biggest rivals? But then the Cubs took it even further, bringing a team from the NL Central’s basement up to the championship chopping block.
The Cubs recently hosted the Milwaukee Brewers for a three game series, and despite winning two of the three games, they couldn’t leave without addressing the elephant in the room: MLB’s best story so far, Brewers’ slugger Eric Thames.
The first to complain about Thames was a voice familiar to Cardinals’ fans, the notoriously cranky John Lackey. In the third inning of his start against the Brewers, Lackey threw Thames a cutter that belonged in a trashcan, and Thames took it oppo’ for a home run in his fifth straight game. But instead of fessing up to a bad pitch, Lackey tried to divert attention to Thames. When asked about his strong start to the season, Lackey said:
“I mean, really even the homer hit the other way, I mean, you don’t see that happen here very often. That’s kinda one of those things that makes you scratch your head.”
As Lackey made his comment, he smiled at the reporters and gave them a wink. Veeeeeeeeeeery subtle. In fact, Lackey’s comment accusing Thames of using steroids was so subtle that aforementioned Cubs’ hit man Bosio wasn’t content with it. A week after his last radio appearance, he appeared on the same Chicago talk show and was asked an open-ended question about Starling Marte’s PED suspension, and he took the opportunity to make another lengthy comment about Thames:
“Well, the bottom line is, [Thames] has hit the ball and we gotta figure out a way to get around [it]. All that other stuff, I’ll let other people worry about…”
Perhaps if he’d left it there, fans could have defended him, saying he didn’t really mean what he very clearly meant. So, of course, Bosio didn’t leave it there.
“You start thinking about Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez… Barry Bonds… you’re talking about some of the greatest players to ever play the game. So, yeah, it’s probably a ‘head-scratcher’ because nobody knows who this guy is. And when he was here before, his body has changed. But, like I said, I’ll leave that to everyone else…”
Bosio’s generous offer to leave steroid accusations to everyone else is reminiscent of Al Capone’s willingness to let his underlings do the dirty work. Bosio’s intentions were clear, and his comments were totally unnecessary.
Now, I am going to say something that is borderline heresy in St. Louis: I don’t hate the Chicago Cubs. Most of my family members on my dad’s side are Cubs fans. In fact, one of my only regrets about the Cubs’ winning last year is that neither my grandfather nor my father, who was raised a Cubs fan, got to see it. But the Cubs are beginning to cross some significant lines.
The issue is not what the Cubs are saying, necessarily, at least not with the comments about the Cardinals. If there is signage that is detrimental to clean play, then of course it should be removed. If players are cheating, whether it be through illegal substances on the field or through use of PEDs, they should be punished (though, on the Molina situation, I strongly suggest Buster Olney’s article on substance use on the baseball field. Oh, and even if Molina’s chest protector had Stickum on it, as Olney says, that’s allowed for catchers).
The issue here is that no one appointed the Cubs as the baseball justice warriors of the Major Leagues. We do not need, nor do we desire, the Cubs’ opinions on every issue from white signs to possible steroid use. And with Thames, in particular, the Cubs have no more reason to suspect that he is on steroids than anyone else: that he is hitting well and he is muscle bound (oh, and he can hit home runs when he’s thrown garbage cutters. Imagine that.) Those kinds of wild accusations (even if, let’s say, they are ultimately proven true) are totally uncalled for, vulgar, and despicable. Thames is one of the best stories in baseball right now, and he’s bringing a little light to a city that hasn’t had much to be excited about on the baseball diamond for a while. The Cubs don’t need to try and cut that down.
So, my advice to the Cubs is simple: even though it’s been 108 years, act like you’ve been there before. Even if you think that the rest of the teams in your division are cheaters, you don’t have to “stoop” to their level. If the other teams in the NL Central are cheating, and the Cubs are still this much better than them, that’s a reason to boast, not a reason to whine. So instead of trying to cut your opponents down, Cubs, perhaps you should remember your place, and if you want to be the gold standard for the Major Leagues, make your opponents look up to your conduct, as well as your winning percentage.