Noting that the Cubs had recently demoted former ace Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen, my friend opined that the Cubs’ “stupidometer had finally topped out.”
As a friend, it was my duty to point out the basic error that he made. It really wasn’t his fault, as he has a St. Louis Cardinal view of baseball. Moreover, as I thought about it, I could see where many others might make a similar mistake, so I decided to clear up the issue for those in doubt.
First of all, teams like the Cardinals have a stupidometer, and it can actually top out. On rare occasions, it actually has. There was the Garry Templeton fiasco, for example, which was rapidly remedied by stealing Ozzie Smith from the Padres (thus giving evidence to their own stupidometer). There was Joe Torre’s run as Cardinals manager, when he moved Todd Zeile around the infield like an ugly piece of furniture. And, of course, there’s Mark “No, I Didn’t, Er, Okay, I Did” McGwire.
The thing is, most good teams’ relationship to the stupidometer is determined by the relative paucity of times that their actions will register stupidometrically; thus, it’s news when the Cardinals do something boneheaded. Most bad teams, on the other hand, will register rather high stupidometric numbers. We are not surprised when Pittsburgh trades anyone with a pulse.
Here’s how it works: actions on the stupidometer are judged by their Cub-ness, or lack thereof. For example, developing talents like Albert Pujols or Adam Wainwright are manifestly anti-Cub, thus the Cardinal stupidometer winds up in negative numbers. When the Phillies signed Roy Halladay, it dropped their stupidometer to near Yankee levels. By contrast, the Washington Nationals’ utterly transparent deci$ion to start Steven Strasburg in the minors only confirms the virtual Cub-ness that has led them to back-to-back 100 loss seasons.
Jason Heyward never happens to the Cubs. Merely giving him five at-bats per game is almost perfectly anti-Cub.
Speaking of which, there is some debate among scholars as to whether the 1927 New York Yankees achieved a stupidometer reading of absolute zero, the utter antithesis of all things Cub; George Will, noted baseball scholar and Cub fan, scoffs at the notion, suggesting that “certainly Babe Ruth booted a grounder somewhere in that run; surely Bill Dickey had a passed ball in that magical season.” There are other teams that have approached absolute zero, like the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s, Connie Mack’s Phillies, even the recent Boston Red Sox World Series champs.
The Cubs, however, don’t have a stupidometer; the Cubs are the stupidometer.
When the Cubs sign a Japanese outfielder, they don’t get a guy who will set the record for the most consecutive 200-hit seasons (Ichiro). They don’t get a guy who will anchor the lineup for a championship run (Hideki Matsui). They get a guy who treats fly balls like subpoenas while hitting like a 70’s era 34-year-old (Kosuke Fukudome). In other words, they went overseas to find themselves a Cubs outfielder, and then, in typical Cub fashion, overpaid to get him.
When the Cubs’ ace struggles, the one they just signed to a Yankee-esque extension, rather than skip him once or twice in the rotation or even put him on the mythical 15-day DL (really, why not call it the “As Long As We Friggin’ Want” DL?), they demote him to the bullpen. Yep, nothing like coming out to clean up the fourth starter’s mess to bring Carlos Zambrano’s confidence back up…
The Cubs are so blindingly awful, they have reduced Lou Piniella from a red-faced, obscenity-spewing firebrand to a mumbling old man who walks to the third base umpire with the lineup card filled out in crayon. Really, why would he argue balls and strikes when this team will need a good tailwind to finish fourth?
Remember, it’s not just the general malaise that affects this team year after year. It’s also the way that, after five or six uninspiring fourth-place finishes, this team will rise up and best the demons that have haunted it for decades, only to fold like a house of cards in a strong breeze. No team defines “collapse” like the Cubs. Remember the Mets’ epic season-closing el foldo a couple of seasons ago? There was a precedent: none other than the all-timer, the Cubs’ collapse in 1969 which opened the door for those amazin’ Mets.
Yes, the Mets hold the distinction of losing the most games in a single season in MLB history. However, the Mets have also been to four World Series’ since 1969 and have won twice. The Cubs’ last trip to the Series was in 1945. Their last Series victory was either when fish developed lungs or Genesis chapter 10, depending on your point of view.
Other teams might have made distinctive marks here and there, but no team in baseball history represents howling ineptitude like the Cubs. Trade away a future Hall-Of-Famer? The roster of ex-Cubs wearing someone else’s hat in Cooperstown could make a wing of its own. Refuse to acknowledge the obvious? When the Phillies were looking to unload Scott Rolen, all he represented was the final answer to a question that had haunted Wrigley faithful ever since Ron Santo retired: who’s the third baseman? The Cubs didn’t even take a look at him. The Cardinals, of course, were all too willing to snap him up. And for six long, agonizing seasons, all Rolen ever did was wear out Cub pitching and help the Cardinals to two World Series appearances, including a victory in 2006. Overpay a guy that’s always broken? The Cubs haven’t just done that with their own (see Wood, Kerry); they’ll run out and sign someone else’s broken player. This season they signed Xavier Nady fresh from the emergency room; Nady, you’ll recall, lost both arms in a tragic accident while bobbing for french fries. Not to worry, though; he and his prosthetic limbs are currently hitting a robust .250 while dodging asteroids in the Wrigley outfield.
The Cubs are the Standard’s & Poor Index of weapons-grade stupid.
However, if you find yourself without a stupidometer handy and you wonder what your team should do, do like Brian Cashman and simply ask “What would the Cubs do?”
Then, of course, do what Brian Cashman does: the opposite.
Sources: Baseball Reference.com
George Will did not actually say what was attributed to him above; these are the jokes. Jokes.