July 24, 2000
NL Central Notebook
When the other shoe dropped in Chicago, it wasn't a Sammy Sosa deal. General Manager Ed Lynch was awarded the famed Pink Slip and one month's salary and benefits as this year's Snuggly Cubbie Scapegoat. Team President Andy MacPhail will assume the duties of the general manager until a new warm body is found, and he's made it known that his first order of business is making Sosa happy.
The lesson here: if the team you're running has a fluke season, keep your resume current. Heightened expectations can torch the career of any executive, and the Cubs set their leadership up for a thinning following their 90-73 wild-card campaign of 1998. Manager Jim Riggleman, third-place finisher in 1998 NL Manager of the Year voting, was first to go, as he and his staff were sacked after 1999's 67-95 return to reality.
In the end, this is a Cubs team decaying from within. Manager Don Baylor's overt insinuations about how much Sosa and fellow outfielder Henry Rodriguez are giving for the team haven't produced any tangible result except to irritate one of the team's better players and its only true superstar. And if anything interests Baylor more than impugning his outfield, it is championing minor-league outfielder/Baseball Prospectus Top 40 Prospect Corey Patterson's case for the majors. This while Patterson is batting .257/.333/.477 with mediocre plate discipline for the team's Double-A affiliate.
The Lynch/MacPhail reign has not been a happy one for Cubs fans, and the preparations for this year merely underscored the reason: a reliance on overpaid, underperforming veterans. During the offseason, the Cubs traded for pitcher Ismael Valdes and second baseman Eric Young. We've thought Valdes has been underrated for some time now, and Young had a fairly good season in Los Angeles in 1999. But at the same time, the Cubs plugged holes in center field and at catcher with Damon Buford and Joe Girardi. Adding Buford and "All-Star" Girardi did a number on the team's already poor offense. The rest, as they say, is history.
MacPhail and Lynch made some good moves--Pirates fans are still smarting from the Brant Brown-for-Jon Lieber deal--and, in the end, they've gotten their share of bad luck, with Valdes's terrible 2000 a shining example. But many things have broken right for the Cubs--Sosa making his four-year, $42.5-million contract a bargain being chief among them--and the team has nothing to show for it but a quick playoff exit in 1998. MacPhail is running out of scapegoats, and even with the sleepy corporate ownership and nearly inelastic ticketed fan base, change is coming for the Cubs.
Dave Pease can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.