Z’s apology stunt careless, selfish

By Rick Morrissey
Updated: July 27, 2010

CHICAGO — The apology was supposed to be made in front of teammates, not a microphone and a camera.

That was what the Cubs had said and, presumably, that’s what Carlos Zambrano had been told. Before he would tell anyone else he was sorry for his volcanic dugout eruption a month ago, he would face his fellow Cubs, admit he had let them down and ask for forgiveness.

Instead, Big Z met ESPN for a very public apology Monday that should have his teammates fuming. It gave them a crystal-clear indication of where they stand in the pecking order: somewhere behind him and the millions of viewers and readers who saw or read the deeply held regrets he expressed to the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

The situation is an indication that little has changed on Planet Z.

It still is all about him. With so much fence-mending on his to-do list, how he thought an interview with ESPN was a good idea is mind-boggling.

Then again, this is the same guy who went out to dinner with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen several hours after the June 25 meltdown.

That decision was stunning, too.

Apparently, there hasn’t been a whole lot of progress in the remaking of Carlos Zambrano. If the idea is to show everyone that he’s a new man, somebody hide the Gatorade dispensers.

The only other explanation for Monday’s interview is that somebody advised Zambrano that an ESPN appearance would make a big splash nationally. It certainly made a big splash, but the liquid wasn’t water.

The bad-advice explanation doesn’t hold up particularly well.

Zambrano is 29 and in his ninth big-league season. He is not an innocent. He is not prone to Sammy Sosa-like amnesia when things get tough.

The interview fits the profile of an attention-seeking pitcher.

”I know one thing: He’s going to have to apologize to his teammates,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella had said the day of Zambrano’s outburst. ”That is for darn sure.”

Don’t rush him, Lou, he’ll get to it.

Since losing it in the dugout, Zambrano has contacted several teammates, including Derrek Lee, who took the brunt of the verbal abuse that day. But it’s not the same as addressing the team as a group.

He’ll rejoin the club Friday in Colorado. Rather than making a speech, maybe he’ll tell his teammates to watch the tape. Really, what’s left for him to say? If he’s saving his tears for the Sox, wouldn’t that be better suited for Oprah’s demographics?

In the ESPN interview, Zambrano apologized to Sox fans for his behavior but said he was only trying to fire up his teammates at the time of the incident. Really?

In that moment at the Cell, he looked as out of control as a rodeo bull trying to throw a cowboy. He didn’t look like a baseball player trying to pump up his teammates. He looked like a guy capable of leaving behind a cross-country trail of severed body parts.

Two days after the dugout incident, Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano was asked whether he and his teammates could forgive Zambrano.

”I don’t know,” he said. Monday’s interview isn’t going to help.

Zambrano has been going through anger-management counseling, a good thing. You want to see the guy get himself together. This is no way to live life. There is no doubt his anger has been self-destructive. It has held him back from being the pitcher he can be.

Is it affecting his home life? His relationships with people? Who knows?

But for all his money, it’s hard to believe he’s as happy as he should be. No matter how cathartic blow-ups might seem to be, they leave behind craters. Zambrano has never been able to outrun his angry past, whether it be his punch-out of former Cubs catcher Michael Barrett or his run-ins with umpires.

Over the years, so many people have told him he needed to change that you’d be silly not to doubt this is the time he’ll finally listen.

If the root of his outbursts is his self-centeredness, then a therapist not only has to turn down the flame on Zambrano’s stovetop, he or she has to try to make him into a team player.

Good luck with that.

Zambrano said that, as part of his therapy, he keeps track of the times he gets angry. There surely will be jokes about a sudden jump in pen and paper sales, but it’s no laughing matter.

The Cubs are on the hook for a total of about $36 million for 2011 and 2012, so they’d like to see improvement in his maturity, assuming there will be no takers before Saturday’s trade deadline. What happened Monday can’t be reassuring.

It was further proof he just doesn’t get it.