Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Rozner's Column Right On

The discussions about Dusty Baker’s future nearly always start the same, with references to higher expectations and stakes that have risen.

Most urban myths are stupid by definition, but this one seems among the dumbest. It suggests that since 2003, since the Cubs came within five outs of a trip to the Fall Classic, Cubs fans expect more, and that because of it, jobs are on the line more than ever before. So who are these Cubs fans who suddenly expect more?

I don’t know them.

Having grown up a Cubs fan in the late 1960s and early ’70s, I can tell you that every year we expected them to win, and every year we wanted someone’s hide when they didn’t.

Fans cared then, just as they do now, currently finding the enemy in St. Louis. In ’77, we hated the Phillies, and in ’79 it was the Pirates, and in 1984 we despised the Mets. That was an outright war, and if you’re too young to remember, or if you’re new to the city or new to being a Cubs fan, believe me when I tell you it was ugly.

Expectations were high, the stakes charbroiled.

No, sorry, but expectations have not changed for Cubs fans. Maybe the number of fans has increased and perhaps therein rests the confusion.

Yet, I do not know a single Cubs fan who goes to a game to get a glimpse of the green grass and brilliant ivy, or used to, but now wants a victory instead.

Similarly, I do not know a single Cubs fan who goes to a game so he or she can find a restaurant or bar afterward. The scoreboard and taverns are a nice bonus, but that’s not the main reason for the trip.

I’ve also never known a Cubs executive, manager, player or coach who believed in anything less than trying to win it all.

Consider that from May 1991 to November 1994:
•Manager Don Zimmer was fired and replaced by Jim Essian, who was then fired a few months later along with team president Don Grenesko and general manager Jim Frey.

•Big boss Stan Cook replaced Grenesko and hired GM Larry Himes, who hired and — two years later — fired manager Jim Lefebvre, who was replaced by Tom Trebelhorn.

•That went so well that Cook was replaced by big boss Jim Dowdle, who hired another team president in Andy MacPhail, who fired Himes and hired Ed Lynch, who fired Trebelhorn and hired Jim Riggleman.

This list doesn’t include the dozens of coaches who were hired and fired in that one three-plus-year period.

What do you suppose the stakes were for all of them, and how have their careers gone since?

Think they believed they were safe, that the stakes were low, that the only expectations were to keep the outfield grass thick and green?

Except for Dowdle, who retired, and MacPhail, who remains in the same job, the rest have all gone on to absolutely nothing resembling their best position with the Cubs.

Expectations always have been high and the bar has always been set at the World Series level.
If the stakes are higher, it’s among the media, not among ownership or the fans, who also are not the ones who dubbed the Cubs lovable losers.

To the fans, the Cubs were merely losers.

So Dusty Baker’s survival will be based on whether the Cubs believe he can win, not some imaginary Rubicon that was crossed in 2003.

The truth is the Cubs crossed that river in 1969.

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