The cute, adorable, successful Cubs, the stuffed animal of a team that fans have hugged in earnest since lovable Joe Maddon came to town, just got a lot harder to embrace.
Closer Aroldis Chapman, who served a 30-game Major League Baseball suspension this season after being accused of choking his girlfriend, will soon be a Cub, pending a medical evaluation. There aren’t many things faster than Chapman’s 105 m.p.h. fastball, but the eight bullets he fired inside his Miami-area garage last year after the altercation with his girlfriend certainly were.
The Cubs acquired Chapman from the Yankees, giving up top prospect Gleyber Torres, among other players, to get him. The knuckle draggers among you will say that a minor-league shortstop and a choked girlfriend are a small price to pay for a shot at the first franchise’s World Series title since 1908. We expect that from you. Should we expect that from a major-league team?
Well, yes. The coldhearted answer is yes. The Cubs would be derelict in their professional obligation to win if they were to pass on the best closer in the game.
But they need to stop selling us cow droppings.
You can’t be aw-shucks Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, who likes to walk around Wrigley Field and rub shoulders with the paying customers, and retain your folksiness by trading for a guy who has treated his girlfriend so badly.
You can’t talk about all the great “character’’ players the Cubs have on their roster, as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein likes to do, and then turn around and acquire a man whose character led to a suspension for domestic violence.
You just can’t.
But that’s what the Cubs tried to do Monday before the first game of their series against the White Sox. Epstein actually argued that the franchise’s wonderful culture could help players such as Chapman “who have been through some things.”
Ricketts found sanctuary in a released statement, leaving Epstein to answer any uncomfortable questions.
“Prior to completing the trade, Theo, (general manager Jed Hoyer) and I spoke with Aroldis,” Ricketts said in the statement. “I shared with him the high expectations we set for our players and staff both on and off the field. Aroldis indicated he is comfortable with meeting those expectations.”
The domestic-violence incident took place in October while Chapman was with the Reds and, according to the police report, ended with his girlfriend hiding in nearby bushes and the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Chapman firing a gun inside his garage. Chapman denied the allegations and police declined to charge him, but that 30-game suspension didn’t come out of nowhere. Soon after, the Reds traded him to the Yankees. The Cubs said they did a thorough investigation into the incident and believe the risk is worth the reward.
Chapman said in a statement that he regrets “that I did not exercise better judgment.” Hard to tell what he means by that. That eight bullets might have been a little over the top?
The reality of professional sports is that there are going to be athletes who aren’t good people or upstanding citizens. Most of us understand that. We’re not idiots. So Ricketts needs to stop trying to sell us on the idea that his organization is different from others, that his does it right and that, if there is a path to world peace, it might just start at 1060 W. Addison St.
“I don’t feel like we compromised integrity in making this move,” Epstein said. “We approached it as thoroughly as we did … because we wanted to make sure we preserved our integrity as an organization if we decided to go forward with the trade.”
The Cubs are shrewd enough to know how this is going to play out. There will be the initial outrage from certain corners about the trade, followed by some pickets outside Wrigley Field, followed by, eventually, the roar of the crowd after Chapman shuts down a Pirates’ rally.
It would be almost refreshing if Epstein were brutally honest: “Our job is to win a World Series, no matter the means. How many World Series have you people experienced? That’s what I thought.’’
As Theo’s true believers have told us, nothing else has worked for the Cubs during their wretched history, so why not go a different route? That thinking has allowed the franchise to do whatever it has pleased since the Ricketts family bought the team in late 2009. That included five seasons of exuberant losing as a means of stockpiling draft picks and young talent. And now it includes a guy with a past who throws harder than anybody else.
Expect lots of cheering about the trade in Chicago and lots of lashing out against people “harping’’ on Chapman’s past.
Maybe we are the idiots the Cubs think we are.