Cubs’ Ross pulling Baez from Monday’s game not about right or wrong — but about why
It’s June, and the Cubs are swooning. At the least, they’re wobbling into the teeth of a defining stretch. Urgency is upon us.
Would Cubs manager David Ross have yanked Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo or Jason Heyward from Monday night’s 4-0 loss to the Indians at Wrigley Field for making the same base-running blunder — and it was a bad one — that Javy Baez made?
I have my doubts, but file that under the timeless, perhaps pointless category of second-guessing the manager. Not just Ross. Any manager. It’s kind of a sport unto itself.
“I think that, yes, [I would have] if the circumstances were the same with anybody,” Ross said. “I’m not trying to set an example of Javy ever. The guy plays his butt off and brings it 99.9% of the time. So it’s not about setting an example of a star player that’s a big part of this team. That’s not it.”
Ross wasn’t wrong for pulling Baez four innings into a 1-0 game after Baez lost track of outs and — believing there were two instead of one — jogged around second base on a lazy fly ball, then, after realizing his mistake, failed to even feign an attempt to get back to first to avoid being doubled off.
But Ross wasn’t right, either. Baez often plays at a harder, higher level than many big-leaguers can match on their best days. And that’s saying nothing of the keen awareness and insight he routinely displays — seeing things others don’t — which might seem to earn him some room for the occasional brain cramp or moment of frustrated letdown.
A decision like this one isn’t about wrong or right. It’s about why. As White Sox manager Tony La Russa said of himself this season, Ross is the guy with the office. Ross’ “why” is the one that counts.
And in this case, it’s June and the Cubs are swooning. Or threatening to swoon. What constitutes a swoon, anyway? They had lost six of eight heading into Tuesday night’s finale of a two-game series against the Indians, after which they leave for their longest, toughest road trip of the season — 10 games, beginning with four at Dodger Stadium.
It could get ugly. The July 30 trade deadline waits for no one. It’s foolish for anyone to assume the Cubs — who were tied for first in the division with the Brewers, their next opponent after the Dodgers — will kick into go-for-the-gusto mode if their struggles multiply.
Half a lifetime ago in 1997, Ross, then Auburn’s catcher, hit a three-run, walk-off homer in a regional finals series against Florida State to help lift the Tigers to a rare appearance in the College World Series. Facing the mob of giddy teammates waiting for him at home plate was a lot more pleasant than facing the media after pulling Baez.
“I did not feel good to take Javy out of the game,” he said. “I definitely would agree with that statement. I never feel comfortable doing that at all. That’s a pit in my stomach and was in my stomach the entire game.”
That pit isn’t going anywhere. His team is wobbling into a defining stretch.
Even after a miserable four-game sweep in Houston, the White Sox had a 94% chance of making the playoffs, according to Baseball-Reference.com. The only team in better shape was — speak of the devil — the American League West-leading Astros, at 95.6%.
The Cubs were fourth among NL teams at 61%, trailing the mighty West trio of the Dodgers (98.4%), Giants (97.3%) and Padres (96.1%).
All those numbers seem too high to me, but I’d have a 0.1% chance of passing a course in statistics and probability. Or 0.0% without the bribe attempt.
• With their 9-0 affirmation Monday of a ruling that allows for a broadening of the extent to which college athletes can be compensated, Supreme Court justices might as well have donned foam-finger No. 1s and chanted, “S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!”
As in “Southeastern Conference,” not “Securities and Exchange Commission.” But understand this: More ways to exchange payment for blue chippers’ athletic services means more security for the SEC as the indomitable powerhouse league in college football.
It was already the league of over-the-top recruiting budgets, boosters-on-steroids influence and pressure, and obscene buyouts, such as the $21.45 million that fired coach Gus Malzahn received from Auburn. These folks are going to find whatever is needed when they dig under their couch cushions for an extra edge. They always have.
• Not that I’m against added benefits for the major revenue drivers — the best athletes — at every big-time sports school. If you can sell their jerseys and charge endlessly more for tickets to see them play, the least you can do is make their stay a bit more comfortable.
• Two weeks ago in this space, I scoffed at the notion that Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks would ever win an NBA championship.
Bucks over Hawks in five. And print it.
But I’m still taking the West winner in the Finals.