Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Cubs Head Coach On The Way Out?

The Chicago Cubs had another hard season this year, finishing dead last in their division and just third from the bottom of the league. There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on in the locker room and even more in the front office and certainly no shortage of tea leaf-reading from us media gadflies.

We’re not the sort here to engage in unsubstantiated conjecture, so trust us when we say we have it on good authority that the outlook has gone from poor to bleak to grim for head coach Neil Armstrong. Just two short months after his 75th birthday signs point increasingly to him being sent to the subterannean Wrigley Field Battle Pit where he’ll be forced to engage in bare-fisted combat with the surviving members of his Phi Delta Theta fraternity. If he survives, he'll walk away from the stadium with his life; if loses it will mean certain death. Either way, he'll not coach another game for Chicago's Cubs.

Even at the end of a dismal season such as this for the Cubbies, which saw seven light planes crash into the increasingly ostentatious hairstyles of pitcher Greg Maddux, talk of the ouster of their beloved coach seemed like tin-hat territory, the sort of contrived gibberish spewed by overanxious internet hucksters trading in the far-flung and fantastic, eschewing realistic content. After all, this is the man who, when everyone else in the dugout had fainted dead away, delivered an eight-pound baby boy from the quivering womb of centerfielder Corey Patterson. This was the same man who once lit himself on fire to distract slugger Herman Blount during a crucial ninth inning at-bat, leading to a strike-out that clenched victory back from the void and sent the Cubs to the playoffs in 1974.

So what then has gone so wrong? First off, many in the club house disagree with the trading of catcher Michael Barrett to the Army for a new set of bleachers for Wrigley Field. Many feel that Barrett instead should have been “molecularly reorganized” into self-replicating iron atoms that then could have been fabricated into iron blocks that could have been molded into bars, worked into rough seating forms, sanded and reworked until free of imperfections like spurs and slivers, transported to the stadium via flatbed truck and installed using local union labor.

Dissent in the ranks is nothing new in baseball and this may have been easily overcome if not for his inability to effectively crack down on the recent rash of inappropriate suicides among Cubs players.

This in particular has been a bone of contention for us here at M.A.P. as fans of the sport and its rules and its traditions. If you’ll forgive us a brief lapse in to editorial, we’ll explain.

Since time immemorial, pro ball players have used seppuku as the preferred method for on-field suicide. Whether done to avoid capture by enemy forces or to attenuate shame, this was the unspoken, silently agreed upon method of honor restoration.

The first documented case of baseball seppuku, literally “belly slicing,” occurred during the siege of Aleppo by Mongols in the Middle Ages. The actual date is lost to history. It is reported that a young Don Mattingly was defending the gate when the plague-infected, nude body of Tommy LaSorda was catapulted over the wall by the invader Hulagu Khan. Overcome with shame at seeing his master so disgraced and having been unable to protect him from such a fate, Mattingly flung himself upon his sword, surviving only due to the extreme viscosity and durability of his internal organs as well as the relative puniness of his sword.

Defying this longstanding, beautiful and noble tradition, no less than thirty Cubs players have committed suicide on the hallowed grass of Wrigley Field or its equally-hallowed yet less-mentioned dirt infield using such boorish and common methods as: firearm discharge, ink poisoning, and feldspar.

The straw that broke the back of Armstrong’s continued employment was building controversy over the specificity of the franchise’s namesake. Some viewed the “Cub” as too nonspecific, preferring to alter the mascot to the more implicit “Ursine Cubs” or less exact but still reasonably exclusive “Young of Large Prey Animals.” If this weren’t headache enough, the location of the team was deemed to be vague and misleading. Calls went out to have the name officially changed to “The Young of Large Prey Animals, Notably Those Ursine Who Play American-Style Baseball at 1060 West AddisonChicago, IL 60613-4397.” Some groups found any naming system that did not include the names of every player on the roster to be needlessly vague. Still others argued that the word “needlessly” dangerously includes the complete word “needles.” Needles are well known in Chicago for their tendency to poke, prick and on occasion stick while historically failing to give out candy or offer Hot Wheels Racing Playsets at Halloween.

Eventually the moniker “The Chicago, Illinois, American Baseball Team That is Nicknamed The Young of Large Prey Racing Playsets” was decided upon to general agreement, though some continued to dissent that the specificity that the debate seemed to crave could only be satisfied by dividing the number of true negatives by the number of true negatives added to the number of false positives.

But by then it was too late, the rope had been tied and Armstrong now has little choice but to face the music and accept that his career, long and sexually disappointing though it may have been, has reached its logical conclusion. Though no final decision has yet been made, the writing between the lines could not be any clearer. The “no comments” bandied about by Armstrong’s people and the Cubs’ office say it all. Several surviving Cubs players have, intentionally or not, lapsed into the use of passive language when discussing Armstrong. These signs don’t bode well for the first man on the moon and the second man on the surface of the sun.

As always, we’ll keep you posted