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Hear this: Big Z likes it in Chicago
Bonus notes from our MLB on FOX broadcast of the Yankees-Cubs game on Saturday.
Actually, Big Z had a point.
I couldn't really hear him when he tried to talk me between innings Saturday. We were separated by about 10 feet by a camera well. I was wearing an earpiece that connected me to the broadcast, and the crowd at Wrigley Field was buzzing.
Big Z — Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano — was clearly upset, not yelling, but trying to make his point. I could sort of make out what he was saying — "I want to stay." After he returned to the middle of the dugout, a FOX cameraman positioned between us relayed the source of Zambrano's discontent:
We had talked about Z's willingness to waive his no-trade clause if the Cubs wanted to move him, but we had not mentioned that he wants to remain with the club.
I had made Zambrano's position clear in my story for FOXSports.com on Friday. However, I failed to mention it on the pregame show, and the point also got overlooked when Joe Buck, Tim McCarver and I discussed possible Cubs trades during the broadcast.
That's why Big Z had a beef; someone must have told him what was said on the broadcast, or perhaps he heard it in the clubhouse. I doubt the Cubs were thrilled that he came over to me in the middle of the game, but it really wasn't a big deal. A few moments later, I went back on the air and conveyed Zambrano's exact sentiments, which I felt was only fair.
Athletes and other public figures frequently complain that they are quoted out of context. In Zambrano's case, I did not relay the full context. The news was that he was willing to accept a trade, but he also had told me he loved Chicago, loved Cubs fans and didn't want to leave.
The real issue, going forward, is whether any team will even want Zambrano. I spoke with two GMs who might have interest in him over the weekend, and they could not have been more dismissive of the possibility.
Zambrano, 30, is owed the balance of his $17.875 million salary this season and $18 million next season. His 4.59 ERA would further inflate if he went to the American League, and his average fastball has declined from 91.5 mph to 90.6 to 89.8 over the past three seasons, according to Fangraphs.com. The entire industry, of course, is aware of his volatile personality.
Our exchange Saturday did not come close to cracking Big Z's all-time top 10.
I'll say it again: He had a point.
JETER: A PLEA FOR REASON
Yankees infielder Eduardo Nunez is an interesting, exciting young player. Yankees third-base coach Rob Thomson told me Nunez has "tools galore." Third baseman Alex Rodriguez referred to Nunez as "explosive." Yankees officials love that Nunez is unafraid.
Nunez, 24, clearly has more life in his body and a faster, more powerful bat than Derek Jeter, who turns 37 on June 26. But the error Nunez made on a Reed Johnson grounder in the sixth inning — his eighth of the season, sixth as a shortstop — came on a fairly routine play. Jeter, who has made only four errors in far greater playing time, rarely commits that kind of mistake.
The comparison, of course, is unfair to Nunez, an inexperienced player trying to find his way. But the criticism of Jeter this season, while valid in many respects, borders on excessive.
Listen, everyone knows Jeter is not what he once was. Advance metrics portray him as below-average at short. His OPS as a shortstop ranks 16th among the 26 qualifiers, according to STATS, LLC. Yes, he probably should be dropped from the leadoff spot in favor of Brett Gardner when he comes off the disabled list.
Still, it's not as if Jeter is a zero as a player. He still brings a certain competence, a competence that comes from experience. No other team would want him at $17 million a year. But the actual player, take away the money? I guarantee you, other teams would love to have him.
It feels odd for me to defend Jeter — I covered Cal Ripken, Jr. near the end of his career and occasionally was critical of him as a columnist for the (Baltimore) Sun. Ripken's defenders contended I was out of line, saying, "He's Cal Ripken." My feeling was, no player is above criticism. You write what you see.
What we have seen from Jeter this season is not pretty. His position in the batting order is tenuous. Before long, his position on the field will be, too. And yes, Jeter could make life easier for everyone by admitting to his shortcomings and accepting his decline with grace.
Problem is, the great ones rarely concede — that's how they became great in the first place. Jeter is no different, and now he's getting pilloried for it.
Maybe I'm getting mellow with age, but it seems to me a little restraint is in order.
RIVALS TEAM UP FOR A CAUSE
Dempster and Robertson recently established a connection over an 8-year-old boy in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The boy suffers from the same condition as Dempster's 2-year-old daughter Riley — 22q/DiGeorge Syndrome, a rare congenital disease that prevents one from swallowing properly and digesting food.
Robertson is from Tuscaloosa, which was hit by a tornado on April 27 that left 15,000 homeless. He and his wife, Erin, recently visited the city to assess the damage. It was then that they met Anthony's family, a family that lost everything.
Erin, trying to learn more about Anthony's condition, discovered information about Dempster's daughter and foundation on the Internet, and proceeded to contact Dempster's wife, Jenny.
The two pitchers and their wives created a specific fund to benefit Anthony, whose family asked that its last name be withheld.
To end on a happy note:
Ryan Dempster told me Friday that Riley is now attending preschool.
THE INDEFATIGABLE MR. JOHNSON
Cubs manager Mike Quade was raving before Saturday's game about outfielder Reed Johnson, who was recently on the disabled list due to renewed back trouble.
Johnson made a spectacular diving catch along the left-field line Friday, helping preserve the Cubs' 3-1 victory.
“My heart was in my throat because of his back issues,” Quade said. “That's part of the reason he has issues from time to time. He'll run through a wall, leave his feet. He just plays hard.”
“You had no chance,” Quade told Johnson in the dugout, trying to console him.
“It hit my ------- glove!” Johnson shot back.
AROUND THE HORN
• Right-hander Brian Gordon, the 32-year-old converted outfielder who had a triumphant debut for the Yankees, said one of his favorite moments occurred when manager Joe Girardi sat next to him on the bench after his outing was over.
“Great job,” Girardi said. “I want you to soak this in, enjoy this moment — and be ready to hit in five days.”
Gordon's next start is Tuesday in Cincinnati, and his old hitting skills might come in handy.
• Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd, recovering from multiple facial fractures, will wear a special cage attached to his helmet when he begins his rehabilitation assignment next weekend.
The headgear resembles a hockey goaltender's cage, and Byrd told me he will wear it only while he is in the minors. His intention is to return around July 4, at which point his six-week recovery will be complete.
• In case you missed it, check out my video interview with Yankees manager Joe Girardi about his father Jerry's struggle with Alzheimer's Disease.
Girardi planned to drive 2 1/2 hours Sunday morning to make a Father Day's visit to Jerry just outside his hometown of Peoria, Ill.
AND FINALLY, A FAREWELL
When people ask me to name my favorite team, I always say, "I don't have one." That's true as far as baseball is concerned. I'm a writer, and I cover all 30 clubs.
But away from my job, I've had a favorite team for more than 30 years, a team that inspired me, brought me unrelenting joy and never let me down.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
And so it was that I learned the sad news Saturday night while in a car on the way to O'Hare Airport, learned it through a text message from a number I didn't recognize.
"Clarence 'Big Man' Clemons has passed away," the text said. "Teardrops on E Street."
I responded, "Who is this?" And the reply came back, "John Marut from NJ."
I've run across John only once in my life, years ago when I bought Springsteen tickets from him over the Internet.
"Knew you would want to know," he said.
Millions of words will be written about the "Big Man," many by writers much more gifted than I. But that text from John summed up the bond between the band and its fans, and the bond between the fans themselves.
One of those fans is Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. I once said to La Russa, "I know why you like the band. They always play hard."
La Russa smiled.
"And play well," he said.
RIP, Big Man. Teardrops on E Street.
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