Thursday, October 04, 2001

Leave It to the Cubs to Screw It Up

Leave it to the Chicago Cubs to screw up things.

Don’t get me wrong. The screw-up didn’t come when the Cubs’ swoon in the last half of the National League baseball season caused them to fall out of playoff contention.

That was expected

Despite the players’ “worst-to-first’’ promise, no fan in his or her right mind expected them to still be in the race in September and October.

What I’m referring to as a big-time screw-up came this week when Oscar Acosta, the Cubs’ pitching coach, beat the hangman to the punch. Instead of waiting until Sunday to be fired by Manager Don Baylor, Acosta quit right after pitching ace Jon Lieber won his 20th game.

The Chicago Sun-Times says Baylor now apparently has a team in revolt. That kind of talk kind of blows a hole in that warm, fuzzy feeling you had about Baylor and his boys most of the summer, doesn’t it
him after he quit.

It turns out that Acosta was a favorite of the pitchers, and they openly supported him.

“Everybody has a lot of respect for him,’’ veteran Kevin Tapani said. “He is one of the best people I’ve ever had the privilege to be around in baseball…It sounds like a personality thing where he was honest with [Baylor], and Don didn’t like hearing it, which is a strange thing. In baseball, there’s always someone on your team you can say you don’t like.’’

Tapani can say what he wants. He likely won’t be with the Cubs next season.

Pitcher Jason Bere, who is expected back on the staff, told the Sun-Times he couldn’t believe Acosta wasn’t rewarded for the success of the Cubs’ staff, which ranks fourth in the league in earned-run average.

Everyone knows the problems pitchers face at wind-blown Wrigley Field. When the wind blows out, baseballs fly out over the fence as though it were a Little League park.

Bere said Acosta’s intensity and honesty were what got him into trouble. Baylor refused to be specific on what his conflicts with Acosta were.

Frankly, I enjoyed watching Acosta in action—even on TV. I recall one game, when the Cubs were riding high much earlier in the season. Acosta shot out of the dugout and went jaw-to-jaw with the home-plate umpire while protesting a call.

Somehow, he avoided getting kicked out of the game, and Baylor didn’t come out of the dugout to help him out until Acosta had given the umpire an earful.

My guess is that Acosta was respected so much by the pitchers and was being given so much credit for what the Cubs accomplished early in the season that Baylor felt threatened. It’s that old deal about, “Who’s in charge here?’’

My feeling about Baylor is, despite doing a pretty fair job of managing a team that was supposed to finish last in the Central Division, he doesn’t handle pitchers well. In the first place, I don’t think he has a lot of respect for pitchers, and that dates back to when he was a player. The Cubs’ pitchers sensed that.

As a player, Baylor defied pitchers to hit him when he stood at the plate, and he was hit often. It’s silly to think he suddenly abandoned his hitter’s mentality once he became a manager.

There is no doubt in my mind that Acosta will find another job as a pitching coach in the major leagues, and he’ll head a staff that comes into Wrigley field next season and baffles Cubs hitters. That’s the kind of stuff that always happens to the Cubs.

By the way, Jerry Reuss, who was the Iowa Cubs’ pitching coach this past season, is being mentioned as a possibility to replace Acosta in Chicago.

The Cubs’ players are also outspoken in their dislike of Mack Newton, Baylor’s handpicked fitness and motivational instructor. The Sun-Times said they linked Acosta’s demise to his intercession on their behalf against Newton, whom they perceived as a self-serving blowhard.

Baylor wants Newton to return next season, but it’s hard to believe that can happen with players now openly voicing opposition to him.

Sounds like an interesting off-season, right? To say nothing of spring training and the 2002 season.

But, as they say, that’s baseball.


I’m starting to feel sorry for Joe Paterno, who is in his 36th season as Penn State’s football coach.

The Nittany Lions are bad.

Really bad.

Watching that team in practice and on Saturdays is more than any 74-year-old man should have to do.

Of course, there are undoubtedly a lot of officials in the athletic department at Penn State –including the person who signs the paychecks--who feel the same way. And they’ll remind you that Paterno and his assistant coaches are the guys who recruited all of those bad players.


I’ve received lots of feedback from people who agree with what I wrote last week about departed Register editors Dennis Ryerson and Mike Townsend, and the sad shape the paper is in these days.

The comments came from people who still work in the newsroom, people who have retired from the paper, people who have left for other reasons and even people who want nothing to do with writing or editing newspaper stories.

Most of those who commented can’t believe how far the paper has gone downhill. But some also feel new publisher Mary Stier has an opportunity now to hire an editor who will dig the newsroom out of the embarrassing hole it’s been in under the old regime.

Thanks to everyone who wrote. It was great hearing from all of you.

[THE AUTHOR -- Ron Maly worked at the Des Moines Register for 39 years and 9 months. He somehow kept most of his sanity and some of his health during that time. He was voted Iowa’s Sportswriter of the Year four times, won lots of Associated Press writing awards and a number of other writing awards that he can no longer remember. He’s hoping Dan McCarney and his Iowa State football team can somehow overcome huge odds Saturday and score the Big Upset at Nebraska, and he thinks Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa team have a very good shot at winning at Purdue. Of course, Maly may be mellowing as he ages. There was a time when he’d never think Iowa State could win at Nebraska or that Iowa could win at Purdue. After all, he still remembers Bob Devaney and Jack Mollenkopf. Maly will continue to write occasional e-mail items about anything that interests him. To receive them, send your e-mail address to]>

Oct. 4, 2001
VOL. 1, NO. 2