I missed this completely last week — Carlos Zambrano is staging a baseball comeback, signing a deal with the Chicago Dogs, an independent league team in the Chicago area, and hoping that he can remake himself into a useful reliever and get picked up by an MLB team.
Zambrano was that fiercely talented, short tempered, and incredibly mercurial pitcher for the Chicago Cubs fifteen years ago, a key component of the playoff teams of 2003, 2007, and 2008. Known for his passion on the field, not to mention his fights with teammates in the dugout, Zambrano was traded to the Miami Marlins, and his major league career came to an end in 2011. He attempted a comeback in 2013, signing a minor league deal with the Phillies (and he made one start in Reading that year which I could have gone to had I known), and the legend that was Big Z seemed to be done.
Six years after that Reading appearance Zambrano will be pitching professionally in the United States again. From the Dogs press release: “Carlos Zambrano, 37, comes to the Chicago Dogs having been one of the top pitchers in Major League Baseball during his career and one of the best in Chicago Cubs franchise history. Zambrano’s 125 career wins with the Cubs make him 15th in the franchise’s all-time list of career wins and his 1,542 strikeouts are second to only Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins.” Left unmentioned is Zambrano’s no-hitter against the Astros in a game that was played, due to weather, in Milwaukee.
Zambrano pitched a Cubs game in 2008 at Nationals Park, the year the stadium opened, that I attended. I think half the stadium that night was Cubs fans.
Last fall I pulled out my Xbox, put EA’s MVP Baseball 2004 in the system, and played a couple of Cubs games. There was Zambrano, the fifth man in a rotation that included Kerry Wood, Greg Maddux, Mark Prior, and Matt Clement. Thinking that that was fifteen years ago, Zambrano is 27 now, then he’d have been 22 then. I guess I never realized Zambrano was that young. And I was a little disappointed to discover (or, re-discover at this late date) that video game Zambrano wasn’t as good a hitter as real-life Zambrano.
If I give off the impression that I was — or am — a Carlos Zambrano fan, you’d be right. He was a fierce competitor, he played with passion, he had a temper, and his relations with his teammate were not the best. In short, he was a flawed hero in the Dusty Baker/Lou Piniella years.
If I lived in the Chicagoland area, I’d happily go to a Chicago Dogs game, as much to see the ballpark (which, by accounts, is amazing) as to have the chance to see Zambrano pitch again.
I wish Big Z all the best in his comeback attempt. Here’s hoping that there’s something left in the tank and a major league organization decides to take a chance.