Dugout scuffle is the last thing struggling Cubs need
MESA, Ariz. -- The fightin' Cubbies are off to a bang-up start this spring. They already have 14 errors and a dugout scuffle in their first four games, causing their long-suffering fans and their relatively new, upbeat manager, Mike Quade, some early angst. Quade admitted to being up at 3:30 in the morning thinking about all that's happened in just the first four games of spring training.
"Crazy things can happen early in camp. This is a little more than I bargained for," Quade told reporters after speaking to the team on Wednesday. "But it's OK."
But is it? The Cubs are battling not only a century-plus of mostly negative history but now they are battling each other, a bad sign for any team four games into the exhibition season, but especially them. A dugout scuffle between normally stable veteran third baseman Aramis Ramirez and overpaid, and occasionally overheated, pitcher Carlos Silva followed an abominable inning that saw a mix of infield errors and awful pitching by Silva, who's battling for the fifth spot in the rotation, as well as Ramirez.
"We need to try to help each other, not try to fight each other," Alfonso Soriano said on Thursday morning.
Soriano further noted that emotions run high during games, even spring games, but that disagreements need to be settled after the game, not during it.
"Maybe Aramis was not in a good mood, and maybe Silva was not in a good mood," Soriano said. "They were good friends before." The implication and hope is that they can return to being good friends.
Quade, for one, liked the intensity but thought it was misdirected.
"I'm glad people were [ticked] off. We need to channel that anger at the opposition," Quade said. "I think we put that to bed." (Quade was obviously still thinking about his missed sleep.)
Ramirez politely said he was done talking about the fight, while Silva declined to talk to reporters for a second straight day. Quade said he wasn't yet aware of the two players making up, though he suspects they will.
"They need to put this behind them," said Quade, who guided the team to a 24-13 record late last year after it appeared dead under iconic manager Lou Piniella. "I don't need to witness a handshake or hug ... My sense is that things had settled down. And I don't feel that it was that big an issue and they needed to be called to the principal's office."
Quade mentioned the fight as well as all the errors and mental mistakes in his talk with the team, he said. The errors are something that the Cubs' faithful are used to. But the fight is what triggered headlines. The surprise there was that it didn't involve Carlos Zambrano, who is said to be doing great after graduating from anger management classes. Ramirez is known to be a solid veteran player whose biggest past issue was maybe an injury here or there and a first half of underachievement last year. (He noted in his interview on Wednesday that he had never been involved in anything like this fight before.) Silva, meanwhile, came to the Cubs for Milton Bradley in a trade of overpaid undesirables, but he is generally viewed as a clubhouse upgrade over Bradley, an all-time hothead.
Silva apparently said something after an inning in which Ramirez dropped a tough pop-up for an error and two other errors were made. Ramirez is thought to have said a few words back at him. What exactly was said isn't known.
The combatants were a mystery, too, until Soriano mentioned to the writers that it was Ramirez, who could see only Silva from their vantage point in the press box (the game was not on TV). The writers did an entire interview with Ramirez on Wednesday without being certain that he was one of the combatants, though some fans and scouts in the stands saw that it was him.
Silva still wasn't talking as of early Thursday morning. He left the clubhouse without a word to reporters after the game, and a Chicago reporter who asked Silva whether he was talking now was met with silence. Which was, as Quade noted wryly, itself an answer to that question.
Quade needs answers to what's happening on the field now, though. He said he believes that the team can't work any harder, but the play thus far has been nothing short of putrid by everyone's account.
"We've got to start playing better baseball," Ramirez, who appeared to be in a fine mood on Thursday even if he wouldn't discuss the scuffle, told SI.com. "Right now, we're making too many mistakes. This is the big leagues. We're playing bad baseball. We're making too many errors, and we're not concentrating on the game."
"We've got to fix it," Soriano said, pointedly. "Spring training is the time to fix mistakes. But we don't want to play like we've played once the season starts. We've got to have more concentration, try to do little things and perform better."
On a lighter note, Quade acknowledged that mistakes are part of spring training.
"If we were going to have everybody fighting who made mistakes this spring," he said, "we'd have the cage match of all time.''