What is this, softball? Pitchers need to grow up and the media needs to lay off managers

I have vowed to ignore all media opinion of my beloved Cubs this season, as they steadily fade from “Lovable Losers” to “Whiny, Big-Spending, Gut-Wrenching Losers.” Nonetheless, I can’t help but notice the latest analysis of their pitching staff’s injury woes, as nobody is grasping the most central cause of the situation.

Pitchers are babied and thus act like babies-particularly considering their enormous contracts.

Dusty Baker is regularly charged with overworking his young starters, at least since Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were 1-2 in pitches per start in 2003, went deep into the playoffs, and then got injured the very next year.

The most common “expert” criticism of all coaches/managers is: (Insert coach’s name here) is an idiot considering that he didn’t predict back then what we know now. Furthermore, (Insert disgruntled player’s name here) doesn’t know what to think of the coach/manager’s decisions (or thinks it’s “time for a change”).

It’s an easy storyline, especially since lazy media members don’t have stat sheets or press guides breaking down Baker’s performance. Instead, they check the win/loss column and the disabled list and draw the easiest conclusions possible, as though these stats tell the whole story of a manager’s job. It’s just the way it is. Sports writers have to go buy food and stuff like that. We’re far too busy for in-depth, legitimate reporting. Unfortunately, the wrong guys sometimes suffer from our unwitting wrath.

Dusty could not have guessed that Wood’s elbow would continue to haunt him, considering how well he was pitching. Prior looked like he could go every other day.

Who knew that the two young horses would so soon get branded injury plagued? Now Baker never takes the kid gloves off, lest a swarm of killer bees attack Prior shortly after his 100th pitch of the game and the citizens of north Chicago lynch him in hasty response.

At this point the media’s barrage of speculation is definitely getting to him, as Baker proved with his decision to remove Carlos Zambrano on Saturday with a one-hit shutout going after seven full innings of work on 108 pitches. The emotional Zambrano must have been fuming upon receiving a heartbreaking no decision in the 5-3 loss to their cross-town rivals when Baker employed his shaky bullpen in the eighth.

Of course, the experts at Baseball Tonight immediately suggested that Carlos be moved to closer in response, because he is “perfectly suited” to the role (as an emotional weirdo).

Clearly it’s ridiculous to ask such a durable young pitcher as Zambrano to make that move. Can you imagine if somebody approached a younger, more dependable Kevin Brown and asked him to become a closer? I think he’d have broken his pitching hand on that somebody’s face.

The Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan has wondered of late whether Kerry Wood might also consider closing since his arm is beginning to seem like it can’t handle the duties of starting pitching. He’s certainly dominant enough to be a closer, Sullivan points out, so why not save his arm and “acquire” a top-tier closer in the process?

Um, right, let’s take the guy who had 20 strikeouts in a game, five outstanding pitches and boundless talent, and let’s have him pitch about one-third of the innings that he would if he was starting. Eric Gagne is not more valuable than any of the top starters in baseball; that notion is absurd. Peter Gammons thinks he is, but then, Peter Gammons is a 60-year-old Pearl Jam fanatic.

Anyway, this whole “save his arm” thing is beginning to take on a more sentimental tone than the grunge-rock “save the whales” campaign. Jayson Stark and Rob Neyer can’t sleep at night they’re so worried about young pitchers. Yet nobody can explain why some guys just don’t get arm injuries no matter how much they pitch.

Nolan Ryan often topped 150 pitches in a game without breaking a sweat, and the big, swaggering Texan would cast a fiery glance at his manager if he reached for the phone in the ninth. Plus, he went 27 years throwing 100 mph in four-man rotations.

Bob Gibson pitched more than half of the 1969 World Series, while earlier fireballers like Walter Johnson handled half of their team’s pitching duties over the course of the entire season. Cy Young once won 58 games in a single year.

Granted, pitchers today throw thousands of breaking pitches before their first teeth come in. However, I think you can safely guess that guys like Zambrano are going to be rubber-armers for life, based on the undeniable fact that he’s Venezuelan (read: poor), and he isn’t going to go risk losing playing time by complaining to Dusty Baker if he feels a twinge of pain in his arm.

I’m sorry to any med students reading this, but I firmly believe that some bodies learn to tough it out. Zambrano is not going to forsake the opportunity to earn more than his homeland’s gross domestic product because his arm is sore. His arm will evolve to deal with the stress.

It might seem that this careless approach could lead to increased injuries, but consider the case of Prior. He would call up the team trainer if he accidentally cut a fingernail too short.

He complained of soreness in 2004, tested fine, yet sat out scores of Spring Training and early season games to “play it safe.” When he tried pitching intermittently in rehab, it only increased his discomfort. When he finally returned to the active roster, he essentially worked himself into pitching shape on limited pitch counts in the regular season.

Right when he finally seemed to be getting it back together, his under-used arm faltered under the duress of a few long outings and the invincible Mark Prior became forever vulnerable to injury.

Now, Prior says that he might have to pitch all year long to stop his elbow tendonitis from flaring up. At least that’s what he’s saying today. He has different feelings about his arm and Dusty’s treatment of him every time he’s asked, it seems. Granted, Prior gets asked more questions per day than most presidential candidates, so he’s bound to bitch sometimes.

Throughout baseball, foreign-born pitchers are thriving while young American superstars suffer endless afflictions and undergo countless Tommy John surgeries. In addition to the whiny brat factor, it is also important to consider that five-man rotations make pitching-already an unnatural physical endeavor-even more sporadic and disconcerting than it already is.

Most important, however, is the obsessive media’s insistence that managers take it easy on young pitchers in the hopes that they can rejoice in good health and lengthy careers and sports writers can get back to investigating their criminal records.

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