The Cubs have had their share of experience indulging high-salaried
players with hair-trigger tempers.
Their success record has not been good, and the proof was in the broken Gatorade coolers, broken bats and broken promises.
Carlos Zambrano and Milton Bradley come to mind immediately. Their repeat offenses tested the tolerance of managers, teammates and even umpires for years. Each indiscretion was followed by a sincere-sounding apology, followed by yet another volatile tantrum.
By early accounts, top Cubs minor league prospect Jorge Soler does not fall into the Zambrano-Bradley personality mode. But he is only 21 and new Cubs management is determined to head off what could be yet another disturbing pattern for a potential franchise player who has been signed to a nine-year, $30 million contract.
Baseball scouts say the power-hitting Soler is dangerous with a bat in his hand. But the kind of danger the Cuban outfielder engendered Wednesday night while wielding a bat was not quite what anyone had in mind.
Soler was suspended for five games on Thursday after an incident between Class-A Daytona and Clearwater.
Soler and Clearwater's Edgar Alonso exchanged words at second base after Soler slid into the base. Teammates came out to separate them. Both headed back to the dugouts, but Soler came sprinting back out -- bat in hand -- toward the Clearwater dugout, He was restrained by a teammate before he perhaps would have gone all Juan Marichal on Alonso.
Marichal, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Giants, struck Dodgers catcher John Roseboro on the back of the head with a bat on Aug. 22, 1965, drawing blood. He was suspended for only eight playing dates.
"I couldn't believe it when I heard about it because (Soler) seemed so quiet in spring training," Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro said. "I don't know what happened to him."
Cubs President Theo Epstein said he spoke to Soler on Thursday morning over the phone through an interpreter and feels assured Wednesday night was an aberration.
"Jorge is tremendously remorseful about what happened," Epstein recounted. "He understands what he did was wrong. He didn't sleep all night, up all night thinking about it. Very apologetic ... he understands this can't happen again."
Epstein talked to the media at Wrigley Field on Thursday before the discipline was announced.
"According to Jorge, there was some back-and-forth with a player on the other team throughout most of the game," Epstein said. "And then eventually something was said about Jorge's family, and that's when he lost his cool. But he understands, and we agree, that is not an excuse for what happened."
Zambrano and Bradley attended anger management classes during their suspensions. Epstein did not get into specifics when talking about helping Soler.
"We condemn the act, with what took place, but we support the player," Epstein said. "We believe in Jorge as a person, as well as a player. It's our responsibility to work with him, to make sure he has a better way to channel his emotions on the field and make sure something like this doesn't happen again. That's our responsibility. It's his responsibility to fully embrace that."
Veteran Cubs players condemn what Soler did but seem eager to offer their support and guidance.
"He's a young guy, his first time in the United States. Maybe he had a lot of pressure on himself," Alfonso Soriano said. "The only time you can use the bat is to hit the ball at home plate."
Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija said he knows about the pressure of being a highly-paid rookie. He signed a five-year, $16.5 million deal with the Cubs coming out of Notre Dame. He said other minor leaguers really wanted to test him because of the notoriety he had received as an All-American receiver at Notre Dame and a highly-paid major league draft pick.
"If you're conscious of it, I think there is (extra pressure)," Samardzija said. "But that pressure should already be there from yourself to succeed and live up to that contract and do well. I don't think that there is that much more pressure, but you have to be that much more aware that the spotlight is on you."
Baseball is a game of failure that tests the most patient of players.
"In spring training he seemed like a very poised young man who came to play every day," manager Dale Sveum said. "Very quiet, very unassuming guy. But very mature for his age.
"There are so many negative things that happen throughout anyone's career and throughout a season, so it is part of the maturity process for him."
(c)2013 Chicago Tribune
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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