Op/Ed: Stone Casts His Vote

On September 6, when the playoffs were still firmly within grasp, I wrote the following in an editorial regarding player complaints of the team's broadcast duo of Chip Caray and Steve Stone:<p> "My hope is that Cub players can put this blame game behind them for the remainder of the season, so that the sour taste they are leaving with fans does not translate into another bitter ending."

So much for that.

The announcement of Steve Stone's resignation Thursday re-opened wounds that had yet to heal, leaving many fans to wonder why the list of casualties continues to grow even still.

After the season ended, when it appeared the issue had been smoothed over enough between GM, manager and announcer, I'm convinced there was still a little voice chirping in the back of all our heads wondering just how this situation could really work next year.

Would Stone be muzzled in the booth? Would his name be added to the no-fly list at the airport? Would he look longingly next to him for his departed pal Chip Caray?

With the election between President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry only a few days away, it seems appropriate to put the Steve Stone incident in political context.

With that siad, Dusty Baker runs his team much like a laissez-faire politician would run the economy. He firmly believes that controversies, like the Stone situation, should be settled in the free market with no government... er, managerial intervention.

In Baker's mind, intervention can have its own set of consequences, which can range from impacting his own personal relationship with players to affecting team unity. So, he sits and waits for the incident to die of its own accord. That approach explains why the Cubs suffered the most player suspensions this season.

Simply put, Baker does not step in to pour water on a small blaze, instead allowing anger and tension to bubble beneath the surface until it finally explodes.

Perhaps if Baker had pulled Michael Barrett aside before the Houston series in late August and told him to focus on winning and not retaliation against Roy Oswalt, it would have been us, not the Astros, in the playoffs. Perhaps.

No one is arguing for the Tom Coughlin approach to coaching, but surely there is a happy medium between keeping players under control and confronting them over insignificant minutia.

Stone, after the initial incident with Kent Mercker, asked Cubs President Andy MacPhail to have Baker address the players and nip this crisis in the bud. Based on a subsequent confrontation between Mercker and Stone at a Pittsburgh hotel on Sept. 21, it was clear to Stone that Baker opted to chew on his toothpick rather than chew out his player.

Baker's inaction not only cost the fans an irreplaceable announcing duo, but an effective lefty reliever and potentially a productive left-fielder who have both worn out their welcome in the eyes of fans because this incident escalated to absurd proportions.

Now, with both Stone and Caray run out of town, and one clubhouse troublemaker with two feet out the door and the other only a step behind, Baker is the only man left standing from this ugly incident.

Baker entered his managerial tenure on the basis of being a player's manager that could extract the most out of the least. While there is no formal election that Baker must campaign for, there will be an ongoing fan referendum throughout the 2005 season that the Cubs manager must heed if the organization holds out any hope to regain the trust and admiration of its loyal, but disenchanted fan base.

The baggage from this incident has been cleaned out, and if the off-field story becomes the defining story once again next year, we might be witnessing Baker's final chapter in a Cub uniform.

In his resignation letter, Stone said, "It's been a great ride. I will never forget you. Most importantly, I thank you all for every minute of happiness, you, the fans have given me."

We'll miss you, too, Stoney.

Write to Brian Lustig by clicking HERE.

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