Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Eulogy for a Supernova: Carlos Marmol and the Ghost of Resiliency

It had become a foregone conclusion. If Carlos Marmol came in to a game with any kind of lead, it was surely gone. The man had become so beleaguered by the North Side faithful that upon his designation for assignment this afternoon, seldom an empathetic soul could be found. What may be thrown by the wayside is how truly dominant Marmol was. At his peak, he averaged nearly two strikeouts per inning. In 2007, he received a few most valuable player votes. He was a late-inning linchpin to a Cubs pitching staff that won two consecutive division titles. Carlos Marmol's legacy is made with ninth inning collapses, but in the end, his epitaph still reads ALL-STAR.

Despite the growing animosity toward his tendency to blow saves, Carlos Marmol loved Chicago. He loved the Cubs and Wrigley Field and the fans. At one time, his arrival to the home pitching mound was met with cheers and lively fanfare. Marmol would come in to the game with a lead in the eighth and blow away the side with his devastating slider. It didn't matter if the bases were loaded with no outs, he was the man. How quickly times change. On opening day 2013, as the roster was announced, he was booed as if he had walked from the dugout wearing Cardinal red. It was a somber moment that still to this day leaves a sinking feeling in my stomach. To a fan base so content with forgiveness and enduring the hardships of failure, they had found the outlet to unleash holy hell. Not that the punishment hadn't fit the sin, but it was the actualization that a man had fallen so far from the good graces of the Cub faithful, that he deserved such treatment, that had bothered me.

He had become yet another scapegoat in Cubs' lore. Tied to the whipping post of a century and change of championship plight, Carlos Marmol took every lash, waiting to snap from this slump. To wake from the nightmare of repetitive shortcomings was all he wanted, yet a game so easily won and lost on a brief lapse of concentration would never give credence to something as simple as hoping for the best. The nightly expectation of heartbreak was soon worn on the sleeves and bellowed in the collective groans of a gently thinning Wrigley Field crowd. Perhaps it got to his head. The masterful Carlos Marmol had gone the way of the buffalo, Steve Trachsel, and the red-brimmed away caps. There was nothing left of that pitcher. His slider would hang. Everyone knew it would. A hanging slider to a Major League hitter is like tossing a cow with four broken legs into a lion's den. If the thousands in attendance, the dozens in each dugout, and the man in the batter's box knew the pitch would be poor, why didn't Marmol? Perhaps the problem was- he did.

When a person is given only negative feedback, nothing constructive, the outcome will never be positive. Regardless of any embers of resiliency in his heart, the constant outpouring of audible chastisement will only douse any stoked flames of defiance. The loneliest job in sports is the baseball pitcher. The pitcher holds the ball and controls the pace of the game. His decisions, focus, and performance will ultimately play the largest role in a team's success that day. If the focus is broken, disaster is not far behind. While the general assumption is that a player in the Majors should be able to disregard any outside forces, there comes a breaking point in the unfortunate few. So reads the story of Carlos Marmol. Before the boos on opening day, he had made history by becoming the first pitcher in history to give up a game tying and game winning home run to a pair of brothers in the same inning when he was bested by B.J. and Justin Upton in Atlanta. This was not his first blown save or his last, but maybe this was the most enduring. It was in that moment every Cubs fan collectively groaned across the baseball world. The old Carlos was indeed gone. Long gone in fact. His reception in Chicago after that night was forever sealed. His fate with the ball club was awaiting the last nail in the coffin.

The metaphor of a roller-coaster has been used a lot today to describe Carlos Marmol's career with the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps that is wishful thinking. Rides of that nature often rise after a steep plummet. Through the heavy backlash he carried in the final weeks of his time in Chicago, Carlos still loved the city. He wanted to be a Cub. He wanted to be loved by the Cubs faithful again- to be the man who came in and shut down an opposing threat. But the game is no respecter of the will of any one man. Often times the game is cruel to those who love it most. Failure is common to any man who ever steps on to a baseball field. Heartbreak is at the very core of understanding what it means to be a Cubs fan. Perhaps it will take some time for us Cubs fans to realize that when we look at the career of Carlos Marmol, we see a bit of ourselves looking right back.

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