Every now and then during the past couple of baseball seasons, Carlos Zambrano would visit the Cubs’ clubhouse and dugout.
Last summer, I finally asked Big Z: “How about you coming to the Cubs Convention next winter.”
Zambrano seemed amenable to the idea, and this weekend it’s going to happen. For the first time since being traded from the Cubs to the Marlins after a tumultuous 2011 season, Zambrano will be welcomed back to the convention.
He’ll be joined by a group of former Cubs from recent years, including Derrek Lee, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Mike Remlinger, Mike Fontenot, Sean Marshall, Koyie Hill, James Russell and Glendon Rusch, among others.
Now 36, Zambrano last pitched in 2012 for the Marlins, to whom he was traded by team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer in one of their first moves with the club. Zambrano did not last the 2011 season with the Cubs. Then-GM Jim Hendry sent him packing after Zambrano walked out on the team after a poor start in Atlanta, during which he gave up five home runs and was ejected from the game for throwing at the Braves’ Chipper Jones.
“I like Carlos,” Jones told reporters at the time. “I’ve always liked Carlos. He’s an intense competitor. Unfortunately, sometimes that hurts him.”
Coincidentally, both Jones and Zambrano are on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. Jones is a shoo-in for election. Zambrano may not get the 5 percent of the vote needed to stay on the ballot. That may be the case as well for his former Cubs teammate Kerry Wood, who is also on the ballot for the first time and who will be in attendance this weekend.
The Atlanta game was the last of many dust-ups and blowups for Zambrano over the years with the Cubs.
Nevertheless, he ranks second in franchise history in strikeouts, eighth in games started and ninth in WAR for pitchers. He went 125-81 with a 3.66 ERA for the Cubs. He also made three all-star teams and was awarded a Silver Slugger three times. The switch-hitting Zambrano hit 24 home runs in his career.
Not on the list of alumni attendees for this weekend is Sammy Sosa, the Cubs’ all-time leading home run hitter, with 545. Team chairman Tom Ricketts repeatedly has dismissed the idea of Sosa coming to the convention. Sosa also walked out on the team after the 2004 season. He was found with a corked bat during a game in 2003 game, and his name has been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
The sold-out convention runs from Friday through Sunday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. Hall of Famers Andre Dawson, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams are scheduled to attend, as are most member of the current team.
New coaches Brian Butterfield, Chili Davis, Jim Hickey, Andy Haines and Will Venable will be in attendance, and they’re sure to face plenty of fan questions along with manager Joe Maddon during a Saturday session