I found myself lacking near the emotion watching Jeff Samardzija yesterday than I had in the past. And it made me wonder why I had so much then in the first place.
Perhaps no player symbolizes the split that used to divide Cubs fans more than Shark. We forget that just three or four years ago, there was a schism. It wasn’t evenly, because most of us were on board with what Theo and Jed were so transparently selling. But not everyone was, and even those of us who were unabashed supporters weren’t always at ease with what was going on.
Samardzija was still attached to an old way of thinking, in a few ways. First off, he still carries that Notre Dame meatball thing, which I and many others abhorred. Second, and this isn’t a criticism, but the way he simply demanded to be put in the rotation in 2012 certainly wasn’t part of the ethereal ways we had come to quickly associate with these Cubs. Third, his focus on the right now was nothing a lot of us were interested in, but that wasn’t his job either.
Samardzija was seemingly the first Cub the new regime had to make a real decision on. Because don’t fool yourself, Shark would have fit in with the current Cubs just fine. And hew as pretty good when he was here. He certainly was one of only three player worth writing about when I started this, along with Starlin and Rizzo. And both of them were pretty terrible in 2013, so Shark was only it.
We side-eyed him when he turned down a contract offer on par with Homer Bailey’s. And it wasn’t just about the money he was rejecting, after only being a starter for a couple seasons. It was our frustration that he couldn’t see what was coming. We could, but as fans we had nothing better to do than pay attention to the draft and the farm. Shark didn’t. He was gone before even Javy Baez and Kyle Hendricks made their debuts, and I doubt he would have been terribly impressed with either when they first came up for air.
Samardzija knew that a players window is not infinite, and as he only started starting games at the age of 27, his is shorter than most. Sure, there was a lot of bluster about going to the White Sox in 2015 which looks pretty silly now, but that’s just his way. Whereas Rizzo and Castro were always hounded by Dale Sveum, Samardzija and him were seemingly hard-headed buddies.
Do the Cubs still win the World Series without Addison Russell last year? Hard to say either way for sure, but we know he helped a lot. Do they win it with Shark in the rotation? Do they look better if he’s in the rotation now? One wonders, but that’s not really the point.
I took joy out of watching him stand on the sidelines with the Sox in 2015, and even more when the Cubs paddled him around in last year’s NLDS Game 2. And I’m not really sure why now. His initial reluctance to sign up surely brought about irritation in a lot of us about a lack of vision or patience or hope. And that wasn’t something we had a lot of patience for then.
But it wasn’t Samardzija’s fault that Derek Norris couldn’t throw anyone out in the coin-flip game in Kansas City. Nor was it that the Sox didn’t trade him to another contender in 2015 for… reasons. You could argue it’s bad advice to go to San Francisco when they’re probably at the back end of their window or worse.
So I was a little stunned to see how anti- people were yesterday at the idea of the Cubs calling the Giants about Shark at the deadline, in case they don’t turn this around. He’s having one of his best seasons, and I don’t know how a 7-to-1 K/BB ratio wouldn’t be greatly welcomed wherever. His contract only takes him until age 35, and he’s already shown a willingness to change his attack that could serve him well as the velocity starts to dip (and it hasn’t really yet). I know I’d want Samardzija taking starts ahead of Lackey, that’s for sure.
Maybe we’re still fighting a battle we already won, or warring against attitudes that no longer apply. I’m not sure. But I know that yesterday, I got over it.