Paul Sullivan on the Cubs

X-rays on Paul Sullivan's head proved negative, so he's back to answer your questions about the closer conundrum, Dubois' playing time, Z's ejections and the Randall Simon factor in a super-sized edition of Ask Paul.

Well, Paul, I never thought I'd say this, but I am pining for the days of Antonio Alfonseca, or as my daughter used to refer to him, "Mr. Fonseca." Is Lee Smith completely retired? --Pat Navin, Evanston, Ill.

I have to agree that this Cubs closer nightmare is one for the books, with the freakish wrist injury to Borowski, the blown-out elbow to Fox, the blown saves by Hawkins, the rocket that ricocheted off Offerman's helmet and Piazza's line drive off Dempster's arm. But hang in there. You never know who will be the next Derrick Turnbow or Brandon Lyon... or the next Mel Rojas.

When will the upper Cubs management take responsibility for the Cubs failing to live up to expectations? --Keith Mueller, Tucson, Ariz.

I'm not sure what you're referring to, but Jim Hendry isn't a guy who hides from the media when things aren't going well, unlike some of his predecessors. He's taken his lumps, and accepted them. If you expect Hendry or someone else in upper management to write off the season in mid-May, you're crazy. What kind of message would that send to the team, much less the fans?

Is it me, or does this Cub team seem flat emotionally? Certainly, losing doesn't help things. But in this case, it seems a lack of spirit contributed to the losing. --Jorge Ovalle, Bloomington, Ill.

That's a very perceptive comment, Jorge. Other than Zambrano, who gets criticized for being over-emotional--rightfully so at times--they do seem to be a quiet, unemotional team. Blown saves and crazy losses will do that to any clubhouse. Dempster is trying to lighten things up, but with so much pressure on so many individuals, no one can feel completely comfortable, so there's not much joking around.

In 2003, Randall Simon helped the clubhouse chemistry. He seemed like a big goofball (in a good way), keeping the players relaxed and having fun. Is there anyone like that on this year's team? It seemed like they lacked that last year. --Brian Longly, Lincoln, Ill.

Unfortunately, there isn't anyone like Randall in all of baseball. Perhaps they should trade for Kevin Millar, Boston's version of Randall and self-described "idiot."

I have a solution for those who don't like the billboards behind home plate. Simply refuse to buy the products advertised. If they are ineffective, the advertisers will sooner or later give up. --Dave Dickinson, Kearney, Neb.

Good idea, Dave, but here's a better one: "Rotating Ad Board Roulette." Don't buy products of the ads that happen to be shown on game-turning plays that haunt the Cubs, putting a risk factor into their decision to intrude on our TV screens. For example, don't buy products from the company advertised on the pitch that turned into the Hawkins' rocket that ricocheted off Offerman's helmet, or the company advertised on Prior's pitch to Luis Castillo in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS that resulted in the infamous foul ball. I do indeed know the names of these two companies, but you'll have to find out for yourself if you don't already know.

Now that both Troy Percival and Armando Benitez are expected to miss significant time with their clubs, don't you think it's time that people lay off Jim Hendry for not signing a closer this off-season? They've obviously proven they aren't worth the money that S.F. and Detroit spent, and since those two were the only high-profile names on the market, who else were the Cubs supposed to sign? I haven't heard one Trib writer give an answer to this question all year. --Matt Niezgoda, LaGrange, Ill.

The Cubs focused on obtaining Milwaukee's Dan Kolb, who went to Atlanta for their top pitching prospect. It hasn't exactly worked out for Atlanta, though. Kolb has nine saves, but he's also 1-3 with two blown saves, plus a 6.28 ERA. The Brewers signed cast-off Derrick Turnbow, who has five saves and a 2.08 ERA. Evaluating closers is a crapshoot these days, and the Cubs have seemingly lost on every roll.

Why do you think the Wrigley fans have changed so much over the last couple of years? I never used to hear this much booing. It's like we're imitating fans from Boston, New York or Philly. As someone who has seen a lot of the Cubs in recent years, how do you account for this? --Matt Pelz, Chapel Hill, N.C.

I believe Michael Jordan is mostly responsible for the increased booing at Wrigley Field. A generation of Chicagoans grew up watching the Bulls win six championships, and now they are old enough to be buying tickets to sporting events. They don't accept the losing, like their parents did, because they don't know what it's like to go several decades without a winner. If Portland had chosen Jordan instead of leaving him for the Bulls, there would be less booing of LaTroy Hawkins. Just a theory.

It seems like the lineup has pretty good speed at the top. Why are the Cubs being so passive in the stolen base department? --Jamie Nicpon, Iowa City, Iowa

It's a plan of deception that can't be discussed without blowing the plan, so your guess on this matter is probably accurate, but please keep it to yourself.

Any idea why Jason Dubois is not allowed to bat against right-handed pitchers? I imagine he has been facing righties since he's been, what, eight years old? Don't you think that given the same amount of games played over a full season, Dubois would put up much better offensive numbers than Hollandsworth? --Jeremy Barewin, Chicago

The Cubs wanted to give Hollandsworth a fair chance over the kid. They did, and he didn't make the most of it. Call it the Curse of Moises. Now it's Dubois' turn to face some tough right-handers. We haven't really seen enough of him against righties to make an evaluation, but Hollandsworth wasn't hitting either lefties or righties, so it was certainly time for a change. If Dubois doesn't work out, Hendry will have to make a trade by July 31, since obviously you need more production from a corner outfielder.

Is there anything the Cubs could have done differently to prevent the injury problems that have plagued the pitching staff the last few years? Bad luck can't explain all of it, especially when some clubs (the Braves come to mind) had top pitching every year. Who's responsible for keeping tabs on our pitchers' arms and ensuring their health? Thanks in advance. --Clark Hoover, Tel Aviv, Israel

The Cubs strength and conditioning coach is responsible for making sure the players are in good shape for the season. But I don't think he has the time to personally monitor all of them in the off-season, and they have to be professional enough to make sure they're ready and in shape by spring.

Kerry Wood said he tried Pilates last season, and he seemed to be in good physical shape coming to camp, so I don't know what he could've done to prevent his shoulder problem. It amazes me that ordinary fans are so knowledgeable about biomechanics and can blame it all on Wood's mechanics.

As for Prior, he told me last month he may have to throw during the entire off-season to keep his elbow ready for the season. Chad Fox is a great guy, but he was a considerable risk because of his past elbow problems. Borowski had a freak broken bone on a comebacker.

I covered the 2001 Sox when almost the entire pitching staff went down by midseason. Most of those guys are now out of baseball. It's a strange game, and it invites speculation. I think this was the longest answer in the history of Ask Paul.

Carlos Zambrano's emotional outbursts are getting out of hand! His reputation is costing the Cubs a lot of calls. I know he's been talked to, but obviously he doesn't care. Don't you think more drastic measures like a hefty fine or even a suspension need to be taken? He needs to grow up. --John Fitzmaurice, Laguna Hills, Calif.

Please tell me that someone has explained to Carlos Zambrano that his ejections hurt the team and are not only confined to him. He has to learn to place the team before his selfish emotions. If no one has, I will be more than happy to discuss this matter with him. --Ron Rymut, Alpharetta, Ga.

John, I don't think you can stop Carlos. You can only hope to contain him.

Ron, I'm sure he'll be glad to listen to you, and I look forward to watching you tell him.

You showed some guts for writing in the last round of questions: "Hawkins has to take responsibility for his own actions, something he doesn't seem to understand." When you offer candid criticism like this, what is the effect for you as a beat writer? --Thom Yorke, Baton Rouge La.

I'm pretty sure LaTroy Hawkins does not read Ask Paul, so theoretically, it would have absolutely no effect on our professional relationship. Hawkins did admit he should've held onto the ball after the rocket that ricocheted off Offerman's helmet, so to be fair, he has taken responsibility for his own actions.

I hear a lot of griping about Hawkins, but when is anybody going to ask ...where is Aramis? Has anybody seen him on base? He is playing like Sosa. --Mike Tyra, Camp Stanley, Korea

True, Aramis has gotten off lightly, just as Barrett and Hollandsworth and several other veterans have. They have to perform to expectations or the team won't have a chance to succeed. Now Ramirez has back spasms, like Sosa last year. Let's just hope he doesn't sneeze wrong.

Will the Tribune Company open up the checkbook if Jim Hendry can make a trade or two? --Scott Rosenberg, Charlotte, N.C.

That remains to be seen, though Hendry insisted that before the season they would be able to add players by July 31. Stay tuned.

We hear so much about "getaway" day in baseball. Just how long does it take between the final pitch of a game and the team airplane taking off? --Carlton Martin, St. Louis, Mo.

That's hard for me to say. Even though I am allowed to fly on the Cubs charter if my company pays for the ticket, I do not fly on the Cubs charter. But thanks for your interest in the Cubs charter.

I am going to the Friday game of the Cubs-Red Sox series. Who is singing in the seventh inning stretch? Just wondering. --Jeff Koscik, Geneseo, Ill.

Sorry, Jeff, I don't answer these types of questions. And in case you e-mailers haven't noticed, I also do not choose e-mails that fail to give the writer's entire name, or that are typed in all capital letters, or that include multiple misspellings. The ones with vulgar comments are also quickly deleted, and I also don't choose the 400- 500-word commentaries on the Cubs that end with a question for me. I thought this was obvious, but I was sadly mistaken. Please refrain from sending me these types of e-mails.

I must say was a bit dismayed with your last Ask Paul edition. What happened to the "wit and charm?" I could always picture you answering each e-mail and letting out a maniacal laugh. Please don't ruin that image for me! --Jason Neubauer, Appleton, Wis.

Too late. Thanks for all the very relevant e-mails, and for respecting the moratorium on Dusty Baker questions. Talk to you again in a couple weeks.