Starlin Castro says he feels awful about his mental lapse during Monday’s loss at San Francisco when he lost awareness of how many outs the Cubs had in the fifth inning.
‘‘I want to say I’m sorry to my teammates and it will never happen again,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m real embarrassed. There’s no excuse for that. That can’t happen in a game. That will never happen again.’’
Here’s the troubling part. The above quote from Castro wasn’t from Monday’s post-game.
This quote, it turns out, came following Castro’s mental gaffe last season on national television when he famously turned his back to the plate at shortstop while James Russell delivered a pitch.
“It’s very embarrassing,” Castro told reporters afterward. “It can’t happen. I apologize to my team. I have to pay attention a little bit more. That kind of thing can’t happen, because it’s very embarrassing for me and my teammates.”
The above quote was, in fact, Castro’s comment after Monday’s game, which came on the heels of Starlin’s mental error during Friday’s series opening loss at San Fran when he didn’t fully run out a steal attempt to second base because he thought Joe Mather fouled off a pitch.
Should Castro Be Benched?
There were many fair criticisms of Mike Quade as Cubs manager, his handling of Castro’s mental lapses wasn’t one of them.
Although Quade missed Castro daydreaming in real time during last year’s most notable gaffe, the manager did see it on film afterwards (thanks to Bobby Valentine’s rant).
Quade gave his young shortstop a long talking to—then benched him for the following game, a 3-0 loss to Atlanta.
‘‘Nothing, nothing is an excuse for that. Nothing. I pay for that [getting benched.] That’s why I’m not playing today,’’ said Castro.
There were other similar occasions in 2011, and Quade made no excuses for his talented young shortstop.
‘‘The youth thing, as far as focus, is no excuse. He understands that, and now he has to do it…
‘‘I don’t know how people can get any more involved than they are, it’s up to Starlin. All the noise about what other players should or shouldn’t do [to help him] — I’m a personal responsibility guy. I know he understands and feels bad.’’
Say what you will about Mike Quade, but he couldn’t have handled Castro’s situation any better.
I’m the first to agree, it’s not about making excuses or hitting players in the wallet for unpreparedness.
Withholding playing time is the ultimate currency and rarely fails to gain a player’s attention. Mr. Castro, however, doesn’t seem to have taken the message wholeheartedly.
What’s The Solution?
Dale Sveum also deserves credit for coming down hard on Castro. His comments regarding Castro’s lack of mental awareness were virtually identical to Quade’s last year.
“Whether we could have turned the double play or not is irrelevant to not knowing how many outs there are in the most important part of the game. These things have got to stop happening or he’s going to stop playing,” said Sveum.
Sveum, however, is taking a different route than Quade did with Castro.
Instead of benching Starlin, Sveum penciled him in to the starting lineup against Milwaukee Tuesday night, perhaps the residue of a new front office regime, a new Cubs Way. Whatever. So be it.
I can live with Sveum’s decision on one condition: the threat to sit Castro is not an empty promise, and any future benchings should entail more than one game, maybe even a series.
Sveum, understandably, is in the business of winning games. Castro is, unquestionably, his best player. But in the sake of rebuilding the franchise around this particular player, taking one step back is worth the possibility of correcting Castro’s wrongdoings to take two steps forward.
Sveum’s and Castro’s success are interdependent on one another. Castro needs the trust of his manager and visa versa. Sveum has kindly shown his trust, now it’s up to Starlin to hold up his end of the bargain.
Haven’t We Heard This Before?
Yes, we’ve heard countless claims of “I’m sorry, it’ will never happen again.” on the North Side. In fact, Spring Training wasn’t official until Carlos Zambrano delivered his annual apology speech.
That kind of insincerity grows old in a hurry, and made Cubs fans even more certain more apologies were in the making—some players, we’ve learned, just never change.
Starlin, as a matter of fact, has been no different than Zambrano when it comes to empty promises.
That doesn’t mean, however, the Cubs should trade Castro simply because he’s lost focus from time to time (which isn’t comparable to Zambrano’s childish fits of rage).
But is should heighten the organization’s awareness that it’s a real problem, perhaps uncorrectable, and the appropriate actions must follow.
If benching Castro doesn’t work, what will? The likely scenario is a change of scenery, but what can you get for an extraordinary talent the rest of baseball knows is faulty mentally?
That’s a bridge I hope the Cubs won’t need to cross with Castro. His remarkable talents alone have him on course to be one of baseball’s elite players.
Starlin’s obviously the kind of super-talented player the Cubs want to build around. Now if Castro would only let them.