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Cubs Tue Apr 29 2008

Remembering 'Old Yeller'

By now, the attention being paid to former Cubs manager Lee Elia’s now infamous post-game explosion in 1983 is starting to seem a little like overkill. Yes, it was an interesting blip on a then-boring Chicago sports landscape. Yes, even in 1983, a profanity-top-heavy post-game analysis was a bit out of the ordinary. But to many in the media today, that mere 4 ½ minutes of frustration has earned the right to be commemorated as an “anniversary”.

On the radio today, WSCR-AM has constantly mentioned Elia’s rant it in its hourly newscasts as if it were a recent event. The Tribune, meanwhile has mentioned the incident in no less than 10 stories since April 23, including five articles fully dedicated to the occasion. (The Tribune, incidentally, is the organization that owned the Cubs and fired Elia after the outburst.) The Sun-Times has managed to hold its Eliapalooza to six articles, including only two fully dedicated (thought they did have a link to the censored recording on their website). However the Sun-Times may win The Most Overwrought Headline Award regarding the Elia saga, after labeling his outburst as being part of “baseball infamy”, a category I personally was reserving for the steroid scandal or Roger Clemens’ possible hanky panky with a 15-year-old country singer.

What was so shocking (to me) about Lee Elia’s tirade was not that he blew his lid, but that he hadn’t done it sooner. Hell, that ANY Cubs manager hadn’t done it sooner. Let’s face it: the Cubs of the late '70s and early '80s were a woeful entity. From 1974 to 1983 the Cubs pretty much consistently finished in double digits under .500 (with the exception of three seasons). They finished 22 games out of first in 1974, 26 in 1976 and 27 in 1980. In The Year of the Rant, they finished 71-91, 19 games out of first.

So, yeah, hearing Lee Elia going postal was pretty much the reaction anyone should have expected. Heck, ACTUALLY going postal, machine gun and all, should have been the only response that fell under the category of “over the top.”

So we can only dream of the bon mots that would have fell from the lips of Whitey Lockman, Jim Marshall, Herman Franks, Joey Amalfitano, Preston Gomez. Who knows, if a steady stream of managers had regularly ripped anyone and everyone regarding the Cubs’(mis)fortune, we wouldn’t be here talking about 100 years of futility today.

Give Elia credit for figuring out how to make a few bucks off of this thing. He’s helped to create an autographed baseball with a chip inside that plays a modified version of his screed, with part of the proceeds going to charity. Hopefully, the more the media milks this, the more baseballs he’ll sell.

In the meantime, we’ll get our tape recorders ready in case Lou Pinella has a reason to blow his lid before this desperate season is over.

 
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