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Zambrano: Ace or Ass?

"That's it."

This is how Carlos Zambrano angrily ended his latest post-game interview following another meltdown on the mound.

And maybe that's really it for Big Z.

If the Cubs are truly shopping the sometimes boorish, selfish talent, good luck.

Says here he'll be back.

Not that sending feelers out to other teams is a bad idea. Zambrano can pitch. And he can pitch a fit, too. Unfortunately the latter holds true more often than the folks in the front office are willing to admit. The act has grown stale though it really isn't an act. What you see from Big Z is what you get.

And that's the conundrum: What to do with Carlos Zambrano.

Coming into this season, Zambrano had the fifth best winning percentage of any starter in the majors over the last five years. That's heady stuff. But the stuff in his head is what's separating Zambrano from being an ace. Instead, he's more of an ass.

Aces can win World Series'. Asses can keep you from playing in them.

This is not to say that Zambrano is the reason the Cubs haven't won a playoff game since 2003.

But Zambrano represents a cultural problem not foreign to many locker rooms. It's the Me First syndrome.

Take Milton The Martyr. (Please.)

Or Sammy Sosa and his Flintstone vitamins-swelled head.

Zambrano ranks right up there, with an impressive litany of tantrums. There was the tirade against an umpire that prompted Z to fire a ball into the outfield. He nearly decapitated pitching coach Larry Rothschild while trying to decapitate a Gatorade machine. He skipped a team charter on his birthday without permission. He admitted his chronic back problems may have stemmed from being lazy about doing abdominal work. Then, after she reported his admission, he wanted to show Sun-Times columnist Carol Slezak his bare chest to prove that he was in swell shape.

When I mentioned some of his previous outbursts, including the infamous punch out of former catcher Michael Barrett, he looked like he wanted to behead me.

(Maybe I'm the one who needs a shrink for bringing it up.)

Let's get one thing straight. Zambrano has a no-trade clause, a bad habit Jim Hendry negotiated into several players' huge contracts. And Zambrano still has $54 million dollars left on his deal, which runs three more seasons. And there's an option clause for another hunk of dough.

Few teams could handle such a contract, let alone the personality that comes with it.

Zambrano claims he doesn't want to be traded.

And, if he has his way, he won't be.

Imagine Hendry calling Zambrano and telling him three American League teams want him. The answer would be a resounding No! Why? Because the AL uses the designated hitter and Zambrano loves to bat. He's also pretty good at it from both sides of the plate. You think he'd give up that personal pleasure to play in a World Series with the Yankees, Red Sox or Angels?

Not that they'd want him because excess baggage costs more these days to check on flights.

But does Zambrano still give the Cubs a chance to return to the playoffs and maybe win a game or two?

He certainly pitched well enough in Arizona two years ago when Lou Piniella made the boneheaded move of replacing after six solid innings. The Diamondbacks wound up sweeping the series.

Errors did him in last October when the Dodgers beat him en route to a three-game sweep.

And at 28, he's still relatively young. Maybe he'll figure it out.

Yes, he's irascible and oft times uncontrollable. He doesn't listen to authority, suffers his fielders with unending stares when they don't make a play, doesn't take care of his body and melts down as often as an ice cream cone in July.

But the odds are Hendry won't be able to swing a deal for Zambrano. And maybe he won't want to.

It's really Zambrano's call. Does he want to grow up? Does he have the capacity to do so?

It's the difference between being an ace or an ass.

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George Ofman, an original member of The Score and a veteran of NPR, has covered more than 3,500 sporting events over the course of his career. Comments welcome.

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