You know the thing about a shark, he’s got…lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah…
One thing I always admired about Jeff Samardzija was his confidence. I had followed his exploits at Valparaiso High School and Notre Dame and was a fan well before Jim Hendry convinced him to leave football behind. But as his Cubs career wore on, I grew weary of what I viewed more as baseless cockiness.
Sure, the guy had electric stuff. But his results over the course of seven seasons — four of which were partial — in Chicago were far from legendary. The slow start was understandable given the fact that he didn’t even begin to focus on baseball until 2006. Still, from the time he initially came up in 2008 to his first full season in 2011, there always seemed to be a sense of entitlement about the former Golden Domer.
Shark was somewhat of a novelty, a nice draw for a team that gave fans few reasons beyond loyalty to come out to the ballpark. It was more about notoriety than results though, as the stats were relatively pedestrian over those first several years. Peripherals make things look better than the sub-.500 records and four-ish ERA’s tell us on the surface, but there was always more sizzle than steak.
That 2014 season, though, that was something altogether different. The Cubs saw in Samardzija the kind of homegrown ace a rebuilding team dreams of, so they offered him a contract extension. But the local product wanted more than the five-year, $80 million deal Theo Epstein and Co. had laid out, in part because he wasn’t buying the value of the forward-looking plan they were selling.
So the Cubs did the only thing they could, trading their disgruntled ace to Oakland for Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and a guy the Astros just traded to the Padres for catcher Erik Kratz. Samardzija pitched well for the A’s in the second half of 2014, but the team went from World Series favorite to Wild Card loser and they flipped Shark back to Chicago in another blockbuster deal.
The 2015 season was a disastrous one for both Samardzija and the White Sox, who chose to hang onto the would-be free agent rather than move him in a deadline deal. All kinds of rumors had him going back to the Cubs and he was even spied having beers with Epstein early in free agency. But there was no way his original team was going to offer anything close to the $90 million over five years the San Francisco Giants promised. And so Shark found himself swimming in the Bay.
Do you think he regrets it a little, that he’d have done things differently if he’d have known how it was going to work out at Wrigley?
“If I had a fortune teller,’’ Samardzija shared with USA TODAY Sports, “I probably would have stayed. I remember coming up, it was always the talk about prospects.”
“It was the easy thing to do. You can always sell the future, and people always buy it. It’s a great way to rebuild, and I understand that.
“But as a veteran guy, it was becoming a joke.”
Oh, that is rich. A guy whose entire career was based on hype is complaining about his team putting stock in young players with loads of potential? And just what kind of gap in logic causes you to jump from “a great way to rebuild” to “becoming a joke?” Maybe I’m just another wide-eyed Pollyanna, but the Cubs’ plan seemed pretty easy to comprehend. Then again, we’re all seeing it from the outside. Shark was in the middle of a few teams that closely resembled chemical spills.
“I just got so sick of hearing about it,” Samardzija continued. “They had to do what they had to do, but as a professional, you always want to be competing, not hearing some rhetoric every year.
“There are certain things you don’t forget.”
Wait, what? Maybe there were some things we don’t know about. Maybe the brass basically told him in no uncertain terms that they didn’t give a damn about winning in the present. I can see how that might aggravate a guy with Shark’s competitive nature, particularly when said guy hasn’t actually won anything yet. That’s gotta be it, since World Series champ Jon Lester — a fellow trade-target teammate of Samardzija’s in Oakland — bought that same prospect-based rhetoric. I’m sure almost twice as much money as the Cubs offered Samardzija didn’t hurt, but Lester could’ve gotten a king’s ransom with other teams too.
Before there was a target, Lester chose to embrace the challenge. Shark, however, wanted what he felt was more of a sure thing. Well, as sure as things get in professional sports anyway.
“It was a risky plan, right, counting on the draft and Cuban guys and things like that,’’ Samardzija reasoned. “They spent money to get guys. They hit on the guy Bryant who’s a difference maker. (Anthony) Rizzo came on. Now, they’re rolling.”
Okay, I can’t be the only one who takes issue with Captain Morgan’s portrayal of the Cubs’ plan here. There is just so much weak sauce in those five short sentences, whether it’s the “Cuban guys and things like that” or “the guy Bryant,” as if Kris Bryant is just some rando who’s still banging around in the minors. This just smells like the kind of whine that can only be fermented from sour grapes, a vintage pressed by a man who can’t just own his bad decisions.
Or maybe they weren’t really that bad. After all, Shark got fat paid and he’s pitching for a team that has been a World Series regular over the last handful of seasons. And San Francisco is an amazing city that is incredibly tolerant of long-haired freaky people, particularly those who can throw baseballs really well. Still, you have to think the man is at least the slightest bit melancholy about the whole thing.
“They will always be in my heart. I’ll take pride in what they do because I’m a Chicago guy. You always want to see your boys do well, until we play against them.’’
Jeff, bubby, I’m your white knight. I’m gonna offer you some advice here that you might not get from your circle of friendly enablers. I’m sure that underneath the pirate-inspired facial hair and flowing locks, you’re a really good guy and not at all a super-douchey dude-bro, which is why I’m cool with telling you this. Next time a reporter sticks a microphone in your face, maybe, like, don’t just let every thought ricocheting around in your head to make its way to your mouth.
If the entirety of the interview had consisted of the fortune teller bit and the thing about the Cubs always being in his heart, the story has more of a feel-good slant and hack bloggers would have nothing to write about between sips of Zombie Dust. But Shark got too honest and I’ve got too much Zombie Dust. Well, one of those things is true — you can never have too much rare beer.
Listen, I have an affinity for Samardzija that dates back to when he was growing up 25 miles away from me in a town that probably saw more of me than it would have liked. And if you had known me back then, you’d know that I’m the last person who should be making fun of anyone for his hairstyle. But more than just his questionable coiffure, I’m not a fan of the way Samardzija ended his tenure on the North Side and even less a fan of what he’s got to say about how it went down. C’est la vie, though, huh?
At this point, there’s really only one way to see this out: the Cubs and Giants have to face one another in the playoffs. How beautiful would it be to have Shark pitching against his old team, the team he spurned, with the stakes involving something he never thought he’d play for with said organization?
Shark will always be in my heart. I’ll take pride in what he does because he’s a Chicago — by the way, I hate how people from The Region claim to be from Chicago, though he can get away with it because he did play there for several years — guy. I always want to see my boy do well, until the Cubs swim up and kick him in his ass.