A personal anecdote.
I've been a Chicago Cubs fan for years, and in recent memory, no player has raised my ire as much as Neifi Perez. Or, as he forever shall be referred to, "Neifi Friggin Perez."
Neifi Friggin Perez was a relic of the lamentable Dusty Baker era of Chicago Cubs history. Baker, a manager of once-respected skill, decided that NFP was his favorite, his prize player, and brought him over from San Francisco near the end of the 2004 season. NFP started strong, and we thought he may be a good addition. The numbers didn't really pan out that way. While not atrocious, they weren't very impressive, and what struck me is that Neifi seemed to be one of the most un-clutch players I've ever seen. For every key hit at the end of the game, he seemed to have ten at-bats where he whiffed on pitches or dribbled DP balls to the infield.
You know how the crowd in Mudville thrilled at the thought of Casey at the Bat? It was the exact opposite reaction for me when Neifi approached the plate in the late innings. A cold dread seized my chest. And more often than not, he would quickly return to the dugout defeated, and I would mutter, "Neifi Friggin Perez."
Of course, I may remember him more negatively than he deserves. As I said, his stats weren't great, but he had some good moments. A grand slam. Some key hits and go-ahead runs. But I remember the negative, and it forever colors my view of his brief stint with the club (less than two full seasons). No matter what happened, he would always be "Neifi FRIGGIN Perez."
In 2004, NFP was traded to Detroit, where he got to play in the Tigers' ill-fated World Series. And later, his career would be marred by several suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs.
As much as I have hated on NFP, what's happened since? The Cubs have won two division titles but have been unable in the past two years to win a playoff game. Who do we blame for this? Can't be NFP, can it.
But maybe the fault lies with Jason Marquis, or as he is now called "Freaking Jason Marquis." Jason Marquis, washed-up Cardinals pitcher extraordinaire, was picked up by the Cubbies in 2007. He's a #5 pitcher, through and through. An innings-eater with an ERA that's been north of 4.5 since 2004. And if you asked me, "Dave, what's your opinion of Jason Marquis?" I'd have said, "Freakin Jason Marquis is a bum." Now, do the facts play out? Well, in his two years with the Cubs, FJM had a record of 23-18. Both were winning seasons for him. And at the plate, he knocked in 10 RBIs last year. So was it his fault the bats went cold in October? I don't even think he got to pitch a post-season inning last year.
So now, with pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month, we have to look ourselves in the eye and say, "Who determines how we do this year? Is it Neifi Friggin Perez, who's no longer playing? Is it Freakin Jason Marquis, who was signed during the offseason by the Colorado Rockies?
Or is it going to be THIS team, and no one else, who decides their future? Just the players on the field, not the ghosts of the past.
So what it comes down to is: like so many other things, success or failure comes down to what's done now, in the present, and can't be tied to what's happened in the past.
Can we Cubs fans forget the players from the past who we blamed for all the evils of the world, and accept that, from here on out, it's all about who's playing the game today?
Yes we can.